Why France is on the brink of civil war
This is the title of a blog post that’s been going round in my mind since last summer, and yesterday’s horrific attacks have compelled me to share my thoughts on this very sad subject now.
As a lover of France for 30 years, and having lived there for well over half my adult life, I am shocked, saddened and disgusted by the horrific attacks on Charlie Hebdo in Paris yesterday. But I am even more worried about the future of France.
I studied French history and politics to degree level before I moved to France and witnessed what I had learnt first-hand. I have broken this blog post down into a short version and a long version, as I try and explain to those living outside of France what state the country is in now, and why.
France and immigration – short version
- The French government invited immigrants to help rebuild France after the first and, more so, the second world war.
- The vast majority of these immigrants came from France’s North African colonies, known as Maghreb (Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco). These immigrants are commonly known as Maghrébins in French, or less politely Arabes.
- Post WWII these immigrants were invited to settle in France with their families.
- Problems started with the second and later generations of Maghrébins, known as the beurs.
- These beurs were born in France and so were officially French, but they were kept in ghetto-style tower block HLMs (council estates), on the outskirts of French cities, known as the banlieues.
- These later generations felt neither French nor North African; they were born in France but were not welcomed by the French and didn’t know their countries of origin.
- The beurs were expected to do the same manual labour that their parents had moved to France to undertake.
- Here comes the vicious circle: the beurs didn’t want to live in ghettoes outside of France’s cities, and they didn’t want to be forced into doing the jobs of their parents, so they started to rebel. It became commonly known that Arabes were lazy, unreliable, petty criminals and no one wanted to employ them. In turn because no one wanted to employ them they became petty criminals and lived up to everyone’s expectations. And so the circle continued.
- In the 70 years since the end of WWII and since the start of this wave of immigration, little has changed: most Maghrébin immigrants still live in tower blocks outside of France’s cities and are either unemployed and living on benefits, are petty criminals or carry out manual labour jobs.
France and racism – short version
- France is an outwardly racist country. North African immigrants are commonly and pejoratively called Les Arabes in France.
- It is usually assumed when someone has been the victim of crime that the perpetrator was an Arabe.
- French employers have been proven to be racist when hiring – rejecting Arabic-sounding names, in favour of French ones.
- It is hard for Maghrébins to get into bars and nightclubs in France, they are usually turned away by doormen because of the colour of their skin. (Most bar and nightclub owners would argue that this is because of previous incidents instigated by Arabes.)
The National Front – short version
- For many years The Front National in France has been more popular than equivalent right wing parties in the UK.
- The National Front has always been the anti-immigration political party. In 1978 their slogan was “3 millions de chômeurs, c’est 3 millions d’immigrés en trop” (3 million unemployed, that’s 3 million too many immigrants).
- The National Front has seen a rise in its popularity recently (not unlike other extreme political parties across Europe), and Marine Le Pen is a serious presidential candidate in 2017’s elections.
- As the number of Maghrébins increases in France, and as the feeling of fear grows stronger, so does the Front National’s power.
Feelings in France – short version
- Fear. French people are far more afraid today than they were just 4 years ago when we still lived there.
- Anger and resentment. The French resent the Maghrébins for taking over France and trying to make it Arabe and muslim.
- Racism. Even the gentlest, kindest, previously most anti-racist French person is becoming racist.
- Attraction to far-right politics. More and more “moderate” French people are openly voicing their attraction to National Front politics, whereas in the past no one ever admitted such affinities.
France and religion – short version
- France has the largest Jewish population in the world after the US and Israel.
- France has the largest Muslim population in Europe.
- France is officially a secular country. In 1881 Jules Ferry made it illegal for schools to teach any form of religion at all, and in 1905 the Church and the State were officially separated.
- Nobody in France learns anything about religions in any way, shape or form. The only exception to this is faith schools who are allowed to teach their own religions (i.e. catholic schools teach catholicism).
What does this all mean?
France is very quickly becoming polarised. On the one hand you have a growing number of North African muslim immigrants, an increase of people speaking Arabic and Halal shops/restaurants opening, which comes alongside an increase of Islamic extremism and general global fear of Islam. On the other hand you have white French people who are afraid to go out in public after dark, who are sick of immigrants and who want to fight back. Most likely under the umbrella of Marine Le Pen and her Front National.
I really, sincerely hope that I will be proved wrong, but I fear and predict a French civil war between Maghrébin immigrants/descendants and white French National Front supporters within the next 10 years.
I was very sad the day I left France as I assumed I would always live there. But as time passes I feel more and more relieved to be living in London, and raising my children in a multi-cultural society where all religions are studied at school from a young age, and where the key words are tolerance and acceptance.
What do you think? Are you a French expat who left France to escape these issues? Do you live in France and feel fear? Or maybe you totally disagree with me….do pop your comments in the box below.
