After President Sarkozy’s suggestion that an ethnic data policy may be imposed, Bridget Fitzsimons questions if this really will combat racism and xenophobia in France.
THE THREE FOUNDING principles of the French state have been, since its famous revolution, liberty, equality and fraternity. These three principles aim to create a state where all citizens are equal, no one is special and everyone born in the country, no matter their origins, is considered French.
However, many feel that this lack of segregation is under threat from new plans being suggested by the diversity tsar appointed by Nicolas Sarkozy, the French President.
In France, a secular state, it has been illegal for any questions regarding race or ethnicity to be asked in official government forms such as censuses. This is an effort to encourage integration and patriotism among those who come to France.
While these aims are undoubtedly noble, critics feel that the lack of ethnic data in France is leading to an immeasurable racism, and accordingly, significant inaction meaning that immigrants are not fully integrated into the French community.
Racism and discrimination are reportedly commonplace in France, but does this mean a founding point of the French republic should be changed in order to allow the government more access to its citizens’ information?
The ‘Race Riots’ of 2005 certainly seem to suggest that more needs to be done to allay the violence perpetrated by ethnic gangs. In the southern French town of Perpignan, eight people were left dead after tensions between North African and Roma gangs came to a head. Episodes such as this illustrate that not enough is known of the diverse range of people living in France, but is collecting ethnic data the answer?
For many critics of this proposal, it seems as if they do not want their country to become ‘multicultural’. A French republic, based on a French community, instead of several, different, multicultural ones is the ideal presented by this law. The French ideal is an interesting one, but should a country not strive for a diversity and multiculturalism, as one that is displayed in the United Kingdom?
“This is in an effort to encourage integration and patriotism among those who come to France”
However, it could be argued that this sort of attitude further divides ethnic minorities from the country in which they are trying to integrate into, essentially providing them with ghettos. Should France encourage these ethnic minorities to integrate or encourage these minorities to embrace that which makes them different?
In the interim, it does not seem as if Sarkozy and his team are really taking this action seriously. Yazid Sabeg, Sarkozy’s advisor on tackling discrimination, was due to hand in a report to the president, detailing his thoughts and recommendations on this action.
However, it has been delayed indefinitely as the presidential office claim Sarkozy has too many commitments at the moment. To throw something so explosive into the French political gallery, then refuse to deal with it for the foreseeable future seems sensationalist and irresponsible to say the least.
These plans are ambitious to say the least. In Ireland, ethnic data is collected at every census, yet in many areas, racism still exists. To say that an increase in knowledge of the ethnicity of those living in France will allay the violence and everyday prejudice seems unmerited by comparing it to the Irish module of race identification.
Attitudes in France must change for anything to happen and this cannot be achieved with a new piece of legislation and further information for the government. Sarkozy and his advisors must realise that the violence in France will not change until people are educated. The gang mentality in immigrants and indeed nationals in particular must be addressed.
Violence and prejudice cannot be solved without real and rigorous action from a government that seems to want to take the easy way out. To forget the roots of their republic seems criminal and it is really no wonder that Sarkozy has critics from both sides of the political spectrum.
The ideals of their beginnings must not be forgotten. The principles of liberty, equality and fraternity must remain the cornerstone of the French republic. While honourable in nature, it is doubtful that collecting extra data on its citizens will lead to much more than a categorisation of those French citizens from non-national backgrounds.
While Sarkozy ignores the furore he has created, race-related violence and everyday discrimination will continue until something concrete and progressive is done. Archaic data collection is not the answer. A progressive programme of integration and education is the only way to bring France forward and still keep it fighting the battle for liberty, equality and fraternity.