The Real Problem(s) Behind France and Its Rising Radicalization

I meant to write this blog post after the Paris attacks. I only bring it up because I often find my acquaintances have a limited understanding of the problem that France and its immigrants are facing. (If you’re already aware of this, good for you. Spread the word.) When I was living there nine years ago, I did touch lightly on the subject in an article I wrote for Thomas Roche‘s now-defunct ErosZine. Given that the violence in France and other European countries is only escalating, I want to talk about what I learned living there about what’s driving Islamic radicalization.

I’m afraid it’s going to tarnish the Tour d’Eiffel a bit. So, hold on, Francophiles.

Juste Moi (Just Me)

Please keep in mind that this is my point of view based on what I learned when I was living in France, as well as being in a relationship with a French educator for a few years. It’s by no means the definitive explanation for France’s woes. However, if you can appreciate insights from a person who’s had a foot in both countries, this is for you. I’m talking about this because I think we Americans can learn quite a bit from what’s happening in France to prevent future bloodshed in our own country and foster true peace.

Also? MURDER IS WRONG. I’m not in anyway apologizing for terrorists. I’m just providing some insight into what’s inspiring disaffection. Whatever it is after that that ignites homicidal shitheadedness is something else entirely.

The Surprising Problems with Egalité

“Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité ou La Mort” — Liberty, Equality, Fraternity or Death. That’s the national motto of France. As Americans, we can dig it. While France’s revolution was inspired by ours, it’s important to understand that France’s version of “egalité” or “equality” is very different from America’s. In America, you can believe whatever you like and (theoretically) not be discriminated against in various settings for expressing your beliefs. However, in France’s version, while you can still believe whatever you want, your faith must remain entirely private. That means you can’t wear anything that reveals your religious beliefs. For egalité to work, France secularism demands that everyone look the same. I know that sounds strange to us Americans, but that’s how everyone in France can appear equal before the state. As a result, the country bans people from wearing overt religious sentiments, such as headscarves and veils — a huge problem for French Muslims, as discussed in this great LA Times article, “In France, extreme secularism.”

Before Americans get too high on their horses about this, keep in mind that America, too, at times legally curtails the practice of religion, such as the use of peyote by Native Americans, the Santerian ritualistic killing of livestock, and Mormon polygamy. At one time, Mormons were considered terrorists or at least agitators. No small amount of blood was shed over conflicts with their communities, such as in the 1838 Mormon War.

Parlez Vous Français, Petites?

What’s not discussed in the LA Times article, nor in many articles on the subject at all, is that a lot of newer Muslim immigrants, especially second- and third-generation youth, are not learning French. When you have a country like France that values language above all else, this is a very serious problem. If you don’t know French, you’re simply not considered a citizen.

While living in France, I got to know a French high school teacher who taught in the Paris suburbs where the 2005 riots happened. She shared with me her daily challenges dealing with these youth who, due to language issues, are often at least two years behind in schooling. She said they simply didn’t care to learn French or any of France’s customs, citing religious conflicts. She often called them on their hypocrisy: they were fine with watching secular movies and listening to secular music yet they refused to learn Voltaire because he was an atheist? Yeah, right. Turn in your damned homework, kid.

calmez-vous-et-parlez-francais-3Another problem this teacher faced was that, even if they had some literacy, those same students couldn’t write a simple essay supporting an argument. I explained to her that one understandably has trouble effectively analyzing or constructing arguments if one has been taught to accept a thick bolt of religious ideas without ever unwinding it — I knew this from personal experience as a former Christian Evangelical. (The French find Evangelicals to be deeply weird for lots of reasons, by the way.) It’s a skill deficit that poses yet another stumbling block to education, albeit not as initially problematic as the language barrier. But still.

French people told me that older Muslim citizens — those in their 40s and up — tended to know French and integrate more easily. I never got clarification as to why this was the case. It does, however, line up with what M. G. Oprea writes in the Federalist: “In the 1980s, second-generation North Africans tried to blend in with mainstream French culture. They wanted to get into clubs, to drink, and to dance. They just wanted to be ‘French.’ Today, things are different.” (Her article, “How France Grew Its Own Terrorists” is mostly excellent, although I’d hardly blame France for the violence. Please refer to my earlier note about homicidal shitheads.)

