France and the perceived failure of multiculturalism

The French government announced on Friday that, from now on, public prayer would be illegal. The move, which comes on the heels of legislation prohibiting French students from wearing headscarves and French women from wearing the face-covering niqab in public, is said to be in response to the fact that French Muslims, unable to find space in existing mosques, are increasingly praying in public streets. (The above image is from The Economist.) Some believe, however, this has less to do with public thoroughfares than President Sarkozy’s current bid for reelection. These people point to the pressure Sarkozy is feeling from the right, and the fact that larger mosques are already being built to accommodate those currently praying in the streets. (Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right National Front, compares the Muslims praying in the street to the “Nazi occupation.”) The following clip comes from The Economist.

…Of 2,000 mosques and prayer rooms in France, weekly prayers overflow on to the streets in only a dozen places, mostly in Paris and Marseille. Home to Europe’s biggest Muslim minority (some 5m), France objects because of its strict secularism or laïcité. This doctrine bars religion from public life. In 2004 cross-party backing pushed through a law that outlaws the headscarf (and other religious symbols) in public schools. Next week a ban on the face-covering veil comes into force.

President Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP party has raised the temperature by holding a controversial debate on laïcité. It wants 26 measures to clarify the application of the 1905 law. These include stopping pupils from skipping classes on compulsory bits of the curriculum (such as the Holocaust) or patients refusing on religious grounds to see a male doctor. The party also wants foreign donors to declare gifts to mosques in France, and to bring in public loan guarantees or long-term leases for mosque-building, to get worshippers off the streets…

Regardless of how it all started, this conversation is fast turning into a referendum on multiculturalism. Sarkozy, as you’ll recall, was recently quoted as saying that the concept of multiculturalism was a “failure”. And, it would appear that many in France agree.

As someone who values multiculturalism, my initial impulse was to be outraged by these recent actions of the French government, but I realize that what we experience here in the U.S., where Muslims constitute .8% of the population, is quite a bit different from what is being experienced in France, where Muslims make up 6% of their population, and streets are being blocked. [reference: A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World’s Muslim Population” (2009) by The Pew Research Center.] I will say, however, that I think praying in the street is bot incredibly inconsiderate and absolutely absurd… And, unfortunately, that’s where I have to stop for now, as I have a bunch of non-blog-related work to do… I will, however, share the following two comments, which were left recently by the readers of the Metafilter on this subject.

The first comment comes from a reader calling himself McGuillicuddy:

The Presidents or Prime Minister of the UK, France, Germany, and Spain have all said that multiculturalism is a fundamentally flawed paradigm. And as a liberal libertine immigrant in a European mono-culture, I generally agree. We’re not talking about a “war on Christmas” here. We are dealing with frequent honor killings, lack of respect for gender equality and complete disregard for the cultures that generously provide the social benefits so many of the people miserably failing to acclimate are quite happily enjoying.

My kids are in schools that are virtual UN assemblies. Some of the issues that have come up at school are folks that want to mutilate their kids, or make their 8 year old daughters wear a full veil against her wishes, or refusing to allow kids to interact with the opposite sex, and refusing to allow kids to be taught biology and sex education. Now, as a parent, that may be your right in some countries. But not this one. And if you can’t abide by the local culture to some minimal degree, you are free to leave.

By the same token, I’m not welcome to go to many of these backwards cultures and hit on peoples wives, get drunk and eat bacon burgers, then have gay sex by the flickering light of a burning the Koran. That would be insulting their culture.

Yeah, I know that he may be overstating the prevalence of honor killings in the west, but I still think his point is very much worth considering… And, here, with the counterpoint in a comment by a reader calling herself yasaman:

“I’d really like to know some things about Muslims in the US. Are their children allowed to partake of sex-ed in school? Phys-ed and change and shower with the others?”

There is no monolithic entity of “Muslims in the US.” I will repeat that, because it is important: THERE IS NO MONOLITHIC ENTITY OF MUSLIMS IN THE US. By which I mean, you are looking for a generalization that will not hold up, because there are multiple Muslim communities in the US, of differing national origins and with different norms.

I am a Muslim in the US, I have gone to school in the US from kindergarten through university, and I was “allowed” to have sex ed at school. I changed in the locker room with the rest of the girls. My entire extended family had the same experience. The girl at my high school who observed hijab changed in the locker room with the rest of the girls, and took PE with the rest of the girls.

Speaking as a Muslim immigrant, albeit an American one, the kind of reception French Muslims are receiving in France is not the kind of reception that leads to happily jumping in the melting pot and discarding one’s native culture. It’s the kind of reception that alienates you, that makes you want to retreat to ethnic and cultural enclaves, because it’s safer there, because you don’t feel like you’re rejecting a huge part of yourself. Because frequently, it seems like no matter what you do, you haven’t assimilated enough.

