France must reconnect with its citizens of Arab origin

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Author
FAISAL J. ABBAS
November 30, 2020

Short Url
https://arab.news/rgv8r

More than ever, France is at the heart of the discussion. Regardless of its colossal internal challenges, ranging from a weakening economy amid the pandemic to the necessity of achieving the much-contested reforms needed to put the state’s finances back on track, President Emmanuel Macron has undertaken a 180-degree shift in priorities that very sadly lifted France to the top of the news headlines during the past two months.

Amid the trials taking place in Paris for the 2015 terrorist attacks came three major attacks that shook not only France but the whole international public opinion. The non-orchestrated attacks that happened within less than 35 days of each other had in common the re-publication of the offensive caricatures of the Prophet Muhammed by the very controversial satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

The beheading of schoolteacher Samuel Paty in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine and the Nice attacks share the same horrifying style.

Beyond the normal scenes of solidarity a nation witnesses in the aftermath of humanly shocking events, the fall of 2020, which has seriously wounded France, will also be remembered as a time when the very old and constantly adjourned debate on minorities and integration re-emerged in a very passionate and polarized social and political context.

Since its launch in July 2020, Arab News en Français has been part of the broader Arab News journey of pushing the boundaries of journalism and creating better understanding. At Arab News, we are nurturing this culture of walking the extra mile to get closer to our audience by providing our readers with better insights and more credible research.

Our initiative of tackling the issue of integration by conducting a survey on the perceptions that French citizens of Arab origin have of their life in France was launched a few weeks before the last wave of attacks.

While we tend to think that young generations of French Arabs born in France are more integrated than their elders, our survey shows the contrary: Young generations have a strong desire to connect with their ancestral roots, while the older ones are more attached to the values of the French republic.

Faisal J. Abbas

The unfolding of the events and their consequences were simply a confirmation that we are not only looking in the right direction, but also pointing to the real problems. Backed up with real data, we hope to contribute to rationalizing what appears to become a highly emotional debate on minorities, religion and integration.

The results of the survey conducted for Arab News en Français by YouGov clearly show that the majority of French people of Arab and Muslim descent broadly consider themselves as integrated. They describe themselves as French citizens who adhere to the values of the republic. The study, however, concludes that in terms of perception, there is a certain level of stigmatization within this community, which constitutes France’s largest minority.

This is exactly where the most important question comes into play: Is integration in France a systemic problem or a perception issue? No matter how many answers and opinions there are on this complicated question, the consequences of its constant pertinence are here to stay, at least until further notice.

Religion is a main factor, and it is not exclusive to Islam. According to our survey, Jews of Arab descent also believe their religion might be a social obstacle, while Christians of Arab descent do not share the same sentiment. Being decades old, the unresolved integration debate appears to have a different impact on different generations and results in an apparent generational gap, according to our study.

While we tend to think that young generations of French Arabs born in France are more integrated than their elders, our survey shows the contrary: Young generations have a strong desire to connect with their ancestral roots, while the older ones are more attached to the values of the French republic.

If this is to be used as an indicator, it surely points towards an endemic social exclusion problem that no French government has managed to resolve yet. It also leads us to believe that this generational gap comes with a communication gap between French institutions and a large part of the young French generations.

As long as the youth are not heard, they will not listen. In today’s widely open social media landscape, experience — from Daesh recruitment campaigns to the Nice decapitations — has proven that no establishment can afford the consequences of losing the attention of younger audiences. France, now is the time to reconnect.

• Faisal J. Abbas is the editor in chief of Arab News. Twitter: @FaisalJAbbas

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News’ point-of-view

source https://www.arabnews.com/node/1770341

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