Unemployment and Discrimination

By far, the language issue isn’t the only thing holding back Muslim immigrants and their children. While French people might in fact be favorably disposed to Muslim immigrants, in hiring practice, they can be outright racist. An Arabic name on a job application, especially from someone in a certain age range, means the applicant probably doesn’t know the language and therefore disrespects French culture. The results are devastating to the employment prospects of French Muslim youth in particular.

Out of despair, rage and poverty, some youth turn to crime. A friend of mine in Aix, a young woman named Aurelie, told me she’d been “jumped” (assaulted and robbed) numerous times at night leaving work, always by Muslim youth. She was ready to boot out every single immigrant, but sadly never acknowledged the vicious cycle behind the crime.

Hello, Irresistible Force? Meet the Immovable Object…

If it sounds like Muslim religious requirements and France’s secularism are in solid conflict, they are. Both contribute to the growing disaffection and radicalization happening in that country. I love my country and its melting pot values, but I don’t expect France or any country to unravel its culture in order to accommodate immigrants the way we do (and the way I hope we will continue to do after the next election). I also sympathize with minority groups. They shouldn’t be either ignored or demonized just because they’re different.

How They Can Come Together

Given that France’s immigration issues and patterns are tied directly to its colonial history, with the vast majority of Muslims coming from North Africa, France has to take at least some responsibility for how they handle these particular immigrants. They can’t just dig in their cultural heels and say, “This is not French and therefore not allowed” because, hello, these folk are French. France has a terrible history of simply not dealing or indulging in outright denial. Therefore, something must change around the current version of secularism. I think France is strong enough to handle it. Hell, man, they let in evangelical Christians and Mormon missionaries whose sole purpose is to do the one thing that most French people hate: proselytize. They can figure out how to handle their citizens wearing headscarves. Further, employment discrimination needs to be dealt with in the courts and laws, not just with nice sentiments in flimsy polls (referring back to the LA Times article). And if the headscarf ban seems misogynist, it kinda is. France is pretty crap when it comes to women’s rights, which is a whole ‘nother blog post.

That said, everyone in France needs to learn French to be literate, educated, engaged citizens that can compete in the job market and fight for their rights. Some soul-searching needs to happen around what the true integration barriers are. (And kudos to the high school teachers who are calling kids on hypocrisies.) How can everyone integrate with the culture in a positive way? Sure, there are always going to be family and belief conflicts as kids grow and make their own way, regardless of country or culture. But pretending to eschew education in favor of religion when you’re really just lazy should be called out. Too many kids are following the siren’s call to extremist violence for anyone to let that shit pass.

There must be some flexibility on both sides, though, to solve the problems of integration. This isn’t about just ISIS versus the general population. Anti-semitism is also on the rise in France, with growing violence against Jews from primarily pro-ISIS and pro-Palestinian factions. (Check out the horrifying photo in that Vanity Fair article I linked to. Drawing a swastika on the Statue de la République is both about as anti-French and anti-semitic as you can get.) French Jews are leaving France in droves, which is heartbreaking and shameful to France.

Francois Hollande had a good idea when he introduced increased employment aid for low-income youth. Ironically, the more conservative Sarkozy also had a good idea that was thoroughly blasted: funding the construction of mosques so that Muslims felt more included. Neither solution is or was enough. Both France and its Muslim population need to do more for one another if the two are to embrace. Until then, the answer to the question as to whether one can be both Muslim and a French citizen remains dangerously uncertain.

Obama Doubts His Faith? (Prediction Comes True)

Remember in this previous blog post when I said:

On the other hand, his transits on January 21, 2013 are definitely indicative of a pleasant inauguration day. Lots of heartfelt communication, expansion in power (although not an easy one), and a sense of new self. This comes  after a seriously brutal transit of guilt and self-doubt around the middle of December. He might even have heavy religious doubts. On inauguration day, he’ll still be reeling from the burst bubble.

And then this happened:

On December 14, 2012, Adam Lanza, 20 years old, fatally shot twenty children and six adult staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in the Sandy Hook village of Newtown, Connecticut. He had killed his mother, Nancy Lanza, at their nearby Newtown home before driving to the school. After shooting the students and staff members, he committed suicide.

