In Ezz El-Din Ahmed Al-Chaoush’s remarkable film, “The Arab Beyond,” which aired Tuesday on TMC (9:25 p.m.), Naima Habryahi, a historian specializing in migration, puts perspective, decodes and analyzes turbulent problems. Relations between France and its immigrants from North Africa. We questioned her.
Is the relationship between France and the Arabs of France still complicated?
Naima Habeer Yahi. It is a very complex story, the story of colonialism that explains the existence of these populations, but it does not enter into the program of what it means to be French. In the collective imagination, a Frenchman is a white-skinned person with a Judeo-Christian tradition. It can work with immigration within Europe. But not with populations of Afro-Caribbean or North African origin. There is also the real weight of the Algeria War, which is crushing the Arab question in France.
We have the impression that these immigrants fell from the sky and that they have no intention of staying. But the myth of return collapsed forty years ago. Migration to North Africa dates back to the end of the nineteenth century, and has become massive since the 1914-1918 war. First, they were miners in the coal mines of the north, dockers in Marseilles, and Zouave in the French army. It’s not from yesterday. Until we know how to include the place of this Arab population in the French narrative, nothing will be resolved.
As long as we are in confrontation and not in the exchange of memories, we will continue to regard these fifth or sixth generation immigrants as a foreign body to the nation, because we do not include them in the family image as silhouettes of their ancestors, they will remain separate. They are not seen as Breton, not Corsican, not Chattanian or Parisian. What we realize is that French society says: “We will take you, but not your culture, your skin colors, your titles.” »
Do you however see an improvement?
Each generation becomes a role model and opens a field of possibilities for subsequent generations. When I was young, there were no school teachers, police commissioners, or doctors of North African descent. Now it’s normal. It must have been the same journey for Poles, Italians and Portuguese in another era.
Social progress is a reality, but it remains in doubt. Citizens of Arab origin have exhausted this perpetual process of illegitimacy of being French which is based on cultural racism. Rejection is also social. Because these people are all children of the proletarians. No one will tell you that he is the son of an ambassador. They are the product of labor migration, and the discriminatory pattern is not only related to origins. The social issue is a reality for the Arabs of France.
What needs to be done to change things radically?
Time helps, but France is living a lie. She holds a mirror to herself that does not reflect her true face. For a long time, she was no longer what she pretended to be. There is inevitably a gap between our fellow citizens who we are selling a lie to.
It is multi-cultural, multi-religious and multi-ethnic, and we do not accept it. That’s why we’re having a Rugby World Cup party, to celebrate an outdated France worthy of a Pagnol film from the 1950s. (Actor Jean Dujardin, wearing a hat on his head, noticeably appears imitating a baker.). This can succeed if we embrace multiculturalism in our country. We live in a state of nostalgia for French and colonial France, whose ethnic minorities were not from outside Europe.
There is a kind of glorification of sepia-toned France before the exodus of the glorious Trinity. When it civilized Africa. This painting wouldn’t shock me if it weren’t the only one on display. London Olympics ceremony, next? It was Notting Hill (Multicultural area of London) ! The English present a narrative that includes this diversity. We were not allowed to hold a mirror in which France sees itself as it sees itself.