The legacy of war

June 26, 1998

PHILOSOPHIES OF INTEGRATION. Immigration and the idea of citizenship in France and Britain. By Adrian Favell. 288pp. Macmillan. Pounds 45. - 0 333 688 5.

COLONIAL MIGRANTS AND RACISM. Algerians in France, 1900-62. By Neil MacMaster. 307pp. Macmillan. Pounds 42.50 (paperback, Pounds 17.50). - 0 333 64466 2.

These thoughtful, well-researched and disturbing books address an issue that is the most divisive element of contemporary French politics and, argues Adrian Favell, though successfully de-dramatized in Britain, by no means resolved. At first sight, the two books may seem complementary: Neil MacMaster providing the historical background, Favell analysing ideas and contemporary policy. But, in fact, their approaches, and not merely their subject matter, are fundamentally different. Favell pays little attention, in Philosophies of Integration, to anything before 1980, and explicitly rejects the view that national particularity has deep roots. At most, the past provides material for political rhetoric. His focus is policy and its creation; the reports of commissions of inquiry, the influences of intellectuals and the negotiations of lobbies. The implication is clearly that questions raised by immigration could be solved by - as indeed they are often created by - acts by central government and supranational authorities. Immigrants and their neighbours remain in the background as disembodied and homogeneous categories, more often objects of policy than actors. MacMaster's account, on the other hand, is deeply rooted in history as far back as the 1830s. It is much grittier and more intricate, unfolding in the villages of Kabylia and the bidonvilles, factories and streets of "metropolitan France". He argues that France's failure is specifically with Algerians, not with immigrants or foreigners in general, and he quotes the poignant questions of an Algerian immigrant: "Mais pourquoi les Algeriens sont les plus detestes? Qu-est-ce qu'ils ont?" These are the questions he sets out to answer in Colonial Migrants and Racism: Algerians in France, 1900-62.

It is a complex history, and a grim one, told in an effectively terse manner. Confiscation of land and economic "development" disrupted economic equilibrium and created a need to migrate. First to move to France were Kabyle hillmen, already accustomed, like their counterparts in the Alps or the Pyrenees, to seasonal migration. France, a country of low birth-rate, needed and attracted immigrants from all round its borders, especially during and after the First World War. Because Algeria was legally part of France, movement across the Mediterranean was easier, and Algerians could less readily be deported than Polish or Italian immigrants when jobs became scarce. On the other hand, Kabyles especially tended to maintain links with their extended families and village communities, and returned with their savings rather than settling permanently and intermarrying. Yet, argues MacMaster, there was little sign at first of native French hostility. But Algerians, unlike any other immigrant group, were treated as colonial subjects, with special police and administrative controls intended to maintain colonial authority on French territory. The authorities wanted, above all, to separate them from Communist or nationalist influence. MacMaster also argues that settler lobbies, opposed to the loss of "their" labour force, were eager to present immigrants as uncivilized, backward and dangerous. Thus Algerians remained, or were kept, separate from the general French and immigrant population, and hostile stereotypes of them were propagated.

The final disaster was the period of the Algerian war itself. Increasingly, racist attitudes were brought back by conscripts and former settlers, and institutionalized in the army, police and bureaucracy. The most infamous example was the massacre in 1961 of some 200 Algerian demonstrators by the Paris police under the direction of Maurice Papon, a veteran of Algeria as well as of Vichy. At the same time, Algerian immigrant communities were racked by internecine conflict between nationalist factions, in which some 4,000 people were murdered. Given this horrific legacy of the 1950s and 60s, one might wonder whether the earlier history recounted by MacMaster weighs significantly in the balance. Recent alarms about Islamic fundamentalism show a depressing continuity with earlier and well-established stereotypes, and mean that one of the oldest of immigrant communities and its descendants are commonly regarded as ineradicably alien.

If we agree with MacMaster that France's problems arise from its history, then it would seem that a damaging contradiction of policy was to proclaim Algeria in 1848 "a land forever French" with the aim of "assimilating" it as an integral part of the nation, but yet to treat its Muslim population as subjects, not citizens. Favell, however, sees the root of the question quite differently; not in the inconsistency of past policy, but in the very consistency of the present-day "neo-republican" concept of citizenship formulated in the 1980s, with its stress on formal acceptance of "republican" principles of secularism and individualism. At the risk of over-simplifying a careful and incisive (if somewhat overlong) analysis, one might say that he compares a British approach which is incoherent but works, with a French approach which is coherent but does not work. He is torn here, and does not try to conceal his perplexity. He belabours media-friendly French intellectuals and their republican myth-making, which raises unnecessary symbolic obstacles to practical integration, and yet he admires the serious intellectual content of French debate and policy-making. He grudgingly admits the "paradoxical" success of the British "Old Regime", whose post-imperial monarchy, unwittingly following Hobbes and Locke, proves easier to belong to than a forbiddingly austere republic. But he deplores its patchwork pragmatism, the intellectual vacuity of its concept of "race relations" and (ultimate vice) its "conservatism". No Burkean he.

Adrian Favell believes he has shown that "the resistance of nationally particular policy frameworks is not due to the fact that they are 'rooted' unchangeably in long-term historical legacies". Let us not quibble about "unchangeably"; but "rooted" they clearly are - in events, attitudes and institutions, as Neil MacMaster shows, and in belief and language, as Favell himself reveals. French and British policies rest on different traditions of what a nation is and should be. In France, the stress is on common culture, unity of purpose and adherence to universal principles. In Britain, toleration, allegiance, liberty of the subject and keeping the peace. Although Britain and France differ fundamentally in their concepts and practices, Favell diagnoses the same vulnerability in both; their dependence on the sovereignty of the nation-state, which in different ways aims to control and guarantee the integration of its citizens. This he sees as doomed, by globalization, regionalization and, of course, by Europe. Though clearly a Europhile "Europe" is not for him the deus ex machina that will resolve these problems; in a pessimistic conclusion, he warns that its lack of vision and legitimacy may inflame them.

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