French Minority Groups and US Foreign Policy

WALTER QUINTANILLA —  Though France is the U.S.’s oldest mission, the diplomatic relationship with the new French social composition will be one more complicated than before.

Paris_-_Black_immigrants_in_the_marche_Dauphine_-_2714 (2)Introduction:

Europe has undergone a massive change in racial make-up. Rapid immigration has changed a predominantly white population with one that is more mixed and based around North African, Middle Eastern or Muslim minority groups. American public diplomacy efforts must change with the new issues and concerns that evolve with a changing population. A more diverse population group harbors assorted opinions, wants, and needs. Nonetheless, a more diverse population may also induce backlash from nationalist groups and movements. A national government’s stance may stand opposed to that of the United States’. Many questions begin to arise: Must American public diplomacy cater to the national government or the general population, including minority groups? Would public diplomacy initiatives to minority groups in foreign countries be seen as a usurpation of power by the domestic government? In the following essay, I will focus on France’s increasing Muslim minority, the French government’s reaction to the growing minority, and the United States’ role in public diplomacy pertaining to France.

France’s Diverse Population:

The conclusion of World War II led to a spike in immigration into France mainly from North African colonies still under French rule, such as Algeria and Morocco. Fueled by the need for laborers to facilitate a growing economy, immigration grew in post- World War II France. Algerians had greatly benefited from free circulation between the two countries; with 1.7 million Algerian immigrants in 1946, the number doubled to 3.4 million Algerian immigrants in 1975. Around this time, mainly in the mid-1960s, immigration to France by Moroccan and Tunisian immigrants developed rapidly as well. In more recent times, Immigration from African nations has overtaken immigration from any other place in the world and it has even doubled the number of immigrants from France’s second biggest immigration source, the European Union. Immigration from African nations peaked in 2003 with 101, 658 immigrants eclipsing the European Union’s peak of 55, 941 immigrants in 2005.

Opposing Cultural Identities:

In Religion and Incorporation: Islam in France and Germany, Riva Kastoryano explains that religion is closely tied to national history. The national identity of many European countries is based on a long term influence of religious wars and religious communities. Currently, Muslim populations that have been “outside the history of the relationship between church and state that shaped Western national character” demand greater recognition in national society.

Islam as a growing social and political force in Europe challenges already accepted notions of national identity. France runs on an idea of secularism called “Laïcité.” Article 1 of the French Constitution of 1958 provides a definition for this idea: “France shall be an indivisible, secular, democratic and social Republic. It shall ensure the equality of all citizens before the law, without distinction of origin, race or religion. It shall respect all beliefs. It shall be organized on a decentralized basis”. Yet, recent political events in France seem directly opposed to this idea of multicultural pluralism under the pre-supposed notion of social equality. For example, in the French Presidential election of 2012, far-right nationalist party candidate Marine LePen won 18% of the vote during the first round beating the more liberal candidate Melanchon for third place. Despite the perceived rise in nationalist sentiments, tensions against minority groups had been rising within the last decade. President Chirac’s proposal to ban the use of headscarves in public schools emphasized France’s dedication to secularism. The ban won popular support from the French people, and the law even joined secularists with feminists who were dismayed by the percentage of girls who wore the headscarves. The more controversial law, however, came in 2011. The law banning the wearing of the full-veil niqab, brought into question the place of Islam in a secular society. Moreover, the law brought into light questions of its origin considering Interior Ministry’s estimate that a mere 2000 women in France wear the niqab. More generally, in a study by the National Academy of Sciences in 2010 where the incomes and job opportunities of Senegalese Muslims and Senegalese Christians were compared, Muslim families were found to make 400 Euros less a month than Christian families. According to the study, there seems to be a negative Muslim effect on household income.

