Category Archives: Immigration

Education. Education. Education.

I am being asked, as a “Liberal” – whatever that means, what we should do to protect our values against the ones of the people who don’t think like we do. Especially, when these values are of openness, tolerance and freedom for all.

The answer to just block the ones who don’t believe the same as we do is very “in” these days but I do believe in education and empathy, first. Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes in order to understand where they come from so to fathom their thinking and eventually modify it.

I grant you that such a feat is easier for me as a gay man living in a Western society where the religious, no matter how much we order it to shut up, still condemns and calls for the ban of everything they disagree with.

I also lived in many countries where I have experience in shutting up, looking at local beliefs and culture, and try to position myself within it as well as I could without imposing my view.

I would say that’s the first we need to do when immigration is concerned: a French immigrant like me needs to understand that our rejection of monarchy doesn’t mean the rest of the world must behave their monarchs. I disagree with monarchy. It’s everything I stand against: privileges given at birth, social immobility, laziness and the epitome of people who believe they are entitled to living off the state sucking millions up just to look presentable. And they can’t even manage that for some of them.

However, unless specifically asked, I don’t go around Spain, nor did I in England, with a soap box calling Spaniards and Britons idiots and serfs for having a king or a queen and demanding their head on a platter. How Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, the whole of Scandinavia and the UK understand their own state is their own choice and I must respect it or leave it.

Do I mean immigrants who don’t want to abide by our rules should leave or be deported? No and yes. For me, it all depends on the idea of choice and open-mindness. I would say to a Westerner riling against a country they have just moved in that if they are not happy to see two men kissing or women wearing bikinis that they are free to go back to where they come from. With an immigrant from most Middle-Eastern or African countries, I wouldn’t do as such. I would educate first. The double standard is justifiable by the difference in education and environment that leads to two words I used before “choice” and “free”.

Why would I tell off a Westerner? Because I know they had access to a differentiated educational system that has taught them about the freedom of choice. A system that has laid out all the possibilities, has explained the world at great lengths, that has creates endless opportunities and freedoms within a wider democratic system where the key is for citizens to take their destiny in their own hands as much as possible and learn to be responsible.

Don’t get me wrong, everyone is entitled to their opinion but after seeing, like I did, an American, born-again Christian in the streets of Paris calling for homosexuals to be banned from getting married, I would, as I did, confront them and tell them to fuck off home.School has taught them many ways and they have willingly chosen one. If it’s incompatible with the ones of a country they also chose to live in, why are they here?

To Westerners, yes but to Muslims for instance, no (-ish). Why? Political correctness? For fear of being labelled racist?

No just because I understand where they come from and the need for reeducation. First-generation immigrants in our Western countries are coming from countries where education is not about choice and opportunities, it’s about repeating and maintaining. Their schools don’t teach critical thinking but dos and don’ts in an overall political environment that is violent and intrinsically unfair and unjust.

These people are coming to our countries fleeing hardship, wanting a better life but with mindsets carved deep into themselves, sometimes literally. The answer to this, I often hear, is deculturation. Especially for the first generation so their children can be fully assimilated.

Parents are asked to leave their culture behind, for their own good too, and take on the new one but what is culture? Your language? Your religion? Your dress code? Your eating habits? As a French atheist living in Spain, should I convert to Catholicism and go to church? When I lived in England, should have I become a Anglican and bow to the Queen? Am I refuse to integrate and assimilate by rejecting Catholicism or my subjecting to the Windors? No. It’s more than that, I am said, but no one can define it.

That’s the point of culture: it’s all the untold rules that we grow up with and make us behave a certain way. In Spain, people think it’s weird when I address them using the second person plural but in France, it’s borderline insulting to address someone you don’t know using the second person singular. Yet we are all share the same Latin roots with just a small mountain range between us.

How do we fix the problem? Education. Education. Education. Let’s consider some key questions I heard from good-willing people thinking some immigrants are a danger to our values: How do we make sure Muslims are not antisemitic? How do we ensure Asians are not forcing their girls into marrying older strangers? How do we ensure African girls are not excised? How do we ensure religious immigrants are not homophobic?

We do what they do in Norway, for instance, we educate them. We listen to their thinking, debate with them, show them something different, teach them critical thinking and acceptance for it doesn’t come naturally, it’s always nurtured. And sometimes, often, we play into their weaknesses of bowing to diktats and say: “Because that’s the way things are done here. So think for you have two choices: You stay and accept it or you go back to where you came from.” A hard choice for most of them but it’s a choice at the end, one that will put them in control of their own destiny, often for the first time.

