In late October 2005, in the French Parisian banlieu (suburb) of Clichy-sous-Bois, teenagers Zyed Benna and Bouna Traoré were allegedly fleeing police when they climbed into an electrical substation and were electrocuted. Different media sources gave them the ethnic labels of Tunisian and Mauritanian origin or of French-Arab and French-African descent. They were both of foreign-born lineages. Their deaths and the official handling of the matter triggered the worst civil unrest in France since the 1968 student and worker strikes (“La Haine,” 2005). Three weeks of violence, destruction and arrest ensued. A state of emergency law was invoked, imposing curfews on certain communities. The French national community was stunned and the national and international presses were saturated with stories of the youth, the event and the aftermath.
The deaths of the two teenagers were a catalyst to riot. Deep-rooted anger towards the French national community coursed through the immigrant communities. The riots exposed France’s failure to address the widespread and enduring problems that have plagued her immigrant communities, mostly of North African and sub-Saharan descent. The immigrant communities harbored resentment. They suffered from discrimination, poverty and low educational levels. They lived in deteriorating conditions and their access to housing was limited. Unemployment and blocked opportunities hindered their progress. Immigrant youth, in particular, held little hope for the future.
This case illustrates the ongoing identity conflict, struggle and tension that exist in contemporary France, a deeply divided society. The divisive split along the lines of French national identity and that of the ethnically and religiously different Muslim community, in particular those of North African origin, threatens to erupt into violence. France is a setting ripe for conflict escalation.
Perceived threats to both the national and immigrant groups’ identities distinguish this conflict setting. In addition, the strict French Republican framework; exclusive policies, rhetoric and discourse; socioeconomic inequalities and a failed integration model contribute to the heated environment. I will provide an overview of the context of French Republican society including the conflict components of: French Republican structure, history, values and norms; North African migrant community presence; and conflict causes and factors. These dynamics are interwoven and interdependent. Further, I will suggest adoptive measures that the Muslim North African community must undertake in order to quell the anxieties, fears and threats that are characteristic of conflict environments in hopes of fostering an atmosphere of recognition, tolerance and understanding. These measures will enrich the French nation and the diverse populations within.
The French Republic
“Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité” (Liberty, Equality, Fraternity) is the universally recognized, national motto of the French Republic. Written into the 1958 Constitution, in conjunction with the inception of the current Fifth Republic, these defining words affirm the key ideology of the Republic (French Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs, 2008e). Article 1 of the French Constitution casts France as a color-blind Republic in which all citizens are equal, without distinction based on origin, race or religion. The Republican platform political design is a community of citizens who are equal regardless of their social, ethnic or religious background. Individual and collective rights are universal. In theory, France’s national identity creates an umbrella of unified, diverse and equal citizens, not separate communities. Additionally, laîcité (secularism) is a fundamental law, principle and practice of the French Republican universalism model and a guiding value of French national identity. In part, French cultural strength derives from secularism as a source. Secularism, the clear separation of church and state, is a key structure within the centralized institutional framework of French society and a medium for fostering and preserving normative French national identity. Consequently, the French census does not record the racial or ethnic origins or religious affiliations of citizens, thereby ensuring equality among all citizens. The State provides its citizens equal benefits: freedom, access to knowledge and education, infrastructure, protection, security and mobility. However, France’s immigrant population, as well as their children born in France, face persistent socioeconomic marginalization and racial discrimination. These populations do not receive the same benefits as their “French” counterparts.