If ever there was something faith-shaking…this is it.

While you have seen him tear up, you can believe he has taken this deeply to heart. He probably even blames himself — if not for what happened, then most certainly for anything that might happen later.

I don’t mind if he has a crisis of faith. It’s healthy and makes us rely more on reason than blind expectations. And while I want him to make this personal, I don’t want him to take this personally and crumple. I hope he finds the strength because he’s going against powerful foes as he backs an assault rifle ban. I want them to feel the concrete in his fist when it hits the political structures that have kept this country at the mercy of NRA interests.

Rock on, Mr. President. We, the People, are behind you. The reasonable People, anyway.

Me + the BBC on Venice Beach on Wednesday Morning

I fought through insane amounts of traffic on the 10 on Wednesday morning to meet up with the BBC World Have Your Say crew to do the 2-hour show. The Venice Beach circus was in full force. I’m not sure Ros and the gang were quite expecting the passersby to be so colorful.

I sat at a table with the head producer Ros Atkins; Mark Sawyer, political science professor at UCLA; editor Ted Johnson from Variety (who had been arrested during the protests outside the RNC); and a reporter named Maria Joyouspirit who has a show on KPFK. We all wore headphones and shared a couple of microphones. Ros choreographed the entire show like a maestro, with instructions coming down between our ears from Madeline, the “M” of the whole operation back in London, as text messages, calls and emails flew in from all directions.

We spoke with an array of fascinating people from all over the world — like Lance Price, who’d been Tony Blair’s spin doctor, and a French MP (whose name escapes me). The topic was about style and spin, and whether they’ve destroyed our trust in American politics. Towards the end I actually got to ask Lance a question directly. But the best part was when the producers pulled in a ridiculously hot surfer named “Ben” from the waves. Bare-chested “Ben” was dripping with brine water and hairless. Of course, I’m not sure I actually heard whatever Ben said, but I do believe he said something into the microphone.

Click here to listen to the 50-minute MP3 podcast file. Or you can get the podcast on iTunes.

Live Tweets from the BBC World Service Pre-Stage

lamaupin I’m tweeting from the pre-staging of the BBC World Service show. It’s chilly out! about 3 hours ago from mobile web

lamaupin Ros just showed me the inside of the BBC bus. Swank! Well, compared to most buses. about 3 hours ago from mobile web

lamaupin Is it bad to kinda want to snog Ros? Right. Back to politics. about 3 hours ago from mobile web

lamaupin Finally I got some photos. I forgot to bring my camera. Doh! There are some interesting folk coming. about 3 hours ago from mobile web

lamaupin I forgot to mention that, in the bus, a picture of Palin came on the TV and I nearly lost it. I can’t take it! about 3 hours ago from mobile web

lamaupin Getting a cookie as I ponder what question to ask. Cookie makes smart politics. about 3 hours ago from mobile web

And then when the show started, Ros asked everyone to turn off their cell phones so they wouldn’t interfere with the microphones. Damn!

One of the surprise guests was the VP of YouTube Steve Somebody. (God, I’d make the worst journalist.) Anyway…photos!

Afterward, no less than two BBC folk hunted me down to make sure I’d be in tomorrow’s show.

In the immortal words of Paris Hilton, “See you at the debates, bitches!”

Kiss My Ass McCain: Give Me Equal Pay

I want to thank Yvonne Navarro for writing up how the Republican Bastard Brigade just defeated the Fair Pay Act. For those who don’t know, women today make up 56% of college graduates and nearly half of the labor force in this country. Yet women make only 73 cents to a man’s dollar, and mothers only make 60 cents, for the exact same job. McCain actually had the gall to say this was because women needed “more education and training.”

McCain is out of his nut-licking mind.

When I was working at Peoplelink in 2001, I requested that they hire a second writer to help me. When we got R’s resume, I remembered working with him at another company back in 1997 and liking him a lot. In terms of work experience, I had the more intense technical background. In the first wave of layoffs, they let R go and he told me that he was pretty sure he was making a lot more money than I was. He was right — I found out he was making 20% more a year! I was outraged. I complained loudly and got a moderate raise, but not anything close enough to narrow the gap.

