Thursday, November 10, 2005

Paradoxical Integration_INT_OPN

Category: Interest
Subject: Racism / Multiculturalism
Source: Times of Malta

Ranier Fsadni writing in The Times of Malta

The violent rioting in France, which has involved looting, violence and destruction, has now seen emergency laws invoked. The riots and their spread have drawn a shocked European attention to a landscape of poor housing estates and multi-ethnic deprived neighbourhoods and raised questions about the prospects of multiculturalism in Europe. But these events cannot be explained by stock explanations - of either the left or the right.

When the far right crows that the riots show the failure and futility of multiculturalism it ignores some of the objective features of the French situation.

The rioters represent a minority of French citizens of immigrant background. Many of them are juveniles, school drop-outs, whose behaviour has shocked their communities and which has been condemned by their religious leaders. Some of the rioters, a fraction, are criminal delinquents and another fraction does not have an immigrant family background.

Above all, the idea that the rioters are rejecting some European idea of authority in favour of the authority of their own "indigenous" culture is mistaken twice over.

First, as the study of various groups of alienated youth of immigrant background in Europe shows, such youth tends to be alienated by all authority - including their own traditional religious authorities.

Second, it is not clear that Europe offers any model of cultural authority. Widespread relativism, at least in its pop TV-discussion form that moral judgements are not true or false but expressions of individual feeling or desire, offers no authority that can be accepted, let alone rejected.

Nor should a focus on the initial causes of the rioting make us forget that the riots, while obviously not caused by the French authorities, were inflamed by certain official decisions. When the Home Affairs Minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, with his eye on his presidential prospects, called the rioters "vermin", he incited the sympathy of the wider law-abiding community for the young rioters who are justifying their vandalism and violence as a response to institutionalised racism. The wider community, again, has been estranged by the police decision to tear-gas a mosque: a decision made for security reasons but mistaken, and no apology has been offered.

The analysis of one of France's leading students of teenage criminality, Hugues Lagrange, emphasises the lack of hope engendered by 20-30 years of educational failure and high rates of unemployment in poor neighbourhoods. Part of Mr Lagrange's analysis does confirm the claims (of "the left") that these are the results of insufficient integration - say, by an education system that does not adequately cater for the special needs of children of migrants. Dyab Abou Jahjah, president of the Arab European League, a movement growing in Belgium and the Netherlands as well as in France, speaks of an alienation caused by systemic denigration and unjust discrimination in schools and at work, the resentment of being treated as second-class when you are a fully fledged citizen.

Interestingly, however, Mr Lagrange sees the problem as being in part the unintended consequence of highly successful integration: the mobility of those who flourished in the education system or who made money, escaped their shabby neighbourhoods, leaving what remained to become an environment of failure.

This paradoxical consequence of successful integration is confirmed by other sources. In recent days the president of a women's rights group for French Muslim women, of immigrant background, has confirmed that most women like her are not only "integrated" but happy to be French citizens, enjoying civic and political rights that they would not have in their parents' or grandparents' countries of origin.

And the European experience of Muslim migrants suggests that the greatest difficulties have to do not with the first generation, which is generally eager to settle down peacefully in its new homeland, but with the second and third generations: the causes for alienation clearly cannot be blamed straightforwardly on the cultural background. Other factors must be sought and addressed.

One of these factors has to be immigration policy itself. It would be futile for Europeans to clamp down on immigration when Europe's current economic need for it is analogous to the need that countries like Canada and Australia had a few decades ago. Those two countries, however, had a more systemic policy than the Union has now. It is such a policy, of controlled immigration, a control that addresses not just numbers but informal agreements with countries of origin, which the Union needs to formulate. The aim would not be to suppress multiculturalism but to practise it well.

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