torsdag, februari 04, 2010

L'identité nationale - The National Identity

In 2007 the French government created a special ministry - Le ministère de l'Immigration, de l'Intégration, de l'Identité nationale et du Développement solidaire - for questions concerning the French National Identity.
This was - among other things - an initiative in order to make possible a discussion concerning what it meant being a French today.

The reason for this discussion to a certain degree emanates from:
1. the fact that France is a country with a great number of immigrants,
2. of which some are regarded not following the customs of the country.
This last assumtion is however somewhat troublesome.

It's also a mean to discuss what values should be regarded as important in a nation and to try to unite the population around these sets of values.
Is this however possible?
President Sarkozy renewed this debate in 2009 and since then this issue has been recurrently discussed in television, radio, on internet and in newspapers.

One benchmark is the values expressed in the national motto of the French republic:
Liberté, égalité, fraternité (Liberty, equality, fraternity/brotherhood).
From this standpoint one trie to deduct other moral and national values.
Starting with the identity and what is significant for a certain society, this has of course changed throughout the history of man.
-What constitutes a certain country and its inhabitants?
-Are there any clear and obvious bonds linking a people together?
-Are there values around which most inhabitants - or all - can unite?

In so called democratic countries we appreciate democracy - more or less. Most people seem to regard democracy as the 'least bad system' in comparison to dictatorships, theokraties, plutocracies or other more or less totalitarian systems.

The idea about 'the people ruling the country'/'popular rule' (at least formally) is something most of us in the 'free world' take for granted, linking a majority of people together - also the French.
This ruling system has of course not always been the normative.
In France - as in Sweden and other countries around the world - a totalitarian rule under an authoritarian emperor, king or any other ruling dynasty has sometimes prevailed. In a European perspective often with the help of the Christian church, sanctioning the 'worldly rule' and sometimes opposing it.

One can, without exaggerating, state that some of the French presidents have been acting in a very emperor-like style, though being elected.

A state/a country is however a geopolitical unity created through bloodshed and wars.
This means that different parts of a country (as we know them today) in different historical epochs sometimes emerged sometimes desintegrated, meaning that strict boundaries with a more or less ethnically homogenic group constituting the 'real' France (with the 'real French') or the 'real' Sweden (with the 'real' Swedes), came about rather late in history.
In some parts of the world this is still an ongoing process.
Not even in small communities the ethnical homogenity has always been strict.

Countries always have consisted of different ethnic groups even though some countries, during a certain period in history have had a superficially very homogeneous population.
Of course we have minority groups living together with less interaction with the majority society - e.g. the Samis or Lapps in Sweden - but they are still a part of Sweden and the Swedish society and also influenced by other groups of people migrating in and out of their community.

What are the national traits of the French republic?

The official french language is of course a common denominator but historically people have spoken different languages and dialects in this country as well as today when some dialects almost could be regarded as a specific language apart from french.

As a Swede, living only six months in France one might say that it's somewhat immoderate making comments about the 'national traits' of this country but I find it hard to deduct any special characteristics more than the overall theories, mentioned above, about democracy, liberty, to some degree equality and brotherhood. These mottos emerging rather late in the history of France, however.

Already when we talk about these three 'foundation pillars' it's hard to state that this constitutes France more than it constitutes any other democratic country in the world.

Liberty/freedom is of course to some degree implemented but 'total freedom' (whatever this would be) is not possible or maybe not even desirable.
I write "maybe" as there are ideologies arguing for 'total freedom' in a society whereby laws would be superfluous and conflicts solved on an individual basis.
Some people have more freedom than others, often due to the fact that they occupy powerful positions in society, considerable wealth or both.
This means e.g. that 'equality before the law' only exists 'on the paper', not in reality, neither in France nor elsewhere.

Are there more freedom in France than in other democratic countries?
Maybe in some fields but from a general point of view, I can't se that this would be the case.
I now talk about the exterior freedom, not the interior.
Of course it's possible for an individual to feel free even if he or she is sick, poor and lacking societal power but this is more a question of the spirit or the soul of every individual and this is not what I'm discussing here.

Freedom of speech and freedom of the press, are democratic values shared by all democratic nations, in some with a higher degree of transparency in others with less.