The Fifth Republic is France’s current, democratic and centralized political system. The executive branch includes the President and his appointed Prime Minister; the legislative Parliament envelopes both the Senate and National Assembly. A “two-round voting” system ushers in elected representatives. Voting requirements vary with elections, however, French national status is imperative; 86% voter participation was noted in the 2007 Presidential election (French Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs, 2008c). Currently, the President and Prime Minister are from the same political party, the Right-wing UMP (Union pour un Mouvement Populaire), however, this is not always the case; their “cohabitation” is paramount to the functioning State (French Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs, 2008d). The main opposing party is the Left-wing centered PS (Parti Socialiste). Other parties are indeed represented in the National Assembly, Senate and/or European Parliament. Minority representation and presence is negligible. It is important to note the powerful presence of the Front National (FN) party within the French political climate. This party runs on an anti-immigrant platform, focusing “its efforts on black and Arab immigrants” (Killian & Johnson, 2006, p. 63). This anti-immigrant discourse remained inconsequential until recently; other political parties have since modified their own party discourse to closer resemble that of the FN. Further, other significant positions and councils are: the Minister of Immigration, Integration, National Identity and Co-Development; the Mediator of the Republic; and the Conseil Français de Culte Musulman (CFCM), an “official interlocutor” that facilitates dialogue between the government and Muslim community (French Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs, 2008a; Safran, 2004, p. 431). The French political system has morphed through France’s historic Republic changes, maintaining a consistent and strong hold over constituents. With the inception of the Fifth Republic, the French populace, previously constrained subjects of the State, became more involved with governmental institutions. In late 2007, the Balladur committee proposed constitutional amendments to: strengthen Parliament, provide better representation of and space for minority politics and create a more transparent executive branch. These measures are to ensure a better functioning and more efficient democracy (French Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs, 2008b).
French Colonial Rule and Immigration
France’s colonial history is deep and mirrors today’s environment in metropolitan France. For brevity’s sake, I will focus on France’s colonizing efforts within Muslim North Africa, specifically Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. France’s occupation and colonial rule of the North African region known as the Maghreb, lasted over a century, faced consistent resistance from the Muslim majority populations and ended violently with Algeria’s independence. North Africa’s strategic geographic location, failing economies and underdeveloped infrastructures enticed France’s ruling powers. Morocco and Tunisia, under the control of their French protectorate, stabilized economically and developed internally. Despite these benefits of modernization and change, the native populations frequently resisted colonial control, perhaps due to the stark differences in these interdependent communities between cultural traditions, ethnic populations and religious beliefs. Independence was restored to Morocco and Tunisia in the mid-1950s. Algeria, on the other hand, proved to be a more volatile environment to colonialize. The colonization of Algeria was unique; Algeria was absorbed into the French state body, truly becoming a regional component of the French landscape (Cooper, 2003). However, France’s lengthy grip on the “colony” of Algeria was stifling to the native Muslim population who remained the majority despite the large influx of French immigrants who settled in Algeria, the pied-noirs (black feet is the literal translation). French colonial rule dominated the political and economic landscape, excluding the native Algerian population in representation and power distribution and denying them equal rights. The French colonialists implemented institutional developments that solely benefited their migrant community and usurped land from native, often tribal, control. It is no surprise that the decolonization of Algeria erupted into a devastating eight-year war, killing hundreds of thousands and destroying the relationship between France and its colony; a caustic legacy that continues today. Algeria received independence in 1962. Many Algerians, Moroccans and Tunisians, as well as the French pied-noirs immigrated to France. Despite colonial influence and acquired characteristics, they confronted difficulties integrating into French society.
At the conclusion of World War II and prior to the independence of the Maghreb colonies, migrant communities flooded into France. At that time, the State recruited cheap, male migrant labor directly from French colonies, specifically Algeria and Morocco, in order to reinvigorate the devastated domestic economy. Today, partially due to globalization, much of the manufacturing industry that kept these immigrant communities employed has vanished. Many of these migrant communities, having built their lives in France, then stayed and reunified with their families and have produced second and third generation French-born citizens. Thus making France a community of increased ethnic, cultural, racial and religious diversity.
