Ram Madhav
July 8, 2023

Reckoning for Multiculturalism

(The article was originally published by Indian Express on July 8, 2023 as a part of Dr Madhav’s column titled ‘Ram Rajya’. Views expressed are personal.)

France is the land of revolutions. We know of three revolutions, in 1789, 1830 and 1848. But there were many short, “near-revolutions” too. They were not peaceful. They involved a lot of bloodshed. But they were intended for a noble cause and brought France the reputation of being the “birthplace of the rights of man”.

Sadly, those revolutions also gave rise to a liberal left streak in French politics.

Support for the violence on the streets of Paris and dozens of other French towns and suburbs in the last week is the latest manifestation of that streak. Burning of thousands of cars, looting of hundreds of banks and stealing from supermarkets and high-end stores like Nike and Appleby the unruly mobs received support from firebrand leaders like Jean-Luc Mélenchon of the left-wing France Insoumise party. They refused to call the perpetrators “rioters”. Instead, they were described as “protestors”, and the violence as a “self-organised, politically conscious social movement” fighting against “systemic racism”. Liberal international media too joined in this whitewashing.

The brutal killing of a teenager of North African descent in a Paris suburb by a French police officer was an abominable crime that calls for serious stocktaking within the police establishment. But the violence that followed, rather than being any “politically conscious social movement”, degenerated into looting and arson by hoodlums, identified largely as from among the immigrant population.

France has erupted on many occasions in the last six decades. On most occasions, the violence was linked to immigrants. Worst were the riots at the height of the Algerian War in the 1960s when the Algerians living in France and other cities, supported by the Left-Liberal political establishment, clashed with the police. More than 200 people were killed. Since then, riots remained a constant feature of French politics.

“Immigrant” is a euphemism loosely used by both sides during such flare-ups. The Left projects the discrimination and injustice meted out to immigrants as the root cause of violence. The Right, a growing and dominant force in French politics, pins the blame squarely on the immigrants.

Immigration is not new to France. It was once the country with the largest immigrant population in Europe. It is not uncommon to come across a Jewish or Polish or Austrian surname in every French city and town even today. Except during the years of Nazi occupation, when the French rulers colluded with Hitler and sent Jews to concentration camps, European immigrants had not had much problem integrating with the French mainstream.

Those immigrants are not the problem today, but the ones who migrated into the country after World War II. Unlike their European counterparts, these immigrants, mostly from North Africa and West Asia, refused to integrate with the French social order and insisted on maintaining their distinct identity. They were often poor and many were illegal entrants into the country. The Liberal-Left establishment, drunk on the mythical idea of “multiculturalism”, welcomed them with open hands. France, by its constitutional traditions, doesn’t recognise any identity save the French national identity for its citizens. It doesn’t keep any records of the religious or other profiles. Yet, it is that “French-ness” that sections of the new wave of immigrants refuse to adhere to.

Like the racism debate in America, the immigrant debate in France too is mired in many myths and obvious exaggerations. Any talk of respect for the French way of life for all citizens is immediately dubbed by the Left-Liberals as integrationism and racism. Multiculturalism is upheld as a trophy to celebrate.

The American integrationist idea of the “melting pot”, where different cultural, linguistic and ethnic identities assimilate to produce one national core, was challenged by John Gibbon in 1938 in his book Canadian Mosaic: The Making of a Northern Nation. Multiculturalism gained currency after the civil rights movement in America in the 1960s. The final decades of the last century saw liberals in Europe and America falling head over heels for multiculturalism.

But as immigration, both legal and illegal, became a flood, and country after country got inundated by people who refused to follow local customs and practices, the romance with the multiculturalist idea came to an end. When the immigrants refused to rise for the French national anthem or when they chose to boo the French team and wave the Algerian flags in the stadium, some in France woke up to the imminent danger.

When the death of two teenagers in a power station led to massive riots and large-scale looting across France in 2005, forcing President Jacques Chirac to declare an internal emergency, Nicolas Sarkozy, Chirac’s successor, decided to call the bluff of multiculturalism. “The truth is that in all our democracies we have been too preoccupied with the identity of those who arrived and not enough with the identity of the country that welcomed them”, Sarkozy said, adding that multiculturalism “is a failure”.

He was not alone. Talking about immigrant workers, Sarkozy’s neighbour Angela Merkel told a Christian Democratic Party youth convention that “the tendency had been to say, ‘let’s adopt the multicultural concept and live happily side by side and be happy to be living with each other’. But this concept has failed and failed utterly.”

Sarkozy could stand up to the liberal bullying and insist on rejecting identity politics. He even talked about expelling hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants from his country. With his erstwhile association with the Socialists, and also heading a delicate coalition in parliament, President Emmanuel Macron may find it difficult to take a strong position.

Meanwhile, as Paris was burning, the European Union was pushing for the relaxation of immigration laws in member countries facilitating asylum-seekers’ easy entry. Only leaders from Hungary and Poland are standing up to this suicidal plan, which has the potential to push more and more European cities into the quagmire Paris finds itself in today.

Published by Ram Madhav

Member, Board of Governors, India Foundation

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