Alain Finkielkraut on the Fall of France
French philosopher and author Alain Finkielkraut has been accused of “Islam-bashing “ by a leading Islamic cleric in France following the publication of a controversial book in which he defends French culture and identity against Islam’s “militant and more sectarian forces”.
Finkielkraut who October 16 published his latest polemical and best selling work: “L’Identité malheureuse”, sets out his views on France today in a forthright, fearless and provocative fashion. In a pre-publication interview with Le Point he lays out his unvarnished critique of Islamisation in France, the policy of open borders and the dumbing– down of education, thought and culture.
“Unlike many of my contemporaries who have so firmly embraced the multi-cultural and post-literary society on which we are now embarked, I remain obstinately faithful to the France that is crumbling before our very eyes,” Alain Finkielkraut says at the end of his long interview in Le Point.
In a response to this interview Ghaleb Bencheikh, President of the World Conference of Religions for Peace, son of Sheikh Abbas former Rector of the Great Mosque of Paris, and a presenter of Islam Live on France 2, told Le Point “Islam-bashing is incessant” (in France). He said Muslims in France just want to “live in dignity, in the secular community and to demonstrate their citizenship in a low-profile, harmonious and unspectacular fashion. It is incumbent on them to exercise their obligations as citizens but it also clear that they must be able to enjoy their inalienable rights. We must get away from this continued focus on epi-phenomena around clothing and food…the mother-lode of Europe is indeed Christian but it has been spiritually enriched by other monotheistic abrahamic influences – Judeo, Islamic and Christian”.
For her part Elisabeth Badinter, a well known writer and philosopher on the Left, told Le Point she was more optimistic than Finkielkraut. “However we both have a visceral attachment to French secularism. We (French) are above all the inheritors of the Enlightenment, which is the separation of the sacred from the profane. The culturally unifying factor among the French is the primacy of reason and the visceral rejection of obscurantism. The law of 1905 (France’s Laïcité laws which separated Church and State) is one that emerges from the Enlightenment. I am terribly concerned that we might now be reneging on this conquest … the liberty of the Enlightenment teaches that autonomy involves obeying (Enlightenment) law” … If the burqa and the veil antagonise so many of our fellow citizens it is not just because they restrict social inter-mixing but because they go counter to equality of the sexes. Behind the use of the veil is the idea that it is I as a woman, who is responsible for the sins of men. This is intolerable and not only to militant feminists!”
At the outset of the Le Point cover story, one of the writers, Anna Cabana, notes that Finkielkraut’s Jewishness is hardly orthodox: “I was born in France of Jewish parents but they declined to have me circumcised on the basis that our family was in France and sought to integrate into our adopted milieu (both his parents were born in Poland and met in France after WWII. His father had emigrated there in the 30s but was deported during the War to a German concentration camp.) He virtually “never sets foot in a synagogue, does not follow Kippur (the Day of Atonement), but with good “Jewish imaginary” is viscerally linked to Israel”, according to her report.
This observation is clearly designed to be understood on more than one level. The first and obvious one, a reference to the troubled relationship between France and its Jewish population over many decades. The second is an illustration of points he develops later in the interview, that burqas and other forms of ostentatious differences are unacceptable in terms of the history, values and traditions of the France that he defends.
His interview gets off to a combative start: “I was brutally reminded of my identity as a Frenchman by the increasing number of those who openly declare their hostility to their host country and by the challenge to our values and our mores represented by their frames of reference and the habits they adopt”.
Asked if this is a reference to France’s Muslim population he says: “I am indeed speaking about the attacks on the secular state from the most militant fringe and most sectarian parts of Islam in France … We are at the confluence of two phenomena: an immigration that we have no idea how to master, where France disgorges into a critical integration crisis, and a democratic process, itself uncontrollable, that is levelling all hierarchies. In the name of ‘non discrimination’ France is voluptuously plunging into an ocean of non-differentiation.”
Does he therefore support discrimination?: “I am in favour of discernment. Presently under the pretext of fighting discrimination we renounce assimilation, that virtue of French civilisation which for instance enabled me to become French without any impediment to my also being a Jew. Assimilation was initially replaced by integration and now recently by the ‘inclusive society’ a concept introduced in a report authored (11 February 2013) by a State adviser Thierry Tuot. This discombobulated functionary is opposed to France withdrawing into a ‘celebration of the village of yesteryear’, the diversity of its population and magnificence of the visibility of women. It is this diversity that protects those defending the French ban on headscarves in schools and the burqa in public spaces. Here, the coexistence of the sexes should not be regulated by separation. This principle is not negotiable.”