Cynics from the Right will come me a utopist for thinking we can ever reverse mindsets. Why would they think otherwise? They, themselves, think the solution is to go back to a past they have fantasised.

Cynics from the Left will tell me that we can’t even get Western Christians to be gay-friendly and our own society to accept full men/women equality so immigrants…I get where they come from but all the more reasons to keep trying. We cannot stop human progress and we will learn from ourselves.

Some will point out that I’m being very optimistic when talking about our educational system, that, in more and more countries, it’s being privatised so critical thinking is now a danger to the blind acceptance of a evermore unequal, neo-capitalist society in the name of making money.

I agree and I also see that countries resulting in blanket bans and camps are the ones where education is anything but a priority.

 

No blanket blame for a blanket ban

As the two weeks have been passing, anger has been mounting to the rhythm of the unmitigated flow of Trump’s Staline-like presidency. I love how we say “draining the swamp” for what we happily call “political purges” in other countries such as China, Myanmar, Turkey or North Korea.

In the face of all, I think one of my biggest frustration is the impossibility to blame Americans for what’s happening. Akin to when they elected Bush for the first time, it was so easy and cathartic to turn to them, blame them, shame them, shove their nose into their shit for having elected such a blithering idiot and puppet of the rich and powerful.

They would be so relieving to be able to do it right now but we can’t because the fact of the matter is: they did not elect Trump. An outdated, dysfunctional system did.

The people itself voted for Clinton but, as the remains of a war fought back 150 years, an unequally put together electoral college has elected Trump. Therefore, as the blanket ban on all Muslims based on nothing tangible keeps rolling back and forth, the world can’t turn to Americans and gleefully point out that they are now the Bastards of the Decade. “Deal with it, you brainless, murderous and incestuous Yankees!”

They are not and we can’t be cheap. Like all of us, the majority of Americans has been victim of an extremely complicated political minefield that the forefathers of America thought would blow up in the face of anyone like Trump before they ever get a chance to become president. Instead, that leviathan handed him the keys of the kingdom.

So what now? Well, we can only wait and be better people. Remember Michelle Obama and try to resist our urges to blanket blame when a man the majority did not want blanket bans.

Taking to the streets for the future

Trump was elected and his targets are taking to the streets and, as well the usual bastards who are just here to break and create mayhem, I see something else the protesters have to deal with: the Trump electorate who are attacking them. They compare the situation to Obama’s (re-)election forgetting something crucial but they are happy to compare the two so let’s do just that.

Like Meghan Tonjes said, Obama was not perfect – no president ever was and none of them ever had a smooth ride. He made mistakes, some of them that undoubtedly endangered the economic security of people, via his support to some trans-border treaties for example. But one cannot deny that Obama was a uniting force and therefore provided a feeling of safety for the people of America as a whole. During his campaigns and presidency, when addressing the country, he addressed the country, all of it, not some part of it, pitting people against one another which is exactly what Trump did.

So when people say:
“-When Obama was reelected, we did not make a fuss. We shut up and sucked it up!”

I reply: Damn right you did!

And by the way, No! You did not shut up and got on with it. You kept going on about questioning his Americanness, from his policies to his very birth, you kept associating him with Bin Ladin because their name were close and even after he personally gave the order to gave him killed, you carried on with your usual spewing of conspiracies about him being an ally to Islamists. I don’t call that “shutting up” and “sucking it up”, I call it constant defamation in order to undermine someone just because you disagree with him and you don’t like him. Beyond disagreement or dislike, why these constant attacks?

Because that’s all you had. Obama never gave you ground to feel your freedom of being yourself, of existing, of living in the US was endangered. Maybe you felt that your freedom of carrying a gun was in danger but he never targeted you as a person. When he was elected, you didn’t feel your future, the ones of your family and friends was at stake.

Had Obama campaigned with declarations the likes of “When I am elected, no matter what institutions say, every person I personally consider a racist, I’ll have them fired, put in prison, deport and make sure they never set foot on the American soil again!”, I would have understood you taking to the streets to show your anger because that would have been a direct threat to some of you, and not just your passions, but your very existence as Americans.

