Can Sarkozy Uphold the Values of 1789?
Rightwing nationalist Nicolas Sarkozy, is the next president of France. He campaigned on an anti-immigrant platform that veered uncomfortably close to that of Jean-Marie LePen, though he did make a provision for affirmative action. Sarkozy will try to break the unions, and his view of the immigrants who rioted in 2005 over joblessness as “scum” bodes ill for social peace. An Arab blogger’s view of Sarkozy’s police tactics is eye-opening.
Sarkozy’s message, that he wants to restore pride in Frenchness, wants to promote free market reforms, and worries that France has lost control of its borders all sounds Reaganesque. Just as Reaganism was a form of American (“white”) nationalism, so Sarkozyism is a form of French nationalism. And just as Reagan’s nationalism had a class location in the upper middle classes and the rich, so too does Sarkozy’s “French” nationalism.
But the United States and France are both founded on civic nationalism (open to everyone of any race or culture), not on ethnic nationalism. While Germany’s laws allowed persons of German heritage and language resident in eastern Europe and Central Asia under Communist rule to come to Germany as citizens after the fall of the Soviet Union, the United States would hardly make a law allowing English-speakers to immigrate at will. Citizenship in the US is open to all ethnicities and is about allegiance to the Constitution. The revolutionary ideal of France is similarly civic. The Republican French thought nothing of bestowing citizenship on some provinces of Senegal and actually allowing them to elect deputies to the French national assembly. French citizenship was never about race, about “Français de souche.” But I worry that Sarkozy’s trajectory is to privilege that kind of narrow Frenchness.
Sarkozy’s French nationalism (he uses the French equivalent of “France: Love it or leave it!”— a sentiment pioneered by LePen) will clash with the realities of French multiculturalism. France’s Muslims are estimated at anywhere from 4 million on up, but I favor the 4 million figure (the population of metropolitan France is about 60 million, so this is 6.6 percent).
The Muslims are only one immigrant group. There are thought to be 14 million French of immigrant origins (over the past century?)— including 100,000 Britons. The biggest group is the Portuguese.
Sarkozy intends to create an Orwellian “Ministry of Immigration and National Identity.” He rubbed the practicing Muslims the wrong way when he came out in favor of the Danish caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, and he supported banning the headscarf for Muslim school girls.
Although it is often said that Sarkozy played a positive role in insisting that French Muslims form a Muslim Council and develop a “French Islam,” it is often forgotten that the council ended up being dominated by first-generation immigrants out of touch with French Muslims (many of whom are third or fourth generation), and by conservative religious groups–the “National Federation of Muslims in France (FNMF) and the Union of Islamic Organizations in France (UOIF).” Sarkozy himself is said to have favored the UOIF, which is to say the least made up of hardliners. One suspects that he was attempting to set up religous Muslims as a force in rightwing politics in France, on the model of the practicing Roman Catholics. (About 18 percent of the French are practicing Roman Catholics; most of these congregations have tended to vote Gaullist. Some 45 percent of practicing Catholics voted in the first round for Sarkozy, with only 11 percent voting Socialist. The rest must have voted for the centrist candidate, Francois Bayrou [or as a reader reminded me, LePen, who got 10% in the first round].)
Ironically, Sarkozy may have succeeded in setting up a rightwing Muslim Council, but failed to attract its loyalty to himself, given his subsequent record of anti-immigrant rhetoric and his positions on cultural issues important to Muslims.
In the first round, only 1 percent of Muslim voters embraced Sarkozy, with 64 percent voting for Segolene Royal. That French Muslims supported a woman socialist candidate so overwhelmingly shows how few of them have a fundamentalist mindset. Most French Muslim youth are relatively remote from the culture of their grandparents and the rioting was economic in character.
In his acceptance speech, Sarkozy said he would try to be president of all the French. I hope he meant to include the workers and immigrants. If not, his tenure could be turbulent.