Are French Muslims integrated? Depends on what you mean by integration

Jennifer Fredette, assistant professor of political science at Ohio University and author of Constructing Muslims in France – Discourse, Public Identity, and the Politics of Citizenship, takes up the misuse of the term “integration” in the French context, where it is reinterpreted to justify a one-sided and discriminatory demand for assimilation:

The social scientific definition of “integration” refers to a dual process whereby immigrants embrace and become invested in their new home and are, in turn, accepted as equals by those who were there before them. In French political discourse, however, the term “integration” generally loses the reciprocal connotation. Here, a “failure of integration” refers lopsidedly to the inability of immigrants to assimilate into local customs and attitudes, consequently retaining markers of social difference that set them apart….

Politicians on the far right are not alone in questioning the civic virtues of French Muslims: they are joined by politicians on the center-right and the left. The media are full of articles questioning the Frenchness of Muslims. Several respected intellectuals have gone so far as to critique Islam or practices some Muslims choose to follow as incompatible with the Republic.

When these shapers of public opinion consistently raise criticisms of Muslims and demand legal action against the headscarf in public primary and secondary schools, universities, and beach areas; against the niqab in public; and against prayer in the streets (which resulted from a lack of prayer space and open hostility at the municipal level to mosque construction), they rarely exhibit any self-awareness that they themselves are standing in the way of the second half of integration.

Monkey Cage, 29 July 2014