You did not take to the streets because Obama was uniting, he went above all types of differences to reach you, appeal to you, talk to you whoever you were whereas Trump is divisive: he doesn’t look at America as one big ensemble constantly moving and reinventing itself but rather a monolithic heterosexual WASP block-like majority who has to reluctantly make room for change by putting up with and giving up privileges to minorities. I am not saying that his whole message but that’s most of it.

His campaign was to change how America is perceived by chopping through it with an axe, extracting the heterosexual, able WASPs and appeal to them by pitting them against every single other type of people: African Americans, Black Caribbeans, Asian Americans, Latino Americans, the LGBTQ community, the disabled, non-Christian religions, and even men v women.

To show the damage it does, I will direct to what Clinton said about you when she made the unforgivable mistake of, once, playing into that rhetoric by targeting Trump’s voters saying that “half of them were deplorable”. All of you Trump supporters went up in arms and lashed out. She made the mistake of once being divisive and a lot of people voted for Trump as a result.

That’s why people are in the streets today. To show  the rest of the world that there is more to America than Trump, his ilks and his rhetoric. To show that he doesn’t represent every American but also because they are genuinely scared for their future as they were targeted, not for their opinions or what they did as a living or who they voted for, but for who they are: the colour of their skin, who their heart has feelings for, the birthplace of their parents or even their own. Trump made it openly and proudly clear that all these aspects of identity no one can change, including heterosexual WASPs, were a problem.

If I take the LGBT community, the anguish goes beyond the fear of the resurgence, normalisation and possible formalisation of bullying, it goes to the heart of the family they have built after we had evolved into better, more tolerant human beings – or so we thought – and so I still hope.

Will their marriage of love remain legal or will they have to live underground again?

Will the children they have adopted, they love, nurture and to whom they are giving a chance to finally be happy remain with loving parents or will the family be woken up on January 1st by the sound of social services kicking their way into their home to the snatch the kids away forever because from now on, family can only be defined by blood affiliation and in a heterosexual marriage?

Lacking empathy, lacking the crucial ability of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, you can mock the LGBTQ community for asking such questions but you cannot stop the fear and the anguish we have because we don’t know what the future holds. And it goes well beyond having a job or owning your own house or gun.

Maybe not the same questions, but the same feelings are running through the Black, Asian and Latino communities. What does the future hold for them? And that’s a question you never had to ask yourself as a consequence of Obama’s being elected. That’s why you did not take to the streets and we are. Looking down on us will not make it go away or will it make you feel better about yourself.

Sadiq Khan: a person above all else.

A lot of questions have been asked to me since Sadiq Khan was elected Mayor of London and all have to do with his being a Muslim.

I live in France where most of our immigrants for the past 60 years have been coming from Muslim countries and yet, we still can’t seem to be able to get our heads around the fact that one of them has managed to reach such a position. “How brave of them to vote for…him. I mean…you know…”, we say as we still call “immigrants” the great-great-grand-children of these who left what was still colonies.

No! I don’t know and frankly, I am not interested in what you “mean”…

On the English side, people have been asking why the continentals are so obsessed with his religious beliefs. A bit hypocritical I have to say, considering the headlines of most of their tabloids but It is true that the headlines from Europe’s newspapers looked like the Tory campaign with the indissociable words “Sadiq Khan” and “Muslim”.

We are obsessed the same way the world was when Paris elected her first gay mayor. It was everywhere because that’s what we do: we put people in boxes that comes with expectations and prejudice. These boxes were called “minorities” until the people living within them decided to call themselves “communities” in this schizophrenic idea that letting the differences define not only what they are but also who they are…well, that would allow them to somehow eventually make these differences irrelevant. Maybe…

However, what I see instead is the “majority” using this idea of community to further exclude them, bringing the minorities to work even further for a place in the system they are no longer a part of as if they had some emancipated. Some going as far as excluding themselves from the rest of the society altogether and turning against it with inconceivable violence.

But I digress.

The fact is that: when one manages to go beyond the hindrance the “minority” tag erects in our Western society, when someone makes it against the odds of our narrow-mindness, we are surprised and that’s all we can talk about. And not really in a good way so far.

First, there is our sickening self-congratulation. Bétrand Delanoë, Barack Obama, Sadiq Khan: all were used by their respective countries as proof that these very countries were now beacon of modernity, acceptance and forwardness in a world of neighbours they could legitimately look down on. We do the same for every woman reaching a position of responsibility; she is here to prove we are not that sexist. The same way Obama was used to prove to the world that the US are not racist. Yeah…

In this, these people are still defined by their status of minority that was bravely disregarded by the good majority of the West who has been giving them a chance to prove they can make it. That’s why “Sadiq Khan” and “Muslim” were inseparable in most news outlets. He’s a poster for something new about us: we are not the bastards we thought we were.

