So much for French ideals
I didn’t bother myself with France’s checkered history in its treatment of religious and ethnic minorities. It was ancient history best left to the historians to interpret. It didn’t matter to me that the French hounded the Huguenots from their homes and forced them into exile to England, Ireland and the Netherlands in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. It didn’t matter that by the turn of the 20th century, the country had embraced nationalism and along with it xenophobia, anti-Semitism and anti-Protestantism. Nor did it matter that the Vichy government collaborated with the Nazis and sent nearly 100,000 French citizens to their deaths in camps during World War II.
Even closer to home, as far as my own Arab identity is concerned, why should I bother myself with France’s 132-year occupation of Algeria and the 1962 war with France that left 1 million Algerians dead. Tens of thousands of Algerians had already resettled in France by 1961, and then witnessed 200 of their countrymen massacred during a pro-independence Algeria demonstration in Paris. Even today Algerians are marginalized in ghettos and many without jobs.
All of this was before my time, but my warm and fuzzy feelings for France came into sharp focus this week when French government authorities dismantled the Calais refugee camp, known as the Jungle, and dispersed 6,000 migrants to various villages in the surrounding countryside. The French, ever proud of their “Republic” and standard-bearers of democratic principles, staged demonstrations, shouting, “We don’t want them! This is our home!” In some communities banners flew from buildings denouncing the arrival of refugees.
When observing the nationalist fervor of many Americans during the current presidential campaign, with their alignment with ultra-right wing policies to keep immigrants from entering the country and repugnant racist language in public debates, non-Americans can take solace that this is a recent phenomenon based in part to the loss of jobs, homes and a sense of helplessness among the white middle class. It’s not characteristic of America’s history. It’s an anomaly in which we believe America will come to its senses and return to its roots of a tolerant and loving society.
France, on the other hand, has a deep history of intolerance, nationalism and flirtatious nature with fascism dating to long before the French Revolution. There is nothing recent or anomalous about the French government’s oppressive behavior toward religious and ethnic minorities. Twelve years ago it banned women from wearing the hijab in public institutions. It passed Taliban-style legislation regulating what women should wear by banning the burqa (all-covering veil) in public places. Some communities made it illegal to wear the burkini at beaches and public swimming pools. Then local government authorities defied a high court ruling that judged the local burkini laws as illegal.
Following the 2015 murders of 12 people at the offices of Charlie Hebdo magazine, the French rallied around the publication, exhorted its right to free speech, even if that speech was hateful and anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim.
I don’t know what delusion the French live under, but I certainly don’t see a “Republic” at work here, nor exercising democracy. Male and female politicians proclaim they are eradicating the religious oppression of women in France. “These women are victimized by a religion steeped in patriarchal authority, and what country better than the French Republic to save these women from tyranny.”
My question is, just who made you arbiter of who is being oppressed and who is not?
France has been the victim of a string of terrorist attacks. Wanton mass murder by young men who use religion as an excuse to terrorize and kill. The French say terrorists are attacking the Republic, democracy and freedom — the fundamental principles of a free society. Terrorists, at least the present incarnation born from the ashes of Iraq and Syria, are too ignorant of the benefits of a democracy to have such high-minded goals as assaulting the Republic. No, it’s just plain hate, a visceral reaction to the boot-heal they imagine crushing their necks. They are too stupid to understand the complexities of democratic government and what it has to offer. But they understand hypocrisy.
* Sabria S. Jawhar, PhD Assistant professor of Applied and Educational Linguistics Languages and Cultural Studies Department King Saud bin Abdulaziz University for Health Sciences National Guard Health Affairs (NGHA).
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