I frankly don’t see how the French government or French right wing politicians think trying to force that kind of assimilation is going to work. I agree with !Jim that France’s multiculturalism has failed because they haven’t tried multiculturalism. Multiculturalism means Muslim immigrants adopting and becoming part of the culture of their new country, a process which will happen more or less naturally as kids grow up there, because even growing up in an ethnic enclave, it’s close to impossible to stay cut off from the culture at large. But hey, maybe they’ll choose to reject the culture of their new country, because it’s not as if it’s been very welcoming.

So, where do you stand?

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  1. dragon
    Posted September 19, 2011 at 12:19 am | Permalink

    Can anyone here honestly say that if they were driving up Cross Street and a bunch of jagoff christian assholes were praying in the middle of the road, their first instinct wouldn’t be to hit the brake pedal?

  2. Edward
    Posted September 19, 2011 at 6:39 am | Permalink

    Falafel good.
    Subjugation of women bad.

  3. Eel
    Posted September 19, 2011 at 8:09 am | Permalink

    As soon as I can move to Suadi Arabia and open my Pork, Porn, Bongs ‘n Thongs franchise, let’s talk. Until then, keep your religion to yourself.

  4. anonymous
    Posted September 19, 2011 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    I seem to recall having seen parks in France. But I guess that’s not as much fun as shutting down a public street. What pricks.

  5. Posted September 19, 2011 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    I think any kind of prayer is pretty much useless but understand that it makes some people feel good to bow down in front of fictional beings.

    That being said, this is nothing but bigotry at its worst. No doubt it will give American rightists encouragement.

  6. TaterSalad
    Posted September 19, 2011 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    Multi-culturalism can not and will not work in the Free World:

  7. TaterSalad
    Posted September 19, 2011 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    The hidden agenda of Islam:

  8. TaterSalad
    Posted September 19, 2011 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    “Perceived”?? Don’t be SO naive guy! You’d better wake up! These barbarians are still living in the 7th. century and their Quar’an teachings bring this to bear.

  9. Mr. X
    Posted September 19, 2011 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    I’m not a nut who fears that Sharia law is right around the corner, and that in another 10 years we’ll all be living under it. At the same time, though, fundamentalist Muslims scare me, just as fundamentalists of many sects do. Fundamentalism, in my opinion, cannot coexist peacefully with Democracy. And you can argue all you want that women enjoy being covered head to foot, and not being able to leave the house unless escorted by a male relative. I call bullshit on that. In America, we do not remove the clitorises from little girls. How anyone could argue that doing so falls under protected religious practice is beyond me. I’m as much for multiculturalism as the next guy, but there’s a line that should not, for the sake of our nation, be crossed.

  10. Maria
    Posted September 19, 2011 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    America sure seems better at multiculturalism. I’ve been to Europe and my mother was a naturalized US citizen, but I can’t claim my family experience with multiculturalism was normal. My parents loved it and embraced it. It’s to the point in my extended family that they sniff at other fellow European’s attitudes as small minded and provincial, so we’re weird.
    I think equality of opportunity to enter a open society makes a real difference. I’ve seen newly arrived Muslims, and Hindi for that matter, come to the US and “try on” the American lifestyle, give a whirl, and watch them see how it fits, and it’s cool to watch. My mother remembered going to work in Switzerland before she married my father, and my mother didn’t look Swiss, She always felt alienated there, and was relieved to leave it.
    Yeah, I’ll say it, we’re cooler than the Europeans.

  11. Posted September 19, 2011 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    Tater, multiculturalism doesn’t have to work. You can hide in your house and pretend that the world is as white as Wonder Bread if you like. You are free to create your own white, Christian paradise in your own home.

    Religious freedom, unfortunately for you, is guaranteed in the Constitution.

  12. Thom Elliott
    Posted September 19, 2011 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    Doesn’t it say something about keeping the French blood pure in their national anthem? There is an unique agency in France designed to maintain what is offically French. France is an openly racist country, the first of which who used torture in their own early failed “war on terror” in Algeria, it isn’t surprising they would institute a racist and culturally superior law in a heavy handed attempt to sweep their problems with immigration under the rug. As an admirerer of french thought I find it embarrassing the culture who gave us “Being and Nothingness” or the films of Robert Bresson could be so wrong in their behaviour towards the banal practice of a religion.

