French debate on national identity turns into culture war

Comments by a French junior minister about young Muslims in France have provoked a firestorm of criticism and put the spotlight on a controversial debate on national identity that threatens to spin out of control.

In one of the many local debates scheduled to be held as part of the nationwide discussion on what it means to be French, the junior minister for families, Nadine Morano, suggested Tuesday to a young Muslim that he should change his behaviour. “What I want of a young Muslim is that he loves France when he lives here, finds work and does not speak in slang. And that he doesn’t wear his cap back to front.”

“This brings back the ethnic vision of the nation, the one that took place at (the pro-Nazi puppet government of) Vichy,” opposition Socialist law-maker Arnaud Montebourg said. The president of the NGO Movement Against Racism (MRAP), Mouloud Aounit, told the online edition of the daily 20 Minutes that Morano’s words “are especially dangerous and extremely violent … I think today there is a terrible increase in Islamophobic statements.”

Criticism also came from conservatives who are growing increasingly afraid that the debate on national identity is turning into a clash of cultures between mainstream France and the large French Muslim community, which numbers about 5 million.

Monsters and Critics, 16 December 2009

See also Nabila Ramdani’s post at Comment is Free, 16 December 2009