However, this increased population diversity has caused a fragmenting of French society and the strict nationalist Republican value system. The grand paradox rests in the Republican philosophy of equality, indivisibility and the removal of individual or group ethnic identity, versus the persistent nationalist marginalization of migrant communities. Silverstein noted, “The French government and the French people have had difficulty adapting to the rapidly growing Muslim-French population, a population that is religiously, and ethnically very distinct from the French ‘ideal citizen’” (as cited in Croucher, 2006, p. 236). Studies conducted for/by the Commission Nationale Consultative des Droits de l’Homme (CNCDH) revealed the least accepted and most negatively perceived migrant groups are North Africans or Muslims (as cited in Guiraidon, 2008, p. 372). This societal inconsistency, coupled with national community perception, renders the foundation of the Republic moot and perpetuates migrant social exclusion and discrimination.
France has become a pluralistic society. France is an amalgam of Arab, Asian, African, Berber, Black, European, Jewish, Muslim, Roman Catholic, White individuals. In theory, the universalist, color-blind Republican model appears to be inclusive and welcoming. However, in practice, in today’s modern French society, this is not the case. France is a nation of immigrants. The population of France is hovering near 64 million; 5 million are immigrants (Insee, 2009). 1.5 million of these immigrants are of North African or Maghreb origin (Insee, 2009). The designation Maghreb generally applies to the countries of Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia but may include Libya and Mauritania. These figures do not include those of foreign heritage who are French citizens, yet remain Others in the eyes of the French. An estimated 3 million Muslims are in France; Algerians make up the largest group followed by Moroccans, many hold dual national status (Malik, 2004). It is interesting to note that France has “the largest Jewish and Muslim minority groups in Europe” (The Connexion, 2009).
France’s conflict landscape envelopes large cities, small towns and the rural countryside, affecting all pockets of French society and encompassing the diverse factions of France’s societal make-up. Specifically, this conflict exists between the Muslim North African communities, specifically the “Muslim, Arab, Maghrebi and Beur” communities, including both immigrants and those with French citizenship, and their “host” country, the French Republic and the French nationalist community (Safran, 2004, p. 424). Indeed, this includes large segments of the French community rather than an isolated minority; this divisive juncture of difference is the epicenter of the conflict.
The countries of origin (i.e. Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia) are important secondary parties to this identity conflict. All three countries maintain vital trade ties with France and receive development assistance from their colonizer. Franco-Algerian fractured relations are being repaired. At the same time, there are large numbers of Maghrebins who have settled in France, many of whom maintain citizenship from their countries of origin or hold dual citizenship. It is common for Maghrebins to retain strong ties with the Maghreb, a source of identity, family and comfort.
French law prohibits financing religious buildings with public monies (Malik, 2004). Additionally, an insufficient number of Islamic religious training institutions within France explains the shortage of Islamic religious leaders that hold French citizenship. Thus, the governments of Maghreb countries, as well as other countries in the Islamic world, provide the French Muslim community with trained religious teachers and leaders (imams) and fund the construction and maintenance of mosques and Islamic associations in France (Leveau & Hunter, 2002). In doing so, these foreign governments become significant actors to the conflict setting.
Supportive alliances are essential to establishing a united presence in the face of conflict. SOS Racisme, France Plus, MRAP (Mouvement Contre le Racisme et pour l'Amitié entre les
Peuples (Movement Against Racism and for Friendship between Peoples)) and LICRA (Ligue Internationale Contre le Racisme et l’Antisémitisme (International League against Racism and Anti-Semitism)), for example, are well-established, politically and socially connected anti-racist NGOs that fight institutional racial discrimination, including discourse, on behalf of immigrant and racial minorities (Safran, 2004). These organizations and associations are well versed in the rhetoric and the institutions of the French Republican framework. The North African community has challenged certain organizations’ political proximity and broad reaching anti-discrimination campaigns, often distancing themselves from these allegiances. Despite some opposition, these tertiary actors are influential nonetheless.