Equality is, as we know, a very nice, compelling but very complicated expression.
Are all people equal and if so in what way?
We are all individuals with different personal gifts, abilities, characteristics and comptences making us unequal in many ways.
The general idea is often related to human rights and that no one should be denied what is being codified as human rights, as defined in different international documents.
I do agree that noone should be denied there human rights refering to exterior characteristics like ethnicity, sex or sexual orientation (hetero-, homo- bi- or transsexuals), religious or political views but apart from this there are great differences between people, to some degree making it appropriate to differentiate between humans, acknowledging that we are not equals.

This does not mean that we are going to create a society with superior and inferior people as the different abilities and skills all are needed in different situations.

Today however, differences in how people are being treated and dealt with by society is not based on any intellectual, rational or 'common sense' considerations, only exterior dito like the ones mentioned above (fortune and societal position, inherited or not, sexual preferences and the like, ethnical belonging and so forth).

This is the case in France as well as in all other democratic countries, again with some specific differences in details.

How about 'brotherhood' (fraternité)?
Well how about it? What does this mean and why is there no 'sisterhood'?
This term was of course a mean used by the revolutionary groups under Robespierre, Danton et consortes to unite the nation, making the French feeling like a huge family.
The idea was that there shouldn't be any boundaries between people linked to societal ranks and positions, all citizens were 'brothers and sisters' in a national or global community.
This idea does have some traits of Christianism and other religious thoughts, not making it a solely atheistic idea, as might have been the ambition.

Similar ideas emerged in Sweden when the social democrats during the first half of the 20th century wanted to create a 'Folkhem' ('People's Home'/'Volksheim!).

This was however more based on creating a common agenda concerning what should be considered 'good' and 'bad', 'healthy' and 'unhealthy' both on a societal as well as a individual level, very much like the Nazi's during the 30's and 40's in Germany relating to a 'blood- and soil-relation' between citizens.

I think all these words and ideas are very vague and very hard to implement even if one have the ambition to do so.

Concerning the French national identity one should also ask oneself at what moment in the history of France, one are able to define the 'specific French nation' with a specific identity.
I believe that most French politicians and people in general prefer starting with the French revolution, others with the Gauls, again others with another historically well known episode.
This has always constituted a problem in all states when trying to define themselves in relation to historical events and here we can mention Israel and Palestine as two very well known examples.

A considerable minority of the population in France are muslims (5 millions) and Islam is the second largest faith in France after Catholicism.
The last ten-fifteen years of muslim extremism connected to Al-Quaida/Al-Qaeda or groups supporting their ideological stance is, I believe, one among many reasons creating a fear of what might happen in France.

This is of course also true for other countries in the world, who after 9/11, very strongly focused on islam and muslim extremism.
This combined with the troubles and uprising in the suburbs of Paris, has lead to a more profound identity crisis among many Frenchmen and French politicians.

Among this diversified group of people with a muslim faith there are a small number of women and men who regard the wearing of the Burqa (burka/voile intégral), Niqab or Hijab being something constituting an essential trait of the muslim faith.
There are other clothings for muslim women besides these, but the above are the most well known in the West.
The burka has caused a great deal of confrontation between people of different opinions concerning this kind of clothing.
Many politicians have officially stated that the burka can never, what so ever, be regarded as an acceptable clothing in France and a special commission has investigated the issue and now finally published their results. The work of this commission could lead to a legislation banning the Burqa or similar clothings in public.
I haven't read this report in any detail but normally the arguments against the use of Burqa or the like in public, are the following, namely that wearing a burqa conflict with:

1. The 'principles' of most Western - more or less - open societies, namely that one can't be anonymous in public life.
It must always be possible to identify oneself and this is of course somewhat troublesome if a muslim woman regard it blasphemous to show any part of herself - not even the face or eyes - in public.
2. the rules concerning hygiene at hospitals or other workplaces and that people want to see with whom they interact.
3. the idea of 'free and independent women'. Western women often regard the burqa as hostile and degrading towards women. This has been stated very clearly from many French politicians, not least female.
The burqa has - according to them - no place in the French society.

Personally I think that one could find a way of 'identifying' muslim women when needed.
This by using finger prints or any other device displaying the identity of a muslim woman.
The technological development should be able to give us the tools to do so.