For more detailed information on the key subjects of this blog post scroll down…..
France and immigration
I won’t go into a long history lesson here as I’m guessing that most people are aware that France was left a literal war-zone after the first and second world wars. The way the authorities at the time dealt with getting the country back on its feet was to invite workers from its colonies (notably North African) to come and rebuild the country. These people were often seen as strange and even dangerous. But they were seen as being a necessary evil to get France up and running again.
These immigrant workers were placed in temporary accommodation outside of the cities, to keep them separate from the French. After the second world war the immigrants that were invited into France were encouraged to bring their families and settle in the country.
Over time these North African immigrants had children, who had children. But they were still kept in their HLMs (French equivalent of council estates) in the banlieues (literally suburbs, but more like the UK inner-city politically-speaking).
It is important to remember that the original immigrants, on the whole, were happy to come to France, for them it was an improvement on where they had been, and living this way was not an issue. The big problem came with the beurs (second – and later – generations of the original North African immigrants), who were born in France, into these tower block ghettoes.
They were French but not French, they were Arabe but not Arabe. (The French use the term Arabe to refer to immigrants of North African descent, it is often used pejoratively, as people talk about “les Arabes” and “travail d’Arabe” meaning work shoddily done.)
France’s immigration problem really began with the beurs. France treated them as pretty much sub-human, refusing to offer them housing anywhere other than their ghettoes, and assuming they would continue with the same manual labour that their parents agreed to.
So a vicious circle began. The Arabes were treated badly by the French so they started to react, using crime as their weapon (theft, aggression and more). Seeing the rise in Arabe crime the French treated the Arabes worse, making it harder and harder for Arabes to break away from this vicious circle and to do something with their lives.
You will find many successful French Arabes outside of France, because they are not judged by their name, origin or skin colour in countries that don’t have this on-going prejudice.
France and racism
France is a very racist country, often outwardly racist. The French don’t lower their voices to talk about les Arabes, it is open and normal. This is something that shocked me to the bone when I first moved there in the mid-90s, despite having learnt about it at university.
For a long time I judged the French for their behaviour towards the Arabes. Until I got attacked. By an Arabe.
It was in Nice. I was 22. It was a few days before I was due to fly back to England for my university graduation. The man in question followed me and two of my (female) friends. He punched and floored one friend before turning to me and running a razor blade along the middle of my forehead, leaving a visible line that can be seen in my graduation photos, despite heavy make-up.
That night I started to understand why there was such hatred towards the Arabes. In the weeks and months that ensued I heard about more and more attacks on people – violence, muggings and similar – and 100% were carried out by Arabes.
I was not brought up to be racist, quite the contrary, but I began to fear this group of people in France.
However, through my work as a teacher in an English-language school, I met and spent time with many Maghrébins (North Africans) as I taught them English. They were the nicest of people, who were deeply saddened and disgusted by the actions of their compatriots.
So whilst I became more racist in France, it was fear of the man on the street, rather than all Arabes in general.
The National Front
The French Front National has been far more popular in previous years than equivalent British far right parties. The former National Front leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen, even made it to the second round of the French Presidential elections in 2002, where he came face-to-face with Jacques Chirac.
There has long been a head-to-head in France between the immigrants (notably maghrébins) and the French Front National.
The real problem now is that the number of maghrébins is growing far faster than the number of French. They have larger families, and France has a mostly open-door policy when it comes to immigration.
The next problem is that the Arabes are still treated badly by the French, and are still stuck in ghettoes outside the cities, in dead-end jobs.
This leads to uprising of Arabes, riots, violence and general crime.
Which brings us on to a rise in the popularity of the National Front, now under the leadership of Marine Le Pen, a far more charismatic politician than her father, Jean-Marie.
Feelings in France
In the last 6 months I’ve spent 3 weeks in France on holiday, have welcomed French friends and family to our home in London, and have discussed the current social situation in France with a wide variety of French people, of different backgrounds, regions and ages.
The general feeling of the white French people is that the Arabes are taking over, that there are more and more of them, and that they are becoming more aggressive. A general feeling of fear seems to have descended upon the French, I hear more and more friends telling me that they won’t go into their local towns/cities after dark as it’s no longer safe.
A 16 year old friend told me that in her school half of her class are maghrébin and the other half are openly National Front.
I hear friends who have been socialist and anti-racist for many years talk openly about les Arabes, the National Front’s politics and what the future holds for France.
France and religion
On top of all these problems of immigration, racism and extreme right politics is another issue. France is officially a secular country and it is illegal for state schools to teach any form of religion at all.
France has the largest Jewish population in the world after the US and Israel and the largest Muslim population in Europe, yet religious education is forbidden in French state schools. And sadly ignorance seems to be breeding intolerance.
The future of France looks very dark and very scary right now.