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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Idées: Des jeunes immigrés qui mettent à mal les poncifs

by By Michel Simon, sociologist

France: Young Immigrants are Defying Stereotypes

Translated by John O’Neil

Translated Tuesday 4 April 2006, by John O’Neil

An investigation shakes the generally accepted ideas on the education levels, secular convictions or the social engagement of three immigrant groups.

Français comme les autres? Enquête sur les citoyens d’origine maghrébine, africaine et turque (How "French" are they? A closer look at citizens of Maghreb, African and Turkish Origin), by Sylvain Brouard and Vincent Tiberj, Presses de Sciences Po, December 2005, 168 pages, 10 euros.

Two researchers from CEVIPOF, a political and social thinktank affiliated with Sciences Po - the National Foundation of Political Sciences, produced this enthralling work which is supported by two sample surveys (April 2005). The first relates to this French population resulting from three specific immigrations, the second or control survey relates to the whole French population. This was an unprecedented approach, which uncovered some surprises.

These French citizens are comparatively young. Eight out of ten were born in France or arrived when they were very young. They most often come from working-class families and hold either entry-level positions or are unskilled laborers (but one out of five is an executive or in middle management.) Their academic performance is at least as good, with 58% holding diplomas equal or superior to the French baccalauréat, as opposed to 52% of the general population from comparable social origins. Yet they are twice as likely to have job insecurity or be unemployed.

Though they are mostly Muslims (66% among those of Maghreb origin), 20% profess no religion compared to 28% who took the control survey. They are not more observant than their fellow citizens but they take more of their religious instruction and values into account. Among them, those under 25 years old appear to be most observant while it’s the reverse trend in the rest of the population. This experiential Islam, with a strong identity component (particularly the youngest protesters) does not push the majority of them away from French society. They are as attached to secularism as their other compatriots. The majority of them accept mixed religious marriages. They feel an affinity to those from their countries of origin, but generally more so to the French (the responses on this point are the same in both surveys). On the whole, communitarianism is a minority sentiment.

Is this population without political leanings? These French citizens with immigrant roots are at the least as attached to the liberties and the values of the republic as their fellow citizens. They are even in favor of state economic intervention. Whatever their socioeconomic status, they are far more likely than the French population on the whole to consider voting for Leftist parties, Socialists in particular but also Communists and other extreme Left parties. But far more of them are not registered to vote (30 % among the 18-24 age group, versus 15 % in the control group). A favorable disposition is not synonymous with effective support.

However, this general description of assimilation must not obscure the following phenomena that, though in the minority, result in moderating it. Thus, 32% of the French citizens of immigrant origins do not believe that a woman should have premarital sex, versus only 8% of the control group. 39% of the first group, versus 20% of the control group, believes that Jews have too much power in France. In both cases, these exclusive attitudes show themselves in proportion to how observant the respondents are. These attitudes are more notable among the youngest surveyed.

To sum up, these young French citizens with immigrant roots aspire to be successful in life with an intensity typical of the generations to which they belong. They come up against the same obstacles but in addition, they endure a racist ostracism against which they rebel much more acutely than their elders. Here are two urgent matters for the Left and the communists: to pursue an implacable struggle alongside them against the discrimination that works to beat them down; to do everything it can so that leaders and elected officials come from their ranks. If not, the risk exists of witnessing an increasing intolerance of resentment and of withdrawal, proportional to that which, in some other constituencies of our people, paves the way for the Right and, a fortiori, the extreme Right.

Published in l’Humanité 13 March 2006


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