[Marxism] France, Paradise Lost
lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Nov 3 07:26:27 MST 2015
NY Times Op-Ed, Nov. 3 2015
France, Paradise Lost
by Pamela Druckerman
Paris — WHEN I moved to France 12 years ago, it was like arriving in an
unfriendly paradise. Sure, hardly anyone spoke to me. But there was
national paid maternity leave and free preschool. Practically everyone
seemed to agree on the need for strict gun laws, and access to birth
control and abortion. Not only did the whole country have health
insurance; most undocumented immigrants could get medical and dental
care free. (Cruelly, their thermal bath cures weren’t covered.)
I also came to appreciate the way the French think, as explained by
Sudhir Hazareesingh in his aptly named new book, “How the French Think.”
How could I resist a country where rappers mention Rousseau, philosophy
is a compulsory subject in high school and ordinary people point out the
duality in everything from outfits to marriages?
As a journalist, I marveled at people’s capacity for abstract thought.
When I interviewed Parisians about infidelity, many began by asking
whether “fidelity” meant being faithful to your partner, or to yourself.
The French believe “they have a duty to think not just for themselves
but also for the rest of the world,” Mr. Hazareesingh writes.
All that thinking can have an admirable moral mission. When hundreds of
thousands of refugees fled Vietnam in the late 1970s, France’s
pre-eminent intellectuals — led by Jean-Paul Sartre and Raymond Aron,
who had been feuding for decades — teamed up and pleaded with the French
president to help. “These are men in mortal danger whom we must rescue
because they are men,” Mr. Sartre said at a news conference. (They were
also fleeing a former French colony.) France took in nearly 130,000
“boat people” from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.
That influx, and others like it, have helped make France a nation of
immigrants. Nearly a quarter of the population has at least one
Of course I fretted about the rise of the far-right National Front, and
the fact that many sub-Saharan and North African immigrants — and their
descendants — are marginalized.
But what the headlines don’t say is that daily life in Paris, and in
most French cities, is also full of pleasant multicultural experiences.
My local cheese stand is owned by a Moroccan lady who’s married to a
Serb. My children have public-school classmates who speak Chinese,
Italian or Arabic at home. At my twins’ recent birthday, a table of kids
descended from Greek, Lebanese, Portuguese and American immigrants
insisted on singing “La Marseillaise.”
So when hundreds of thousands of migrants began arriving in Europe, I
assumed that France would be welcoming.
It wasn’t. President François Hollande said in September that France
would take in an additional 24,000 refugees over the next two years. In
a national poll afterward, 70 percent of respondents said 24,000 was
“sufficient” or “very sufficient,” and half said they would refuse to
accept refugees in their own city.
To put that in perspective: The International Organization for Migration
estimates that some 724,000 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean into
Europe so far this year. Many others have arrived by land. Germany
expects to receive at least 800,000 asylum seekers this year.
France’s strategy is apparently to be so unwelcoming that most migrants
won’t want to stay. The French refugee camp known as the Jungle has
swelled to about 6,000 people, most of whom aspire to get to Britain.
When French officials went to Munich in September to bring the first of
the new refugees to France, their buses returned half empty.
What happened to the nation that thinks for the world?
Prominent intellectuals have turned rightward or spoken out against
helping refugees. Sartre was a global star. Today’s thinkers are mostly
known inside France, where they appear alongside actresses on prime-time
Politicians seem to have decided that there’s nothing to be gained from
a big humanitarian gesture. Every party is getting tougher on
immigrants, to reclaim voters from the National Front.
And there’s the elephant in the room (the French call this the “hidden
face of the iceberg”): the fact that most of the migrants are Muslim. In
a 2013 government survey, just 65 percent of respondents said French
Muslims are “French like others,” down from 80 percent four years earlier.
I see now that France was never paradise. “Your alter country is all
that your first was not,” writes the English author Julian Barnes,
“commitment to it involves idealism, love, sentimentality and a certain
But France has also gotten worse. What once seemed like adorable
grouchiness or “bleak chic” has morphed into something darker: a
willingness to believe that people are walking here from Aleppo for free
root canals; a sense that — despite being the world’s sixth-largest
economy — France is powerless to help more.
At this point, the French even seem unhappy about how negative they’ve
become. A positive approach to refugees would probably energize them. As
it stands, France can no longer claim to have a universal message. These
days, it’s just a flawed, ordinary country that mostly thinks for itself.
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