Editor's note: In the aftermath of the tragedy in Norway, The Root asked Caribbean-born French politician Alain Dolium for his views on how his country has responded. Here is his take on the continuing problems and challenges that French society faces in integrating its growing immigrant population.
The masks are off! Finally, a sector of the French political class has shown its true face: conservative nationalism. From the provocative parading of pork-sausage sandwiches in predominantly Muslim neighborhoods to a National Assembly proposal to ban rap groups formed by immigrants to the xenophobic comments about the Ecology Party candidate for president of France, Eva Joly — of Norwegian origin, no less — it's all a show of biceps by the conservative nationalists.
The phenomenon is not limited to France, because in addition to President Sarkozy's declaration in February on the No. 1 TV network that "multiculturalism is a failure," Britain's David Cameron and Germany's Angela Merkel have taken the same position. And of course, there was the heinous massacre in Norway by a killer blinded by hate for Islam and a multicultural society that he saw as "spoiling Norway."
In France, the conservative nationalists see no further than your origins, be they cultural or social. "Tell me where you're from and I'll tell you how far you can go," they whisper. Unfortunately, this petty determinism, this suicidal conservatism, is embedded in all stages of French society, particularly at the top of a society more pyramidal than ever, contradicting our democratic pact.
This conservative nationalism recruits openly on the right, but its influence is also felt on the left. While it is divided into the far-right fringe of the populist right (Sarkozy's UMP party), the partisans of the extreme right (National Front) and the neo-reactionaries among the leftist Socialists, these conservative nationalists are disputing the same political turf, hiding behind a facade of talk, their real intent to restore an old social order. Together they are defending a hardened vision of France, an ethnicized vision that is not explicit but that they pretend conforms to the ideals of the republic.
They are attempting to keep the French republic immobilized by banishing all challenges to the country's social order. Nothing is more odious to them than challenges to their privileges and standing. Meritocracy suits them only as long as it doesn't question the way the system functions. In their eyes, we will never belong to the same world, to the same caste.
They operate under a capitalism of inheritance on the verge of imploding, instead of the entrepreneurial, responsible and sustainable economy that we have to invent. They organize political life in a vertical system, when what we need is an open democracy, more horizontal and more accountable to its citizens. They defend the status quo on principle, even when it runs counter to all economic, social and democratic progress.
It is this conservative nationalism that is cutting, one after another, the cables of our social elevator. Social progress has been halted, and the sense of a common destiny is gradually fading, resulting in a retreat to a debate about national identity fueled by illusionists. The rallying cry of this movement is, "It was better before!"
France holds the trump cards of a great nation: a relatively stable democracy, a growing population, an influential culture, an extensive educational structure, and quality health and road systems, along with dynamic auto, pharmaceutical, aeronautical and agricultural industries. But the country needs to create a core of democratic, ecological and social innovation to confront the conservative nationalists. The common goal of these new programs must be to lower the barriers in French society and free the individual for the common good.
The issue of democratic renewal must be our greatest concern because it involves depending on our citizens to put in place a profound transformation of our society. We have to listen to those who want to warn us about the flaws of the French republic. They talk about climate change, the drift toward oligarchy in our economy, the confusion of powers, poverty and disaffection with Europe.
After listening, we must act. Our goal must not be simply that France survives this crisis but, rather, must be to ensure that all French citizens can fully participate and have access to better opportunities for themselves and their children.
Alain Dolium is in charge of innovation and economic-development policies for the Mouvement Démocrate (MoDem), a centrist political party in France.