Colour Blindness Would Not Do
France would nurse for long the wounds caused by the nightly riots last month. The rioting youth were said to be of Arab-African origin and there were even direct references to the ferment and distrust among the Muslim youth in the French media. Having pursued a policy of being blind to diversity, the French have ultimately realised that problems of non-French speaking communities do not go away merely because France officially does not believe in multi-culturalism.
The French must have realised the problem of putting the millions of immigrants into hopeless estates on the peripherique ghettoes out of the sight of the ethnic French population, denying them equal opportunities if not rights, putting them into cultural straitjacket and subjecting them to high unemployment.
Though realisation has dawned, but not the recognition. Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, with his eyes riveted on the next presidential elections, used the opportunity to exploit the white-French sentiments by calling the rioting youth ‘dregs’, ‘scum’ and expressing intention to karcherise (French term to rub something out of surface) them. French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin revived a 1955 law to enforce ‘curfew’ in the riot affected areas. The law was originally enacted to curb the unrest among Algerian immigrants. The move therefore symbolised French wish to treat the descendants the way their parents were handled.
French government’s desire to raise a homogenous society and not to create categories among citizens on the basis of religion, ethnicity, race and language may be laudable. Law may not recognise distinctions. But popular behaviour does take all such particularities into consideration. As has been pointed out in a survey, a Francois applying for 100 jobs may get 74 calls, but an Abdel with similar qualification has to remain content with merely 14. Pious desires do not exactly translate into equally puritan societies. It is why the global covenants prescribe special treatment of minorities despite equality before the law on the statute book.
France has not presented a good account of itself being the land of liberte, fraternite and equalite and has to learn a lesson or two in dealing with racial and ethnic problem from its next door neighbour, England. With unemployment running up to 40 per cent among ethnic Algerians, Moroccans and Tunisians, ban on headscarves in government schools and Census refusing to correlate the prevalence of poverty to race and religion, France has for long tried to steamroll people into homogeneity. The riots have only asserted that French society is far from being seamless.