Concerning the question about hygiene, I do agree with those who state that this is incompatible with wearing clothings like the burqa, seen in relation to the laws and rules in the field of hygiene at hospitals and other institutions where the hygienical rules are - or should be - rigorous.
Even if it's sometime - with some right - said that our hygienical standards in the Western countries are to rigorous, I don't find it appropriate to work in domaines where hygiene is essential, wearing clothes covering you totally. Maybe one could find a solution to this problem too?
However, I don't think that this causes any major problems for muslim women, who well understand this.

When it comes to idea of 'independant women' and being a clothing 'degrading' women, I think that these arguments emerges from a very narrow minded and 'Western' point of view.
First of all there are muslim women who claim that they regard themselves being more 'free' than Western women, when wearing a burqa or niqab (or any other veil-like clothing).
This because they are not forced to wear make up or dress themselves nicely as Western women often feel themselves forced to do.
The muslim women argue that Western women make great efforts trying to please the eyes of men - and women - in the street. Certain Muslim women find it more important to please their husbands, showing herself in all her splendour in front of him. This is at least used as an argument from some muslim women.

This idea might be hard to understand but I totally follow their way of thinking.

On the other hand most muslim scholars and other intellectually critical and initiated persons
(I don't regard myself as being that initiated even if I have studied theology), state that the burqa, niqab or any other veil is not a part of the genuine muslim faith but a tradition that has emerged long after the muslim faith first was codified and acknowledged by the surrounding world.
I do agree with this stance seen from a historical point of view and logically reasoning, gives us the same answer.
I believe that God/Allah is to some degree logic and that woman (if one believes in creationism) wasn't created wearing a burqa! God/Allah had no problem looking at naked men and women, obviously.
If the question about not displaying oneself in public was really a 'divine' idea, this should of course also apply to men. There is a risk that women could get attracted to men who show themselves in public only wearing trousers and a shirt and this is of course, in that case, as serious as the reverse, seen from a believers point of view.

The truth about this - if there is one - is however more connected to the inability of men in all times to controle their sexuality.
This is true not least in societies where rigid religious practice has created a lot of rules around our behaviour, stigmatizing some and hailing others and women have most often had to submit to harder regulations, not least in patriarchal religions like Judaism, Christianism and Islam.

If however a muslim woman, by her own choice, not forced by the men around her, well aware of that this is not a divine prescription, decides to wear a burqa or niqab, this shouldn't be denied her.
Again it's the question about how to identifiy oneself in an open society that has to be resolved.

Does the burqa or any other clothings fit into the 'National Identity'?
Most people would say 'no' and this referring to the fact that the burqa has had no place in the French society before muslims became as numerous as today.
Historically though, muslims have fought on French soil even though not being in possession of parts of the country for a longer period of time.

The muslims and people with other faiths are however a part of the French society today and has been so for a long time, whereby I think one could say that their habits and traditions today is a part of 'L'Identité Nationale'.

We also have to remember that the discussion around the burqa concerns the very few women in France wearing this clothing. I don't remember the exact figure but I think there are between 1000 and 1500 in the whole of France!
If this is true it also make this discussion look somewhat exaggerated and rather ridiculous.

As with other countries in the world I can't find any specific national identity that would exclude others from the French community/brotherhood/sisterhood and therefore I think the discussion concerning the French identity is somewhat superflous.

On the other hand it's of course important - or rather essential - that people coming to France - like myself - try to adapt to the French society by learning the French language, the laws and rules of this society and doing their/our best to become a member of this big 'French family'.
Other 'loyalties' are not necessary, in my opinion.
I live, work and pay my tax here and I therefore should do my best to work hard and earn my living and follow the laws, rules and regulations, of the country but this is sufficient.

As being born and living all my life in Sweden -up till now - I have never had any deeper 'roots' connecting me with the Swedish society. I don't feel obliged to neither support nor promote what could be regarded as typical Swedish traits.

The debate concerning a specific 'national identity' often emerges - so it seems - in periods of societal-economical crisis.
When the world and the different power centers of the world are changing, earlier 'golden years' are evoked, in order to unite the citizens around a 'glorious past' and I think this is both unintelligent, very romantic and dangerous.
The latter as the so called golden years is a construction, often 'invented' many years after the events, forgetting the negative aspects for some people during such an epoc.

(Picture 'Marianne' by Delacroix copied from:
(Photo Al-Qaeda-leaders copied from:
(Photo Twin Towers World Trade Center copied from:
(Foto 'Folkhemsfamilj' kopieriad från:

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