Causes and Factors
The simmering conflict between the Muslim Maghreb and secular French national communities is convoluted and complex; characterized by shared, unspoken similarities and yet marked by difference as well. Both communities perceive their ethnic, cultural and religious identities to be threatened. However, due to the dominant in-group status of the French national community, still performing their former colonial role, the Maghreb community suffers further with: unsatisfied human needs, institutionalized racism, limited opportunities and liberties, as well as socioeconomic exclusion, key factors in instigating the Paris riots. Further, a sense of security, dignity and life purpose, cultural, moral and/or physical survival, recognition by society and control over destiny are essential to individual and community survival. Universal values, mutually shared needs, hopes and fears underlie all individuals, groups and societies, loosely linking humanity together.
Identity difference is the primary ingredient to this conflict. The founding principles of the French Republic, societal customs and norms and fluency in the French language, are fundamental elements to French identity. French identity is a symbolic umbrella that unifies the French populace into a collective whole, a cohesive social identity unit. The French Republic and nationalist community fear the loss of French culture and national identity. In an effort to maintain the purity of secular French identity, French institutions, in particular, challenge a pluralistic and multicultural identity label with political discourse and societal measures, marking those who do not fit into the strict definition as Others.
The Muslim Maghrebin community inhabits a space defined by religious affiliation, ethnic heritage and cultural expression. Their adherence to the Islamic faith, regardless of level of faith practice, is a key element to their identity; the nationalist community relegates all Muslims to a monolithic faith category. The Muslim community is free to practice their faith in private; however, the French public sphere remains religiously neutral. Further, these communities are defined by ethnic heritages and cultural expressions that are characterized as different from French society. Physical features (including beards), clothing (i.e. traditional clothing, Islamic headscarves) and foods, are cultural expressions and identity markers. These characteristics, often very superficial in nature, link the individual to Maghreb identity and inherently back to Islam. Despite their assimilation measures and adaptation of the French culture, as well as citizenship, the Maghreb community remains relegated to the social periphery.
The French nationalist and North African communities are cohabitating interdependent partners. Their distinct identities are powerful agents of community, societal inclusion and unity. Each community feels threatened by the other. The nationalist community fears the loss of French culture, identity and the potential of Islamization on French soil. The Muslim Maghreb community is pegged as different (i.e. foreign) from French Republican ideals and identity. They feel threatened by dominant culture discourse that fails to recognize and legitimize the religious and cultural differences that define the Muslim North African community identity. The blatant institutionalized discrimination and lack of recognition of differences threatens Muslim North African community identity. The riots symbolized a reactionary protective measure to these threats. Both communities remain entrenched.
The rather innocuous French term, banlieue, is now synonymous with the 2005 Paris riots, as well as the migrant communities that inhabit them. Deteriorating buildings and high-rise projects house large numbers of low-income immigrants and their descendants, primarily of North African and sub-Saharan African descent. These isolated apartment blocks, many of them subsidized, dense with migrant concentration, face socioeconomic difficulties such as: high unemployment, lower incomes, public stigmatization, poverty, persistent crime, low educational achievement and little hope for the future. As Nabil Echchaibi (2007) poetically declares “…the banlieue has become, through its sinister image of chaos and poverty, the contemporary colony in which France asserts its identity and reaffirms its difference” (2007, p. 13).
Employment opportunities and a viable job market are essential elements to individual immigrant and community success within French society. These migrant communities often fill the menial, undesirable and manual labor jobs that dominant society members refuse. Less laborious and better paying positions are rarely open to them. Unemployment is rife within the migrant banlieues. They do not have equal access to the opportunities offered to the mainstream French. With no affirmative action policy in place and widely held negative perceptions, prejudices and xenophobia, the young adult Maghreb population is particularly impaired in the employment industry. Glaude and Borrel noted that despite assimilation efforts, university educations and training, Maghreb youth are more likely to be unemployed and less likely to find employment than their national counterparts (as cited in Guiraidon, 2008, p. 372). Foreign sounding surnames and skin color, characteristics that link candidates to parental origin, severely limit employment prospects for ethnic candidates. As a result, the swing of upward social mobility remains frozen, further disenfranchisement creeps in and despair sweeps through the communities.