  13. Thom Elliott
    Posted September 19, 2011 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    “Multiculturalism can not and will not work in a free world” what an amazing comment, it seems every aspect of this proposition is up for definition. What is a “free world”? Is it freedom to be a wasp and to mindlessly consume flesh and long chain hydrocarbons? Why won’t the coexistence of many cultural identities “work” in it? What is it you care what people eat? Or what religious behaviours strangers engage in? What is it you think the word “multicultural” means? I’m about as excited to join the predominant cultural paradigm of the US as I am to contract an STD, which is to say I don’t really see any culture that I have to join or not, I see a roiling mass of caterwalling nonthinkers plummet into a nonexistent past out of terror at the present. what is the US’s culture?

  14. Anonymous Ted Smith
    Posted September 19, 2011 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    Can anyone say “Chickens Coming Home to Roost”?

    Time to watch The Battle of Algiers again.

  15. TaterSalad
    Posted September 19, 2011 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

    The complete Islamization of America and the implementation of Sharia Law:













  16. EOS
    Posted September 20, 2011 at 7:29 am | Permalink

    German Chancellor Angela Merkel has also stated that multiculturism is a dismal failure. 30% of Germans believe that their country has been overrun by foreigners who come chiefly for its social benefits, with no desire to learn the language or assimilate.

    The almost always non-discriminating and neutral Swiss had a recent vote to ban minarets anywhere in the country. Current birth rates will make Europe a predominately Muslim land in the near future and the U.S. is only about 20 years behind.

    The melting pot was a far better model in America, where anyone was welcome to come and embrace shared values and adopt our country as their home. Today, a significant portion of immigrants would fight against us.

  17. Posted September 20, 2011 at 8:33 am | Permalink

    African slaves were not welcomed, but were rather brought here by force. Perhaps you have forgotten that chapter?

    Who is “us”?

    I’ve never been in a fight with an immigrant, unless you include my personal domestic squabbles over whether to buy conventional or organic green peppers.

  18. Posted September 20, 2011 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    I thought religious freedom what the only thing we agreed on?

    I guess bigotry trumps religious expression in the crazy world of EOS.

  19. Mr. X
    Posted September 20, 2011 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    My great great grandparents moved to the states from Sweden. They continued to speak their own languages in the home, and when they got together with friends from the “Old” world on Sundays, but they made an effort to learn English, and didn’t discourage their children from assimilating. In fact, from what I can tell, they encouraged it. I think the main difference is that they believed the American vision was better. They were entrepreneurial by nature, and they worked hard to get here and be a part of America. I think the immigration game has changed a bit now. The world is smaller, and people aren’t looking to shake off their old identities. Things are more fluid. People want to come here, make money, and move on. And, while they’re here, they want to change as little as possible. Of course, that isn’t true across the board, but I think a great number of people feel that way.

    As for praying in the street, though, I don’t think there’s any way you can see that as anything but a conscious affront to civil society. My relatives may have spoken Swedish in the home, but hey sure as hell didn’t sit down in an Illinois intersection and cook their eels. That goes beyond inconsiderate. If it’s that important for them to pray at a specific time, they can get on a subway and go to a park. I don’t blame the people of France for being concerned.

    I’m all for religious freedom, but draw the line at assholes.

  20. kjc
    Posted September 20, 2011 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    if unfounded generalization were disallowed, most of these comments would not survive.

  21. Posted September 20, 2011 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    One side of my family happily moved here and took advanatage of the free land offered to them in Michigan. Of course, they were merely a pawn in a greater plan of displacing native populations from the midwest, but we can ignore that.

    Another part of my family, assuming that native blood can be considered so deep, were run off their land by my German ancestors.

    Another part of my family came here and had to put up with an Irish ghetto in Boston. They happily moved to the US to escape a famine and thus, starvation and death though what they came to was little better. Generations later, I am sitting drinking $2 coffee and taking advantage of free wireless with a full stomach.

    Many immigrants came to the US and succeeded, certainly, but few were “welcomed” for anything but cheap labor and broader political goals. To believe otherwise is revisionism at its worst.

  22. EOS
    Posted September 20, 2011 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    My grandparents immigrated to this country, my father was raised as an American, and my siblings and I have no allegiance to any country other than the USA.

  23. kjc
    Posted September 20, 2011 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    “My grandparents immigrated to this country, my father was raised as an American, and my siblings and I have no allegiance to any country other than the USA.”

    (wtf does this mean?)

  24. Brainless
    Posted September 20, 2011 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    First, Maria has it right. Surprise everybody! America is actually BETTER at dealing with folks from other countries than a lot of other places in the world. Perhaps the best. Yes, we are, in fact, NUMBER ONE!!!

    Second, I had tons of friends in college who were first-generation American-born. Chinese, Korean, Thai, Egyptian, Indian, etc. The single problem they ALL had was that their parents hated that they were becoming so American (heaven forbid). The cool part was that nobody had to do a single thing to make this happen. The allure of the American lifestyle is just too powerful for foreign cultural norms to contain. Sure, you get the fundamentalist a-holes who try to separate themselves. But the fundamentalist Mormons scare me a shitload more than the average middle-easterner.

