France’s Shameful Tide of Xenophobia

Xenophobic beliefs in France are primarily a product of the recent influx of Arabic-Muslim migrants, mostly from post-colonial northern Africa. Discriminatory views in the country are anything but rare.

france-xenophobiaAll across Europe (and throughout much of the developed world), xenophobic rhetoric has become engrained in everyday political dialogue. Countries once boasting generous welfare states are now finding themselves heaving under unprecedented levels of debt.

As a result of this, many first world nations are witnessing substantial domestic outcry against the flow of in-migration spurred by globalization, often taking the form of ethnocentric ad hominem. France, now at the forefront of this distressing trend, is especially blameworthy, considering that their high degree of exclusionary politicking so directly contradicts the historical national tenets that made la République a progressive titan in its own right.

French xenophobic beliefs are primarily a product of the recent influx of Arabic-Muslim migrants, mostly from post-colonial northern Africa. Discriminatory views in the country are anything but rare: According to research conducted by the influential French institute BVA, one in seven in France consider themselves “at least a little bit racist.”

Not only are these sentiments widespread, they are also on the rise. According the BVA’s report, prejudice towards Arabs and Muslims more than doubled between 2009 and 2010. An example of the data used to gauge this? Twenty-eight percent of French people surveyed in 2010 believed Muslims to be “delinquents” with a high likelihood of also being “thieves,” up from twelve percent the year before.

Islamophobia and other forms of xenophobia are certainly not unique to France, but what makes the French case so unfortunate is the clear conflict with its national philosophy.

Constitutionally and historically, French citizenship based along the lines of the “civic” model, making its acquisition of nationality open and voluntary within the framework of its national political values (and not personal background, ethnic or otherwise). This principle is enshrined in France’s national motto, “Liberté, égalité, fraternité,” which clearly spells out the ideals of non-discrimination and equality.

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This dangerous xenophobia, unsurprisingly, has translated into tangible political action.

France’s 2010 burqa ban is an infamous example of this. Nicolas Sarkozy, the previous French president, called Islamic burqa veils “walking coffins” and spearheaded legislation to criminalize them, with infractions punishable by fines and forced “citizenship classes.”

Fully veiled women are certainly not a cheerful sight to see, but this legislation can either be interpreted as an affront on French people’s right to wear what they want or a sordid singling-out of Islam, neither of which is a just cause. A recent assault by Frenchmen on Chinese students in Bordeaux, described by both French and Chinese officials as “xenophobic,” highlights not only that French xenophobia extends beyond Islamophobia, but also that this largely tolerated incendiary discourse is not without its consequences.

Like all ethnocentric xenophobia, discriminatory endeavors in France are justified by appeals to the preservation of a “national identity.” If France truly wants to uphold its identity, however, its leaders must come together and firmly denounce exclusionary bigotry.

Max Honigmann, a second year Political Science student at McGill University in Montreal, is a research intern at Sharnoff’s Global Views. Max is especially interested in civil liberties, intelligence, and international relations-related issues. Follow him on Twitter @maxhonigmann.