Deconstructing the Nation: Immigration, Racism, and Citizenship in Modern France

Deconstructing the Nation: Immigration, Racism, and Citizenship in Modern France

Deconstructing the Nation: Immigration, Racism, and Citizenship in Modern France

Deconstructing the Nation: Immigration, Racism, and Citizenship in Modern France

Synopsis

This wide-ranging and informative book analyzes the connection between racism and the development of the nation-state in modern France. It raises important questions about the nature of French society and contributes to European debates on citizenship. By challenging the myths of the modern French nation, it opens up these debates in France to non-French speaking readers.

Excerpt

In 1989 three female students were excluded from their classes at school in a town near Paris. Their crime was that they refused to remove their Islamic headscarves in class and therefore contravened the secular tradition in French state schools. the affair became a passionate national debate. This debate would have been incomprehensible to outsiders who had not followed events in the years prior to this incident. These were years in which the question of immigration had become politicised and popularised as a problem of non-European immigrants (especially North African) in French society. It would also have been incomprehensible to those who had no knowledge of the secular tradition in France or the development of the modern French republic. They might have wondered how a simple piece of cloth on someone’s head could send a whole country into a prolonged frenzy. It would have to be explained that the headscarves were symptoms of a wider crisis in contemporary France. This book attempts to explain the crisis that lies behind the affair of the headscarves.

I will argue that the crisis is above all a national crisis, or rather a crisis of the nation-state. Many of the same aspects of this crisis can be seen in other western democracies today. Yet there are differences and similarities in both the nature and the naming of the crisis. Although questions of migration and racism have been major political issues in a number of countries over the last two decades, the form they have taken has been largely determined by national characteristics and histories. For example, patterns of migration are closely linked to colonial histories; patterns of ‘integration’ are closely linked to national histories. Governments have often adopted different policies on immigration, and anti-

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