The principle does nevertheless raise a major challenge says the Le Point interviewer: how to distinguish between critical ideas and a hatred of people, along with the refusal to accept a certain kind of Islam and the rejection of Muslims? “The laws”, he says, “are there to make this difference. A teacher discussing this issue once offered this simple solution: ‘We do not exclude girls, we merely exclude the veil’ “.
(Other reports say the Tuot document when it was delivered, was viewed with alarm by the Prime Minister because of its proposal entirely to remove state control over immigration and the integration of foreigners, and entrust control of organising and regulating migratory flows into France exclusively to “community associations” such as MRAP, LICRA, SOS Racisme and France Terre d’Asile).
Here is a selection of quotes from various radio and TV interviews about his book, remarks which have drawn huge opprobrium from the Left:
« Quelqu’un – un nouvel arrivant – qui vous dit “Je suis aussi français que vous” vole la France de toute réalité » (France Inter) ;
« La France ne se métisse pas, elle se fragmente » (France Inter) ;
« La France n’est pas un droit de l’homme » (Europe 1) ;
« Il n’y a jamais eu de nation sans préférence nationale, c’est évident »(Europe 1) ;
« Les peuples européens ne veulent pas voir leur pays se transformer en auberge espagnole et ils ont raison » (Europe 1).
Challenged by Le Point that his views were what some might label, Islamaphobia, he said: “For such people the Islamaphobe is anyone who seeks to oblige Muslims to submit to the same laws as everyone else in the Republic, because in the name of combating anti-Muslim ‘racism’ these people submit the Republic to the demands of Islam. True Islamaphobia consists in saying ‘your religion is incompatible with our identity, you should not be here’. Such attitudes must be fought with all our energy but we must also insist, in terms of basic rules of hospitality, on respect for our values and our rules.”
On the question of whether the changing demographic makeup of France makes it inevitable that the country’s culture and identity will also change, he said: “Without doubt. But one cannot just change things like that. From the moment that one admits that there is a French civilisation, that one has accepted its heritage and that one seeks to make a contribution to that, there is a commitment. For instance a recent statement by the secretary general of the Committee against Islamaphobia set off in exactly the opposite direction. This man said ‘No one in this country has the right to define for us what is French identity’. As it happens no immigrant from an earlier generation of immigrants would have dreamed of proffering such a profoundly ungrateful statement.… A passport is not of itself a creator of a national identity we need to introduce a distinction between the universe of rights and the sensibility of reality.”
“… in her extraordinary article on the crisis in education Hannah Arendt says that teaching is a means of integrating children, these new arrivals on earth into a world that is much older than them. Education should be conservative to allow each person to commence something new and to explore their revolutionary capacities. We fail to educate for the future. To be creative we must first be inheritors. This is entirely different from the schools of today which under the false flag of stimulating children manufacture a chain of creators without a heritage.”
On the subject of open borders in Europe – a topic that sees the popularity of Front National leader Marine le Pen rise in direct relation to the rise in anxiety about an end to borders — he said: “This is France’s current misfortune, namely that this anxiety is understood and acted upon only by people whom I continue to consider to be ‘infrequentables’ (the unacceptable). But when others try to discuss the problem look what happens. Cabinet ministers (when they returned from summer break) were invited to share their thoughts on what France would look like in 2025. Now we cannot offer a vision of France in 2025 without making demographic projections. Manuel Valls (the hard-line interior minister) did just that and concluded that government would have to review its policy of the right to family reunion (under which immigrants from Africa and the Maghreb have the right to import all of their extended family once they are established in France). A polar freeze descended around the cabinet table… it would seem we remain totally committed to closing our eyes to reality”.
Listen here to the author being interviewed on France Culture:
The book, has caused a stir in the French media and was comprehensively panned in Slate.fr by Frédéric Martel. Alain Finkielkraut offers the wrong answers to the wrong questions, writes Martel: “In l’Identite-Malheureuse Alain Finkielkraut addresses the problem of national identity and immigration and provides the wrong answers to the wrong questions. He should have avoided the subject! This is an unfortunate book by a man who no longer shows any love.