The oppressive nature of the banlieue environment and institutionalized racism further alienate the marginalized, immigrant communities from the dominant, national whole; neither promoting nor facilitating the integration or assimilation authorities claim to desire. Segregated housing, persistent discrimination and environments riddled with unemployment impede minority success, blocking access to French society and expected societal cohesion.
France’s unique Republican integration model discourages recognizing ethnic, religious or cultural difference in favor of French unity. The model requires immigrant communities to adjust to mainstream cultural norms, adapting to the national French identity and culture. Further, migrant communities are expected to distance themselves from their countries of origin and cultures; assimilation is the only route to full membership in the French community (Scott, 2005). This standard of assimilation promises, under the Republican umbrella, equal rights. France’s centralized public education system is a critical tool of migrant community integration. This system promotes Republican values, including a strict adherence to the principle of secularism, national unity and French language acquisition. It is internationally known that in 2004, French law banned religious symbols (i.e. Christian crucifixes, Jewish yarmulkes, Islamic headscarves) from public schools. Although the law does not specify any particular religious symbol, it is widely perceived to target the Islamic headscarf and by extension, the Muslim community.
France’s anti-multicultural assimilation approach contrasts starkly with that of Britain and the United States. Prescriptive enforcement of dominant host culture is bound to backfire. These pressures have caused tension, cultural adaptation failure, heightened levels of ethnic pride and bubbling resentment towards the government, the nationalist culture and dominating Republican values. France’s integration policy promotes complete adaptation over integration. Despite these lofty adaptation ideals, France’s immigrant communities, especially those of North African origin, face discrimination and remain segregated from the French population.
The mapping of the Franco-Maghreb conflict reveals an intricate web interweaving French history, various actors and root factors. It is a complex society, rife with tension and divided by difference. Despite these contrasting differences, both communities share universal values and interests. As Giry (2006) clearly states, the greatest concerns to both communities are: “unemployment, social inequality, education and the cost of living” (Giry, p. 97). Conflict escalation is bound to occur and to avoid it, a common ground must be sought.
I propose large-scale civil society mobilization of the Maghreb community, a slow-developing, grand plan with both short-term and long-term goals. The mobilization platform should not be religiously founded but rather based on social equality, a universal value and founding principle of the French Republic. I chose this method of conflict alleviation for several reasons. First, the current conflict climate is tense and heated, yet remains latent. Violent escalation may occur, as witnessed with the riots, but will be quickly suppressed through coercive measures and discourse. Second, as the Maghreb community has successfully mobilized in the past, they would not be navigating unchartered waters. Third, socioeconomic and access barriers, coupled with a lack of community legitimacy, severely limit this community’s resources and financial power. Finally, the French Republic political system and nationalist community are dedicated to preserving the Republic’s ideology and identity. Conservative parties, like the FN, and strict dominant discourse are gaining strength in the public sphere, a clear sign that structural political change is unlikely and unrealistic. Within these confines and structural boundaries, Maghreb community mobilization can be an effective, transformative and sustainable tool, empowering the community and guiding them to recognition and social change.
A democratic political environment expects an active and informed civil society; civil society is a structural element to democracy. Civil society is not state sanctioned and therefore, may form organically or with intent, catering to a myriad of interest groups. Civil society is influential on all levels of leadership. The civil society system, a web of societal and organizational networks, crosscuts through society’s diverse and divided identity landscapes. Civil society can facilitate and foster intergroup acknowledgement, dialogue, understanding and unity. The extensions of civil society are broad reaching and effective mediums of local and state capacity building and empowerment. Civil society fosters civic participation and ownership, essential elements to local, regional and national development.
