Saturday, November 12, 2005

Republicanism backfires in France

I have been reading about the Paris riots and analyses on what sparked them, and what most commentators agree on is the fact that France, following the best traditions of republican governance, has adopted a policy of zero discrimination. This means that during census, a person is not enquired about his ethnicity. Now in a perfect world, this strategy might work, but people unfortunately don't live by ideals. And the situation has come to such a pass that Muslims from Algeria and other African countries who settled in France years ago, reside in distinctive ghettos that are the mired in poverty and filth. They have no job opportunities and there is a silent rage, whose violent venting we are witnessing today. Everyone is French in Franch, not Indian-French, or Irish-French.

This is in marked contrast to the US model, where immigrants are encouraged to retain their ethnic identity and add to the salad bowl their unique experiences. That is why phrases like Italian-American are common. But as Jonathan Freedland writes in The Guardian, this too is not a perfect model, as witnesed in the aftermath of Katrina.

France might like to look west and see how Britain copes with immigrants. Notwithstanding the hawkish undertones in polity post- 7/7, Britain has evolved a unique way of integrating its society. It's called multiculturalism, and recognizes differences. It even celebrates those differences by providing avenues for the Browns and Whites to share and relish one another's cultures. One example of this is the popularity of chicken tikka masala in Britain. This perhaps, more than the US and French models, is the way forward. Because it promotes the meeting of hearts and minds in a common milieu, it has the most chances of success in western soceities grappling with immigrant fury.

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