    Oh, and Tater. Shut the fuck up. Mark, please ban this douchebag. It’s just spam.

  25. TaterSalad
    Posted September 20, 2011 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    Brainless…………aprropriate name for yourself ! Quit whining Brainless! Sound like a little prick without a daddy! Ban this guy and ban that guy because they have an opinion. Whata’ loser you are!

  26. kjc
    Posted September 20, 2011 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    so if france sucks we’re awesome?

  27. TaterSalad
    Posted September 20, 2011 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    1400 hundred years of Muslim inbreeding. This is the results:


    2. Muslims and their goats:

    3. Do Mulims use “Open Pit” barbeque sauce when eating dead people. These barbarians will never come out of the 7th. century until they bury the ideology of this Muhammad goon:
    Massive Muslim “In-Breeding” has radicalized the Islamic faith:







  28. TaterSalad
    Posted September 20, 2011 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    Islamic Facts and Understandings that everyone should know:





    C.A.I.R. – Council on American-Islamic Relations

    WAQF: –

    M.E.A.C. – Muslim Education Action Center – – for every Muslim boy or girl…..only! All others are NOT allowed.


    Muslims are getting a free pass on Obamacare because of their religion:

    ‘A Muslim has no nationality except his belief,” the intellectual godfather of the Islamists, Egyptian Sayyid Qutb, wrote decades ago.

    Sharia Law:

    Sharia also requires the destruction of the Statue of Liberty:

    Sharia does not recognize “man-made law” such as our U.S. and state constitutions. Sharia is explicit in its exhortation that the very existence of man-made law constitutes a transgression of the sinners who enacted the law:
    The source of legal rulings for all acts of those who are morally responsible is Allah. (a1.1) It is not a sin to comply with man-made laws that require buying auto insurance or having a photo ID because “the authorities are responsible for the sin, not the individual forced to comply.” (w42.3 and w50.4)

    Sharia regulates belief, speech and the status of women as well as non-Muslims. It dictates all matters criminal, civil and financial. It even prescribes the rules pertaining to women removing their facial hair and wearing perfume when they are outside their home. Sharia is said to dictate a complete way of life. There is no such thing as a separate secular authority or secular law under Sharia, since religion and state do not exist as separate from one another.

    Muslim Brotherhood:


    The erasure of the customs, norms and laws of any country or region in order to purely reflect Islamic sentiment. This can be done through political pressure – as in the West – where full out Jihad is not possible, such as in places like Pakistan and Afghanistan, where the ultimate goal of Islamization has been achieved by violent Jihad and finally through political pressure for peace – which in Islam can only come under Shari’a rule.
    Also see: Dar al-Harb & Dar al-Islam

    Murabaha Financing:


    Burqa / Hijab:

    Here is the actual meaning of why Muslim women wear the hijab as stated in the Koran:

    The hijab is actually the FLAG OF JIHAD…it is not religious apparel to call attention to the Moslem god, but a covering to signal to Moslem men that this is a Moslem and therefore she is not FREE TO BE RAPED as would be a dirty, slutty kafir.
    (All kafir women are ‘dirty, slutty’…thus justifying rapability.) – Koran 33.56

    The “Myths of Muhammed”:

  29. Mr. X
    Posted September 20, 2011 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    You’re a racist, Taters.

    We’re trying to have a civilized conversation about multiculturalism, and you offer a link to a six year old story about a Muslim man in the Sudan being caught fucking a goat, as though that’s reflective of the entire race. Here’s a link about a man in Michigan caught this year having sex with a horse.

    What does that say about you, and the men of Michigan?

    This is the first time I’ve ever followed one of your links, and it’s the last. I think you’ve received more than ample opportunity to show us whether you’re capable of adult conversation.

  30. Maria
    Posted September 20, 2011 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

    Sometimes you can just like where you are, it ain’t about what the other place is like.
    I love Spain in lots of ways, but I’m happy I live here. Does France suck? Likely if you’re feeling alienated there. Depends on who you are in the society.
    America has a lot of freedoms, corny but true.
    You know, if nobody every answered Tater he would stop.

  31. Maria
    Posted September 20, 2011 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

    I meant to write, if nobody ever answered Tater he would stop posting.

  32. TaterSalad
    Posted September 21, 2011 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    Please “stop” then. Who cares!

  33. TaterSalad
    Posted September 21, 2011 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    Hey Pete…….read and learn:

    What is wrong with Islam:

    Keep and open mind and understand what is wrong with Islam. Pass this on to all Muslims and non-believers of Islam.

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