So, sign the online petition to send McCain the message that, thank you very much, women already have the education and training, you stupid sexist bastard. It’s time we show the world that we walk our talk about equal rights.

Also, post in your blog your own experience of pay inequality or that of a woman in your life and be sure to link back to the previous blog. Let’s show how far the trail of inequality runs.

Because You’re All Wondering, I’m Sure

Yes, I poured over the charts of both Obama and Clinton weeks ago for tomorrow’s primary. I saw major stuff for both of them:

Obama: Two self-confidence transits (t. Mars sextile n. Mars and t. Jupiter trine n. Mars), as well as a dampening of idealism and solidification of his relationships (t. Saturn sextile Venus). He’s had this major “break up” transit for weeks now (t. Pluto opposing n. Venus), but he and Michelle seem to be doing fine as wine. It seems to be more concerned about money and values than chicks, but we’ll see.

Clinton: What a mess. Almost in a good way. Lots of excitement (t. Uranus trine n. Mercury), big plans (t. Jupiter sextile n. Mercury) and warlike speeches (t. Mars sextile n. Mercury). She has lots of weird, unstable transits to Saturn, which tells me she’s surfing not land-bound. In fact, it’s a Finger of Fate that’s lined up but with ugly planets. It simply means it’s a fateful day (no duh), not whether Lady Luck is smiling.

(Speaking of fate, why hasn’t McCain had his heart attack yet? I’m guessing that birth time his mother gave is, like, way off. Gee, what a surprise.)

Ultimately, these readings say nothing better than what the polls say, not to mention what we already know. Clinton obviously will win the primary, but by the hair of her chinny chin chin. Yet there won’t be a big enough difference between the two to be decisive. Even with projections from polls taken weeks ago that said she’d win 49-38, it’s still not enough for her to catch up. I’m saying nothing new. Unless Pennsylvania voters change their minds, this thing is simply lying down like it has been all along.

Oooh look! Michael Moore is endorsing Obama. Ironically, he calls Clinton’s tactics “disgusting.” This race couldn’t get any better…

The Speech About Gender That Hillary Will Never Give

And why.

Holy crap! I couldn’t believe someone actually said this, but it’s insanely true:

Because as much as Hillary Clinton the wife and the woman and the mom no doubt hates it, Hillary Clinton the candidate has largely benefited from her husband’s extracurricular activities. That’s because—and this is the tragic part—America seems to like her best when she’s being victimized—by Bill or Rick Lazio or the media. In that sense, her husband is a useful prop who reminds us of the extent of her suffering.

Wow. Just…wow. Read the article in Slate.

It all ties into that business about why the public eats up Britney bashing. They love to see women victimized. It’s a national sport. But I’m especially keen on how this article ties it all back into the workings of Hillary’s campaign. Unbelievable.

Hillary Can’t Win

Math is hard…even harder when the numbers aren’t remotely in your favor.

(Thanks, Mr. Ointment.)

Just forget all the imaginary conflict hyped by the media to keep you coming back to the news television shows and websites for your advertising impressions. They want you to think Hillary’s having a “comeback” and that there are “battles to come” so that they can keep your attention and make money off of you.

Turn off the TV. Forget CNN.

Just let everyone vote. Weird concept, eh? As soon as the media knows that we know, then we’ll be able to move on.

ETA: Slate has updated their Delegate Calculator, but they are — very unrealistically — “split(ting) the remaining 10 delegates evenly between the two candidates.” A lesson to you: Even Slate can’t stay out of the hoo-hah.

Do The Right Thing, Dean!

Urge Howard Dean, the DNC Chairman, to not let the rogue states, Florida and Michigan, have a chance to seat their delegates. There is absolutely no way that the contest can be fair because the candidates did not have equal time in the states thanks to Hillary “Rules? What Rules?” Clinton, who broke party rules and went there anyway, squeaking in visits just before the DNC laid down the law.

Or maybe you’re a whiny Clinton supporter who wants her to win by unfair means. Fine! Go gnaw on your teething ring and slobber all over Dean in an email explaining why you think the Big Bad Obama Man should not be allowed to win and how the world is Waaaaaaa! Not Fair. Okay? Good.

Chances are slim of it happening, but we need to make sure it doesn’t just for the sake of country’s sanity.