DUBAI: As a wave of violence inspired by radical Islam shakes French cities and the culture at large, creating a sense of insecurity and fear, Islamophobia is on the rise. Islamism is not Islam, but for lack of knowledge, conflation of the two is easy.
It is through this wrong prism that French Muslims are viewed, as well as some Jews and Christians due to their Arab origins. INSEE, France’s national statistics bureau, said that by 2019, 55 percent of immigrants (both first and second generation) had come from Arab countries. They are the largest minority group in France and therefore it is not for an extremist minority to represent them.
For the first time in France, a survey was carried out among French people of Arab origin. Arab News en Francais commissioned leading online polling firm YouGov to conduct research on the perception of their life in France and their position in the face of secularism.
Arab News Research and Studies Unit partnered with YouGov for the survey which was carried out between Sept. 8 and Sept. 14, and was based on a representative sample of 958 French people from Arab countries, living in France.
The survey confirms their desire to belong to a democratic and secular France. It emerges that all religions are not perceived in the same way by French society, as indicated by the feelings of the French of Arab origin, Muslims and Jews who were interviewed.
Contrary to popular belief, the majority of those interviewed were found to be educated and employed, while French people of Arab origin are generally familiar with the French system and its history, and adhere to the fundamental values of the French Republic.
The French of Arab origin have largely adapted to the way of life in France, but they do not feel accepted, with many citing a sense of stigmatization. Both religion and their national origin have no impact on their sense of belonging to French society. But the sounding of their name has an impact on their careers.
Half of the people questioned believe that neither their race, nor their origin and their religion had any impact on their feelings of belonging to French society and on their professional careers. Their responses, however, underline a feeling of exclusion which, for 51 percent is not linked to skin color, but rather to the ethnic origin of their name (36 percent), which, on the other hand, has a negative impact on their career prospects.
This feeling of exclusion is exacerbated among women who believe that their country of origin (46 percent against 33 percent of men) as well as their religion (66 percent against 52 percent of men) causes a negative perception among their compatriots.
French people of Arab origin clearly respect French values, such as secularism, and believe that a secular system would be beneficial for their country of origin. Many even claim to be ready to defend this model in their country of origin.
In fact, 54 percent of them advocate secularism, which would be, for them, a solution to the problems of the Arab world. The people questioned are reluctant to interfere with religion in politics and appreciate the secular system applied in France, which they even openly defend in their country of origin.
Moreover, the majority is not in favor of regulations on religious clothing, but 45 percent of men, 48 percent of respondents residing in rural France and 50 percent of those aged over 55 support regulatory laws and are in favor of such decisions, against 29 percent of the youngest (18-24 years) interviewees.
The oldest are better integrated than the youngest who were born in France. The younger generations are much less enthusiastic about state institutions and seem to be going back to their parents’ roots, thus reinforcing their sense of otherness.
The survey highlights the widening gap between the generations, insofar as young French people of Arab origin aged 18-24, for whom their religion is perceived positively (53 percent), seem less inclined to respect the regulations and join institutions like the national football team. Thus, 58 percent would support the football team of their country of origin against France, while 58 percent of men aged 35 to 44 and 72 percent of those over 55 would support the French team.
This last point reflects a generational gap and a generational conflict, which represents a major challenge for the future. A significant 49 percent of respondents and 52 percent of 18-34-year-olds believe that education levels are the most important factor in advancing their careers, but that their last name alone has a negative impact on their career, despite their ability to progress and the fact that they give themselves the means to do so.
A better knowledge of French people of Arab origin, peaceful and attached to the values of freedom and secularism, is essential if the fight against extremism and Islamization in France is to be won.