Muslim Integration and French Society
- Rachel D. BrownRachel D. BrownCentre for Studies in Religion and Society, University of Victoria
The subject of Muslim integration has been the focus of much policy development, media engagement, and everyday conversation in France. Because of the strong rhetoric about national identity—a national identity based on Republican ideals of universalism, equality, and French secularism (laïcité)—the question often becomes, “Can Muslims, as Muslims, integrate into French society and ‘be’ French?” In other contexts (e.g., the United States), religion may act as an aid in immigrants’ integration. In Europe, and France specifically, religion is viewed as an absolute hindrance to integration. Because of this, and thanks to a specific migration history of Muslims to France, the colonial grounding for the development of French nationality and secularism, and the French assimilationist model of integration, Muslims are often viewed as, at best, not able to integrate and, at worst, not willing to integrate into French society. The socioeconomic inequality between Muslim and non-Muslim French (as represented by life in the banlieues [suburbs]), the continued labeling of second- and third-generation North African Muslim youth as “immigrants,” the occurrence of terrorist attacks and radicalization on European soil, and the use of religious symbols (whether the head scarf or religious food practices) as symbols of intentional difference all add to the perception that Muslims are, and should be, the subject of integration efforts in France. While the discourse is often that Muslims have failed to integrate into French society through an acceptance and enactment of French values and policies, new research is suggesting that the “failed” integration of Muslims reveals a deeper failure of French Republican universalism, equality, and secularism.