The Maghreb communities have previously mobilized themselves, both in their countries of origin and on French soil. Past peaceful mass demonstrations and marches prove mobilization to be an effective mode of political voice for these communities. For example, the Green March in Morocco reunified the Western Sahara with Morocco (Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, 2010). Past mass demonstrations in both Algeria and Tunisia have addressed indigenous groups’ “cultural and linguistic rights,” as well as price increases affecting youth (“Berbers protest,” 2003). In France, the political climate changed momentarily in the early 1980s; the Socialist Party (PS) took the power reigns, creating a welcoming social and political environment to pluralistic and multicultural discourse. This was short-lived. However, under Socialist rule, foreigner organized associations became legal. Coinciding with these political developments was the visible and vocal emergences of second generation Maghrebins, known as Beurs (Echchaibi, 2007). A peaceful Beur initiative protesting social inequalities and community insecurities was born. In 1983, the March for Equality and Against Racism (Marche des Beurs), a nonviolent movement joining together Maghreb youth and French allies, traversed the French landscape from Marseilles to Paris, garnering national recognition and support (Bloul, 1998). These bi-continental movements clearly foreshadow the potential for Maghreb community mobilization today.
Roles and Actors
Despite the monolithic ethnic, cultural and religious label assigned by dominant culture discourse, the Maghreb community is rich in diversity and divided. Identities associated with countries of origin are unique and tightly held. Additionally, there is further separation along ethnic group lines, splitting the Arabs and the Berbers. Further, it is possible that religious adherence or lack there of is another characteristic of community separation. Addressing these divisions is not to be overlooked. Workshops, community meetings and religious associations can facilitate intergroup dialogue and relationship building, fostering trust between divisive factions. However, in the spirit of the monolithic Maghreb identity, it is imperative to embrace this comprehensive classification in order to advance the community’s goals.
As I have noted, this community is plagued with socioeconomic limitations and barriers; civil society mobilization is low-cost although can be emotionally exhausting and time-consuming. They do not lack the manpower or social networks, key ingredients to mobilization. The Maghreb community is large and tends to live, like many diasporic and minority communities, in immigrant dense neighborhoods, towns and cities. These factors may be the result of the high-context cultures from which the Maghreb communities originate. High-context cultures are collectivistic and dedicated to long-term connections; they are communally focused and foster strong interpersonal bonds and networks that crosscut familial, social and communal lines, producing deep and enduring relationships (Beer, 2009). Therefore, high-context cultures and community mobilization can be linked using the rich cultural context and heritage already in place of this community.
Maghreb community mobilization is a grassroots approach, a way to empower the local masses (Lederach, 1997). This can be achieved by fusing the multiple elements of civil society into a cooperative and aggregate whole. Civil society is a collective functioning body of community organizations, associations and institutions. The construction, maintenance and development of an effective and unified civil society is a grand task. Following the relaxed associational laws in the 1980s, the proliferation of minority associations exploded within the Muslim and Maghreb communities, pursuing both political and apolitical agendas. Many associations are localized within specific communities and neighborhoods. Although these organizations are locally focused and thus, geographically centralized, their inclusion is essential in reaching large numbers of citizens and building their support, as well as establishing a unified territory. Further, their extensive familial and social networks are not exclusively locally rooted. These associations cater to a range of important demographics and missions including: religious, cultural and business associations and women and youth-focused organizations. The local level represents a microcosm of the religious, linguistic, cultural and socioeconomic diversity of the Maghreb community.
As previously noted, Islam plays a fundamental and guiding role in the lives of the Maghreb community; religious leaders yield enormous influence. Few large-scale mosques dot the French landscape; there are hundreds of informal spaces dedicated to prayer and gathering (Malik, 2004). Therefore, it is imperative that mosque-based associations and leadership act in unison as a cooperative body of civil society mobilization. This level of leadership and association may be locally focused, however, the consistency and prevalence of Islam in France allows religious affiliation on a local, regional, national and international level. Despite, the important inclusion of religious associations and their leadership, the mobilization effort’s mission is not religiously based rather dedicated to social equality. The reason for this is that inclusion, based on religion, gives off a negative perception and limits community participation. However, religious organizations play a key role in mobilizing a large community of people who share a common identity. More importantly, there are Muslim community religious leaders, as well as other community elites, who are loosely tied to the French national government. They represent the middle-range of leadership, a unique position that connects top-level leadership (i.e. government actors, nationalist community elites) with the local level causes (Lederach, 1997). This mid-level positioning is essential in garnering influential support, as well as establishing significant weight to the cause.