Yes, we are! Because he was elected in London, a city so diverse that the concept of majority doesn’t apply. Because his opponent’s campaign used his personal religious belief to attack him and it worked. Not in London as a whole but in the rest of the UK and Europe, yes! And very well with that. I mean, his being a Muslim is all we knew of him! Hence and because such a thing would never happen anywhere else than in a city like London or Berlin. Not even Paris.

Secondly, we talk and talk and talk but we forget that Sadiq Khan’s biggest achievement is being overlooked: he has managed to be himself, an individual person beyond the realm of communitarianism.

Being gay, I know what the “community” does to you. You will find support when isolated and endangered in the face of intolerance and rejection but you are also sucked in and you lose your individuality. I have never liked what we call “the gay community” as such because there’s a sense of autarky that comes with belonging. As the community looks to be stronger on its own, you lose yourself in the name of something bigger that needs to be as homogeneous as possible because this is where it finds its strength.

The problem with the community steaming from the status of minority is that we often look for a common enemy to soften our inner differences. There is the need to level out, to standardise, to all be the same so we can present a united front, in mind and appearance. People are no longer individuals, they are members who abide by the same rules for a common purpose: to gain recognition.

I am not damning communities as a whole but I do distrust it as much as I distrust establishment in the way that both are looking to deny my identity: one through what it means to be gay and the other through the need to impose nationalism.

I see myself in Sadiq Khan, like I did in Bétrand Delanoë before, because they too refused these terms. They did not run as a member of their communities for the purpose of bringing their peers to national acceptance, They ran as themselves. Plain and simple.

The Tories tried to reduce to Khan to his religion – like UMP tried to abuse Delanoë’s homosexuality – and it failed. Not because the whole of the Western world has suddenly decided to be tolerant of anything, rather because Khan has proven that he was not different because he belonged to a community but because he is an individual: he had a history to tell in which Islam belongs but we actually don’t know much about it, except that he has always fought against the ones who prey on people’s uncertainties and doubts about belonging. He had an actual programme with clear policies that went beyond his own interests and the ones of his religious peers, he had ideas and he defended them.

In being his own creation, Khan has never been divisive but always uniting. He talked to everyone and did not target certain people for gain – expect his being a Londoner, obviously. He has managed to make people forget that he is a Muslim and see the individual beyond all labels. I am even sure some people who voted for him did not know he was Labour until they took the ballot. And that is the victory we should celebrate.

This London’s Mayor race was the victory of the individual above all categorisation, whatever they might be: gender, sex, religion, ancestry, skin complexion. It is the victory of one man as his own who managed to appeal to people as their own.

What’s to be French?

Officially France recognises both birth right and jus soli. It means that one will automatically have the French nationality provided that one of his parents is acknowledged as French by l’Etat Civil (through blood lineage, then) but also anyone born on French soil is given the French nationality.

It is being discussed at the moment because the instauration of both rights in the constitution is dating back after WWII and it has been applied to every child of immigrants who came to France The problem we are having is that, for the first time since WII, we are not only dealing with immigrants but with refugees.

The very important difference between an immigrant and a refugee is that the first has made the decision to move countries in order to find better opportunities, better life or just to find something new, like I did when moving to England.

Immigrants have the will to stay for a long time, to settle, to integrate. They are here to stay, their decision is, for the majority, a life-time decision. They find jobs, pay taxes and it is fair to give the French nationality to their children born in France, who after all, speak French, read, watch and listen to French, go to French schools, abide by French laws. To give people who are born and raised in France within French values a sense of belonging from the very beginning.

A refugee, however, is different. They have no intention to stay. I am saying they don’t contribute, are unwilling to integrate or that they will never (want to) stay but most of them are living with hope that what the plague that forced them to abandon their home will end soon and they will be able to go back home and rebuild their lives. That’s just for the ones who are stationing in France. We also have hundreds of thousands, millions maybe, transiting through the country to reach some family and friends that will help and shelter them in another country, like the UK.