“Finkielkraut detests the direction that France is currently taking. He laments the disappearance of the Great Nation of yesteryear, the country with its teachers robed in black and white, its elitist culture, its enforced gallantry between men and women and asks is France losing its national identity? Finkielkraut’s book, let us be clear, is an essay opposing immigration. This is his real theme, even if he wraps it in cotton candy.
“Finkielkraut’s thesis is simple, painfully simple: demographic change and mass immigration are affecting national identity.
“The philosopher bewails the passing of the good old days and the lost homogeneity of the society. Now we live in ‘cultural insecurity’ (a buzzword that Finkielkraut does not however use). Suddenly, French ‘natives’ (a formula he does use) are asking ‘where are we living’. For Finkielkraut, the French are living proof of ‘a loss of identity’ and no longer feel at home in their homes. Of course he takes extreme care to avoid criticism but his words are still clear: according to him, immigrants do not have the ‘same habitudes’ or the same ‘lifestyle’ as that of the ‘native’ French, they are ‘not cast in the same mould’. They do not live the same way or understand the world as we do.
“The philosopher highlights this ‘mismatch in habitudes’ and notes ‘that people are not interchangeable’. For the first time in the history of immigration, the host refuses to welcome the guest whatever the ability of said guest to play a role in his host country.
“He goes further without flinching:’With the passage of migration of manual labour to immigration based on family reunion, the natives have lost the status of being the cultural reference that was theirs in earlier periods of immigration. They are no longer those who prescribe the norms. When cyber-cafes are called Bled.com and butchers or fast food or both are all halal, those who were once the reference point are now experiencing a sense of exile. When they see the growing number of their fellow citizens converting to Islam, they wonder where they are living. They have not changed, but everything around them has changed. Are they afraid of strangers? No, they feel they are becoming strangers in their own land. They once represented the norm, now they find themselves at the margins (…) the more immigration increases, the more the territory is fragmented.’
“So having asked the questions in this way, Finkielkraut proceeds to offer answers.
“Who are the culprits? Marine le Pen, Nicolas Sarkozy, National Hebdo, Jean-François Copé, Renaud Camus? No not at all. Finkielkraut attacks Stéphane Hessel (author of the pamphlet Indignez-vous, a former diplomat and leftwing militant), cultural diversity, the community against Islamophobia, CRAN,the Conseil Représentatif des Associations Noires de France, MRAP,the Mouvement Pour le Rapprochement et l’Amitié entre les Peuples, ACLEFEU,the Association Collectif Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité Ensemble et Unis, the film Les Intouchables , feminists, the Internet. His enemies are the Left, his friends are all on the Right- the hard Right.
“He claims to understand ‘the France that regrets that the good old days when French natives only came across their fellow Frenchmen, the sepia France crying for its lost homogeneity, cold France that attempted to live in isolation from the world, the obsessed France that saw any newcomer as an invader, the whining France where ‘everything was better in the old days’, the wan France that believes that ‘France is less and less France’.
“Finkielkraut’s essay is well written, filled with hundreds of academic quotes, but it is not convincing. It is even subtly dangerous.
“Alain Finkielkraut offers the wrong answers to the wrong questions. There is that is certain, high anxiety in France today. The debate is legitimate and we should in all likelihood be worried about, or at least question, the effects of globalisation and the impact of the weakening of the nation-state in the European context. We can and as firmly as he does, refuse the burqa or support the law against the Islamic veil in school.
“We can understand the tension about national sovereignty whether we are of the Left or the Right. We can criticise the policies of Brussels and the governance of EU institutions. Such anxiety is always legitimate.
“But this is not what Finkielkraut attempts to analyze. He offers a long digression of bogey-men of the kind created to terrorize children.
“More seriously Finkielkraut wanders. On secularism, even when we can agree with his anti-Islamic positions on the veil, he confuses secular morality and moral order. His reading of the 1905 Act is too self-interested to be honest. In his chapter headed ‘Laicitie against secular’, the philosopher recounts his version of the history of secularism but it is one that has nothing to do with history”.
The book will “make you grind your teeth” says Christophe Ono-dit-Biot, joint author of the Le Point interview. Others says it represents another stage in the long march by its author along the road from the left to right on the political spectrum. It will also likely stir an increasingly heated debate about immigration and Islam in France.
Watch the author defending his book on the French TV programme “On n’est pas couché”:
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