Saturday, November 15, 2008

Looking for the French Obama (2)

As a follow-up to the previous post on the "French Obama" issue, I must add this : I have been pretty amazed how the French media and politicians have been really obsessing about how behind France is compared to the U.S., without hardly ever underlying the how different the situations and historical backgrounds are.
France's defense minister, Hervé Morin, called the Obama victory "a lesson" for a French democracy late to adopt integration.
"In this election, the Americans not only chose a president, but also their identity," said Dominique Moïsi, a French political analyst. "And now we have to think, too, about our identity in France — it's the most challenging election ever. We realize we are late, and America has regained the torch of a moral revolution." (Wash Post)
I don't mean to say there's no problem in the French political system and with the political representation of minorities, but one must really put it all into perspective :
Most European countries were relatively monoethnic until the postcolonial period. Britain, for example, was largely white until the mid-20th century and still does not have a substantial black middle class, while French immigrants are almost all from former French colonies in North Africa, like Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, or in black Africa, like Mali, Senegal and Ivory Coast. (.../...) Given that France has such close ties to its former colonies and more Muslims than any other country in Europe, the debate here is more complicated.(Wash Post)
France may need some form of "affirmative action" of its own but the difficulty of such a change is not simply due to racism (even if there might be some of that) but it is also that the tenets of the French Republican model is to make no distinction of race and color.
In this day and age, it may be more an unrealistic ideal than a reality, but it is understandably difficult for an entire nation to depart from what seems like a good goal : have a Republic that is colorblind.
I am personally for a change that would integrate the differences rather than eliminate, deny or simply ignore them, but such a major change may take a few more years to be accepted by a majority of people, especially the older generation.

There are reasons to be optimistic though :

First , some form of "affirmative action" has already quietly been initiated by some elite French colleges and it seems to give good results. Wait a few more years and you'll probably see some dire changes in the political sphere.

Second, one must remember that even if he's not black, and not from a poor background, President Nicolas Sarkozy is a child of immigrants, "a guy with a funny-sounding name to French ears, and has given three cabinet positions to black or Muslim women.", and there was a female candidate running for the higher office.

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