What do we do when one if these refugee women gives birth in France then? Should jus soli apply? Why? Why not? My real question is: Do the parents really care that their child is French? Do they want their children to be French? Will the child ever want to be French? Will there be consequences when they go back to a country that might not acknowledge him/her as one of their own? Will they be forced to give it up to be accepted when they never asked for it?

And what does that mean for the child to be French?

Having the French nationality does not open to automatic economic rights – unlike what Marine Le Pen has been saying. Believe me, I know! Ten years in England meant ten years without a cent given to the French state in taxes so when I came back, no amount of passport, ID card or birth certificate allowed me to receive any money. I want a place to live? A chance to be reimbursed my medical expenses?  Protection if I lose my job? Well, I had to get a job to begin with. My French nationality never gave me any economic rights, no. You earn them.

However, being French automatically gives you certain can-do’s (along with the have-to’s), such as the right to express yourself, i.e: vote and that’s an issue. Although the numbers of refugee babies automatically born French are a far cry from dramatic, there are babies out there who are French because they were born in France and maybe they will never know or actually never care. Some will have never spoken a word or French, lived in France or even cared for France. What do we do about them? Do we give them the right to vote anyway? If anything happens to them later on in life in another country, is France’s responsibility to protect them?

That’s a question I don’t know how to answer. At the moment, the state has inadvertently responded to it by allowing the “striping of nationality” in the constitution under certain circumstances dividing even more the country between those who are sure to remain French and those walking on the plank. Maybe a review of the situation when the child is 18 could be good, like in Germany. I don’t know…

The other major issue with being French is the problem between what the law says and what the people are ready to accept. As usual with a country, the capital is setting the tone and I will mention my cousin to show something about France and its conception of identity.

My cousin was born in Paris more than 30 years ago. His parents moved there when they were late teenagers, he has lived his whole life in Paris, has no intention to move, has always been working in Paris itself, have been paying taxes to the city of Paris yet he’s not “un Parisien”.

Why? Because his father was not born in Paris but in Boulogne. His mother was born in Paris but her parents weren’t. To have the right to call yourself a “true” Parisien and to be acknowledged as such by the “true” people of Paris, you have to be the fourth generation in a row to be born and to have lived in Paris.

So despite his mother and himself being born in Paris, he is not un Parisien. All because his father is form Boulogne and grew up in Versailles, his grand-mother is from Chamberry and grew up in Saint-Cloud, his grand-father is from Tours and grew up in Saint-Cloud as well. As for the rest of the family, we come from Tourraine, Périgord, Jura, Lyon and Savoy.

Well, expend that to the whole of France and you know why people who were born in France, whose parents were born in France are not considered as French but called “Imigrants of Third Generation”, all because their grand-parents are from Algeria. Even when the State officially acknowledges them as French, and Algeria was part of France when their grand-parents were born – but at the time, no jus soli, just birth right so they were still “Arabs”.

That’s the core of the identity problem in France. The State acknowledges you as French but as far as the French are concerned, they will check on your ancestors to find out if your claim to Frenchness withholds the 100 years landmark or 4 generations born and to have lived in France.

This idea of time based on a mix of blood and land doesn’t come out of nowhere. It is actually one of the most archaic way to decide whether someone deserves to be something or not. It started with the Greeks. To have the right to become a citizen in Athens, to have the right to express yourself and vote, you had to prove that your father and grand-father were born and lived in Athens. Then later, as the system got older, you could only be a citizen if your father and grand-father were themselves citizens. Or be an exceptional character. But nothing new is protecting one’s right to be privileged.

In the US, one likes to list their Italian quarter of blood mixed with eighth of Irish blood, sixteenth of Swedish, all in half Cheerokee because they are no real definition of what it is to be American. The nationality doesn’t even match the name of the country for the US know they are a country of immigration.

In France, schizophrenia is the norm. “The Republic is one and indivisible” so everyone is French by either birth right or jus soli or both. By this definition, being French should be fairly open from the Flemish of the Lille to the Basque of the Bayonne yet in real life everyone still has to prove their blood has been purified by 100 of living on the French soil before they can be allowed to call themselves French by the “true French” – whoever we are. Celtic Gaulois by soil? Germanic Franks by blood? Romans by language? Austrians by croissants?

A good integration of immigrants is not just about them making an effort, but also about a rethink of what it takes and means to be French. It means teaching the French and the immigrants that being French has nothing to do with time and blood, rather will, tolerance, open-mindness and contribution from both parts.