France and the Headscarf: Now the real fighting starts

Yesterday, the French National Assembly voted for a ban on “conspicuous religious symbols” in public schools by a majority of 494 in favour to 36 against. With the bill polling at 70% favourable among the French public, neither major political formation saw any gain in opposition.

Votes against came from several quarters. Alain Madelin – the sole serious Thatcherite in the French government – voted against, as did Christiane Taubira – the first black woman candidate for the French presidency and the first candidate from an overseas department. The biggest block to vote against came from the French Communist Party where 14 members voted against, 7 for, and 3 abstained. The Communists are the only party whose leadership has consistently opposed this law. Back in November the PCF leadership concluded that: “Nous sommes contre une loi qui, sous couvert de la?cit?, aurait comme cons?quence de stigmatiser une population.” We are against a law that, under the cover of secularism, would have as its consequence the stigmatisation of a population.

Normally, I would say that any bill that is opposed by both Alain Madelin and the PCF has to be a good idea. But this time, the fringe politicians are right, and the mainstream is wrong.
Continue reading

Diversity Within Unity

Following Scotts recent post in the mailbox we have Amitai Etzioni drawing our attention to a piece he wrote on the same topic in the International Herald Tribune. His key point seems to be that it is important to “utterly reject the multicultural notion that we should abolish societal identities to accommodate the sensibilities of the newcomers”.

I appreciate the thrust of what Amitai is saying here, but I still think he is mistaken. Identities are not static, but fluid: they are processes. Our identities as much as the cells which compose our bodies are changing everyday. We do not need to abolish anything, but we do need to accept both the fact of and the need for change. To do otherwise would seem not to be living in Europe, but rather to be living in Denial. So in this context I would prefer to go down another road, that opened up by the French Philosopher Emmanuel Levinas: one of the measures of our degree of civilisation as a community is our open-ness to the other. This would be my main point of departure from the US notion of diversity, which for all its sophistocation and its appeal, is still feel IMHO far too structured by a US, non-US dichotomy: one that we here in Europe are in danger of assimilating. The limitations of such a failure to grasp the radical difference presented by ‘otherness’ can be found, for example, in the attitude to Japan (why can’t these Japanese just set up a normal capitalist system like everyone else does), in China (why don’t the Chinese simply rebel against all this centralised communist dictatorship stuff), or – dare I say it – in Iraq (why the hell don’t these guys just accept democracy).

What Levinas suggests is that we are setting up the problem in the wrong way. The other is just ‘other’. Our challenge is to accept this. To take the marriage (or co-habitation) model: love is not consuming the partner and turning them into a figment of your own desire. Love is accepting your partner as they are, warts and all, and loving them for what they are.

Ok this is strange stuff for an economist I know, but there it is. I have pasted an extract from Amitai’s piece below. There are lots of other arguments worthy of consideration, about schools about common language, about you name it. This discussion is important, say what you feel like saying, maybe he will join in.
Continue reading