Community radio is an alternative media platform for France’s ethnic communities. This medium provides an environment for community participation and expression, fosters cultural interaction, represents marginalized populations and disseminates information to the public in a unifying manner. Community radio, more specifically ethnic radio, is an integration tool and helps these communities navigate the Republican system in which they live, thus demonstrating their broad scope. Ethnic media outlets are advantageous cultural instruments to civil society mobilization. Beur FM’s target audience is Franco-Maghrebin; however, they do not cater to any single community. Other ethnic community media outlets focus solely on home culture or religious orientation; these outlets would be vital in collecting individual community support. Radio is an effective information channel, accessible to a wide-range of audience members; radio does not play on socioeconomic lines. Beur FM, in its former incarnation as Radio Beur, played a pivotal role in the 1983 March. According to Jazouli, Radio Beur had hoped to develop from “movement into a national federation or ethnic lobby” (as cited in Derderian, 2004, p. 87). The movement was unsuccessful in further development, plagued with disorganization, ineffective leadership and unfocused goals. A deliberate, expansive and gradual coordinated effort sustained by strong and cooperative leadership would provide structure, unity and focus. Community radio would provide a comprehensive and national podium for civil society mobilization.
Coalition building and movement development would be futile without encompassing a larger, participatory audience beyond the Muslim Maghreb community. Establishing and forging broad alliances with sympathizing individuals and organizations, including those who represent the dominant in-group, strengthens the movement’s support structure and power, legitimacy and public presence. Enlisting the support of other marginalized communities, the sub-Saharan African population many of whom are Muslim, for example, is an obvious path to pursue. Additionally, tertiary parties, such as local, regional or national NGOs, are undeniably powerful resources and institutions for collective action efforts and mobilization movements. Often, their missions alone, like those of SOS Racisme, France Plus, MRAP and LICRA, are deeply embedded in movements of social equality; they do not mobilize on individual, group and/or community identity alone which would promote misperceptions of the movement’s mission. They are actively involved in legislative movements, anti-discrimination campaigns and social justice activism. Their multi-level relations and established societal presence are not only beneficial to mobilization; they are adept at gaining a broader support base, including both popular and elite fronts (Blatt, 1997). Further, these organizations are respected and forward- thinking, they would cleave to a nonviolent movement, lest they tarnish their reputations and legitimacy, disabling their function within French society. They are not to be overlooked due to past opposition.
Goals, Outcomes and Challenges
A peaceful mobilization initiative of this scale would take years; it is not a quick-fire strategy but rather one of enduring legacy. There are both short-term and long-term goals that would sustain and propel the civil society mobilization movement forward. Empowerment and capacity building, ownership and new leadership, social agency and trust- and relationship building, identity re-imagery and Maghreb community recognition and legitimacy showcase the depth and range of desired goals and outcomes; transforming a community desperate for social change.