America’s Place in French Public Sentiment

The United States has always harbored a complicated relationship with France. Though there has been perceived political hostility towards the United States in the past, such as when Charles De Gaulle withdrew France from NATO’s military command in 1966, it hasn’t stopped the “Titanic” from being France’s all-time top box office film, or McDonald’s from selling “McBaguettes” on French street corners. The truth is: French people love America, or at least its products. Though French politicians often discredit one another by calling each other “L’Americaine,” Former French president Jacques Chirac still invited Steven Spielberg to the Elysee Palace and awarded him the “Legion D’Honneur.” It’s important to note that consumption does not equal affinity, but it is even more important to emphasize that a diverse social population calls for a more dynamic approach to public policy. The French may like our popular culture, but that is not enough to ensure future cooperation or improved bilateral relations. More importantly, the term the “French People” can be taken as a fallacy because the diverse social composition and recent controversial laws have changed public sentiment. According to a poll by the German Marshall Fund in 2011, 59% of France’s population is concerned about illegal immigration, 33% of the population believes that there are too many immigrants, and 66% of the population sees France’s management of immigration as “poor” or “very poor”. Recent events in France, such as the shootings in Toulouse, or more lasting events, such as the September 11 attacks, can often lead to misconceptions about Islam and its ability to integrate into a Western society. Such misconceptions can not only cause turmoil for the national government, but it complicates the mission and the practice of public diplomacy.

Current American Public Diplomacy in France

It’s important to make clear that these are France’s problems, not those of the United States. Whatever the French national government decides to do to alter the integration of immigrants resides in their own capacity. The importance of this information to American public diplomacy lies in its ability to make diplomacy more efficient and impactful in order to secure American interests in France and facilitate Franco-American cooperation in the future. The United States already has a strong and active presence in France through its embassy, and its efforts should not be overlooked. In January, the U.S. Embassy in Paris invited an NGO named Cahier Vert, a mentoring association, to take high school students on a tour of the embassy. In April, influential Jazz musician Herbie Hancock visited French high school students. Finally, U.S. Embassy Paris invited Monica Dodi, Senior Executive of the Women’s Venture Capital, to lead discussions on a three day speaker program focusing on women’s entrepreneurship. Nonetheless, public diplomacy in France should work through a stronger grass roots initiative and a more profuse approach, decentralized from a strong emphasis in Paris. If Muslim immigrants feel harassed by their laws, then sponsor talks with Muslim-American journalists and activists. According to the Modern Language Association, French is the second most studied language in institutions of higher learning, just behind Spanish. Then, support scholarships or grants that place college graduates in classrooms as English teachers or assistants in areas where public diplomacy initiatives (i.e. discussions, visits, etc) are not possible.

Conclusion; Questions of Public Diplomacy Implementation:

Socially, France has been changing. Since the end of World War II and the independence of former colonies, immigration has increased rapidly. The more diverse social make-up has caused questions of national identity, namely “what makes a French person French?” The case for France is different because its constitution is based on the idea of secularism. Nonetheless, recent success of far-right nationalist groups and laws that affect hyper-minorities bring into question the difference between secular and predatory policy. The United States’ place in this capacity is not to change or influence French policy, but to understand the changing French social composition to better fulfill public diplomacy goals. Consumption does not equal affinity. Just because the French eat McDonalds and listen to Kanye West does not mean that the French public will necessarily agree with American foreign policy, commercial interest, and political views. It is clear that France, and the rest of Europe, is quickly becoming more heterogeneous. Diversity is something we share with France. Thus, public diplomacy needs to take a stronger grasp of our diversity to link our citizens to their citizens. But, public diplomacy is not an easy task. The money available for public diplomacy initiatives is fickle, variable, and more often than not, inaccessible. Recent economic cuts have affected posts across the board. Also, it cannot be sure that public diplomacy initiatives directly with French minority groups will not seem like a usurpation of power from the national government. Often what sounds good in theory falls short in practice which can discourage change in public diplomacy implementation.  Though France is the U.S.’s oldest mission, the diplomatic relationship with the new French social composition will be one more complicated than before.

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