Where is our beautiful France going?

Where is our beautiful France going?

“Don’t ever call me France again, France has betrayed me!” » There are many, in France and elsewhere, all those who know the song by Michel Sardou denouncing the sale of this famous eponymous liner ceded to Norway in 1979.

There are many French people and residents of Muslim faith or culture who feel betrayed by France, this historic country of human rights which saw them born or welcomed them.

This generous France that they helped to build or rebuild with their hands, over many decades, with their know-how, with their talents, which they enriched economically and culturally.

As a child, my illiterate Algerian immigrant father worked hard to instill in me the merits of the republican school. Years later, he explained to me in his own words that the social elevator found its full meaning in the formula “Help yourself, heaven will help you”.

He wasn't the type to complain “old man.” One could be both an exemplary citizen and a Muslim “at the same time”, he thought. Even to be an exemplary Muslim, one had to assume impeccable citizenship.

I kept from him this love of my country, France, once a generous and welcoming land. I also inherited from him this propensity for meritocracy, determination in the face of adversity. “My old man”, as Daniel Guichard sang, abhorred resignation and idleness.

Like everyone else, he could fall, but always got back up: it was almost a Pavlovian instinct that he had forged in the 1950s in the massive jebels, so typical of the eastern Algerian highlands.

Like millions of Algerians, he had not been able to benefit from this free and free education promised by a certain Jules Ferry in a colonial society that was not very lenient towards the illiterate. Persevering and always dignified in any circumstance, he always was, sometimes at the cost of great sacrifices. His two great qualities remained forever engraved in my memory and my heart.

Economic distress had led him to France at the beginning of the sixties, and like millions of Algerian, Tunisian, Moroccan, Senegalese and many other immigrants, he had brought his contribution to the thirty glorious years, had founded a family, ended up liking it. He had somehow succeeded, in his own way, in the marriage of tradition and modernity.

Convinced that diversity was an asset for this open and welcoming France, he had joined these hordes of workers in construction, mines, steel, rail, automobile manufacturing… It was the era of immigration pampered by businesses, an immigration that is economically vital, useful and labor-intensive.

It was so recently, it was yesterday. At the time when the immigrant could certainly stoically suffer “dirty bougnoul”, “bicot”, “metique” or other bird names without flinching, convinced of being after all only “passing” foreigners who, for some came to “steal the bread of the French”: a sort of cyclical racism.

We are living in another, different, anxiety-provoking era where the social pact is disintegrating with economic uncertainties and the easy and practical search for new scapegoats: the syndrome of the three Is (immigration, insecurity supposedly embodied by Islam) has reactivated populist and racist theories of the “great replacement” or “remigration” of Muslim populations in their “countries of origin”.

However, these immigrants have founded families, and their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren are fully French and aspire more than ever to make their contribution to the republican building. Many are executives, lawyers, doctors, researchers, professors, entrepreneurs, elected officials…

Many suffer from an atmosphere of Islamophobia, having difficulty having their loyalty questioned and their identity questioned.

They can no longer stand being considered as entirely separate citizens, or even simple “paper French” in the fourth generation. Unless your name is Zidane, Benzema, Debbouze or Omar Sy, in the collective Islamophobic consciousness fueled by omnipresent racist discourse, acceptance of the belonging of Muslims to the French nation is not acquired.

Many denounce stigmatization because of their real or supposed belonging to Islam, hastily assimilated to jihadism in the name of a legitimate fight against terrorism, of which Muslims are quantitatively the first victims throughout the world.

The multiplication of rapid expulsions of imams, the closure of Muslim establishments and places of worship, the excessive media coverage of the phenomenon of abayas, the stigmatization of veiled women, the endless “debates” questioning the compatibility of Islam with the values Republicans, the shameless allegations of alleged anti-Semitism by Muslims…

All this ended up having a hard impact on the second largest religious community in France, which only aspires to live its faith serenely with indifference and respect. Conjunctural in its beginnings, anti-Muslim hatred has become structural, notably thanks to the support of political and institutional actors as well as political pressure on the justice system.

French political decision-makers do not seem to appreciate the divide that they themselves have generated, at the risk of further undermining already weakened social cohesion.

It is not good to be a Muslim today in France. The phenomenon had already started with September 11, 2001. It was reactivated by the fascist sphere with the killings of October 7, 2023 in Israel, which opened the way to the open-air massacre by “the most moral army in the world” and the deportation of nearly two and a half million civilians, children, women dehumanized, made invisible, despite all the cathodic images of atrocities relayed, the condemnations of humanists, the testimonies of NGOs, the declarations of the UN powerless in the face at an unprecedented genocidal risk.

The oppressed Palestinian people, martyred for too long, are there thanks to the support of some, the guarantee of others and sometimes our indifference or even our selfishness.

How can we explain the double standards, when we compare the very different Western media treatment of the war in Ukraine and the genocide in Gaza?

However, all human lives are equal. Or would there be a hierarchy of what is morally acceptable and what is not? The empathy of the French mainstream media towards the Ukrainian victims is inversely proportional to the indifference to the macabre litanies in Gaza and the West Bank.

As if humanity and compassion were also hierarchical according to… In France, supporting Palestine or denouncing the atrocities committed by the IDF, criticizing the criminal excesses of the far-right Israeli government sometimes transforms you into an Islamist, leftist Islamist, anti-Semitic even complicit in terrorism.

Expressing humanity towards ALL Israeli and Palestinian victims is questionable. The approximately 40,000 civilian deaths and thousands missing under IDF bombs are presented as simple necessary collateral damage, resulting from the carnage committed by Hamas. Perfidiously, a thought police has set up in France which equates criticism of the State of Israel or anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism.

Evoking Islamophobia makes you suspect, because this would be the new discovery of Salafists or even Islamo-leftists and other Wokists to silence any criticism of Islam and Islamize French society!

Islamophobia, like anti-Semitism and all forms of hatred, must be fought in the name of respect for human dignity, fairness and coherence. However, according to many French political leaders and media, a good Muslim is one who ceases to be one.

Faced with this unease, a growing feeling of exclusion and a loss of confidence among Muslims in France are already taking shape, the beginnings of exile, a contemporary “hijra” noted by specialists.

More and more of these Muslim executives, researchers, business leaders, young and old, are emigrating to other, more lenient skies, other countries where paradoxically they are better considered as French. Respected French people who bring their skills and live their faith serenely without stigmatization, far from the French nightmare fueled by the merchants of hatred.

*Historian, author of “Dictionary of Islamophobia” (Bayard) and Marianne and her Muslims: the divide” (L’harmattan)