Initial open dialogue forums would inform the target audience, potential partners in mobilization (i.e. local, regional, national associations and organizations) laying the groundwork of mobilization purpose, framework and expected norms and roles. This engaging step empowers and unifies cooperative and committed parties, in particular those who have been oppressed and/or marginalized. Empowerment and community unification, both immediate and enduring effects, are key motivation tools and steps of the mobilization process, solidifying identity and focus. Recruiting across lines of society, identity and ideologies obviously broadens civic inclusion and participation, as well as nurtures and extends relationships and networks. Additionally, mobilization, through crosscutting identities, establishes a more extensive and diverse monitoring system of norms (Large & Sisk, 2006). This important aspect aids in producing positive mobilization, public perception and goal achievement. The peaceful, non-violent doctrine of this initiative must not be undermined. The use of violence pollutes well-intentioned mobilization. Soliciting Maghreb youth participation is an essential link between the movement’s nonviolence platform and positive imagery construction. It is important to note that Maghreb youth have the incredible ability to attract large swaths of participants; they were the primary initiators of the 1983 March, as well as the riots (Bloul, 1998). However, as riot organizers and instigators, coupled with the demeaning levels of unemployment that hamper this demographic of the Maghreb community, often driving them to crime and/or radical Islam, they have a hostile and negative public image which must be rehabilitated; an image that feeds, perpetuates and further marginalizes their own community. As Stein (2001) notes, negative imagery can lead to conflict violence (2001). It is imperative to include Maghreb youth. They are both significant forces seeking participation, as well as agents of Muslim Maghreb community imagery reconstruction. As persistent Others, this community needs an image overhaul in order to advance. It is evident that the Muslim Maghreb community desires social and political recognition and legitimacy. A nonviolent civil society mobilization movement that is dense with participants, vocal, well connected and strongly organized will create a powerful public presence; this visible and audible movement will be recognized in some manner.
Effective mobilization may indeed contribute to social change; alter dominant culture discourse; and achieve more minority political representation. Nonetheless, civil society mobilization, initiated and ushered by the Muslim Maghreb community would be transformative.
Ideally, the various facets of civil society would band together under the umbrella of equality, a moral platform. However, obstacles may present themselves. Large-scale mobilization is time-consuming and can lose momentum. Leadership can turn sour and defect. Internal division and rivalry threatens trust and relationships. Violence may erupt. The French social and political environment may become inhospitable. Civil society leverage may be limited (Giry, 2006). Despite these challenges, a civil society mobilization campaign is a feasible implementation strategy to quelling conflict tension within France while it propels the marginalized Maghreb population to full French social participation.
The stratified societal and cultural contexts in which France’s marginalized immigrant and ethnic communities strive to function and integrate reveal a complex, nationalist environment fraught with institutional limitations and obstacles and a dominating power, the French Republican system. The French nationalist system’s resistance to multiculturalism, despite large ethnic community presence, presents an ideal environment for conflict. France’s perpetual marginalization, exclusion and discrimination of the Muslim Maghreb migrant community contradicts the long-held edict of a French Republic system; a system that does not recognize ethnic difference but consistently defines minority communities as such. The French nationalist society has long denied the signs and symptoms of the institutionalized racism, limited opportunities and liberties, as well as the socioeconomic exclusion that these communities face. These were key roles in instigating most recently, the Paris riots but also, the 1983 March. Furthermore, the Republican value system, an ideological element of French dominant host culture, including its integration model, is inclusionary and unifying by definition. However, immigrant communities are consistently relegated to the periphery as a homogenous ethnic body. It is no surprise that France is riddled with societal division and tension, a latent conflict simmering under the surface, waiting for an incendiary spark.
The setting is ripe for positive change. In their persistent pursuit of positive social recognition and legitimacy, a peaceful civil society mobilization of the Maghreb community and beyond is the answer. This social movement will not be overtly tied to religion and respectful of French Republican system values. Further, a religiously based movement would alienate the various factions of the dominant nationalist community, including the powerful government. Forming a united coalition which presents itself positively to the public would allow the vocalization of long-held sentiments of discrimination and marginalization; grievances that must be aired in a productive climate. A platform dedicated to social equality has proven successful historically and internationally. As France lays claim to the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man, the text upon which the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is based, it is fitting that the desire for social equality guide this mobilization movement (Yale Law School, n.d.). The powerful alliances formed and empowering effects that peaceful mobilization breeds will linger, enhancing French society. Traversing the French landscape peacefully armed with dedication and a strong support system, the Maghreb community’s efforts of civil society mobilization will foster a rapprochement between the conflict parties and pave the way to tolerance and understanding, key ingredients to enduring peace and societal stability.
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