Friday, December 19, 2003
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When is American culture not American?
Of course, it's not only American culture that scares the French government.
Jacob Levy provides more LOTR commentary for, "the loving nitpickery of the fan-- isn't that what the internet is for?"
UPDATE: This anecdote in Newsweek's cover story on Return of the King was pretty funny:
I've been plowing through Tocqueville's Democracy in America for the past several months (lunchtime reading), and on almost every page he has some sort of observation on what would potentially make Americans irritating to Europeans. I think one of the biggest is that there is no class system in the US equivalent to the European class system, which is determined by birth. In the US, particularly in the past several decades, but always in part, individuals have been able to rise above the "station" they had at birth with comparatively little effort. This is the artistic tension in The Great Gatsby and why that book could be made into an opera, very much a European form with European outlook.
Certainly the French frown on social mobility, on people not doing what their "betters" think they should do (this is a major theme in Tom Wolfe's writing, for instance -- in the post-WWII prosperity, the American "working class" took the money and ran, didn't do what European intellectuals thought they should do).
The end of the Cold War and 9/11 recast the cultural differences in a way that hasn't happened since the 19th century, it seems to me, and in some ways we're back to Tocqueville's observations.posted by: John Bruce on 12.19.03 at 04:45 PM [permalink]
1-Islamic population is not growing that quickly in France: new immigration is very limited and fertility rates in second generation immigrants are not very different from that of the rest of the population (ie 1.9 which is similar to the rate in the US, excluding Latinos).
2- Calling this population Islamic is itself problematic: overall this population of Islamic origin is not very observant (which as far as I am concerned is good sign and a sign of integration: France is a secular country).
3- I am really appalled of the prevalent racism against Arabs I can see in the US including in the intellectual elites - even comparing it with the situation in France where anti-immigrants parties get 20% of the votes. This contempt for the people of a region that the US governement pretends it wants to modernize and democratize is not an encouraging sign for the success of this grand project.
John Bruce wrote above:
"...observation on what would potentially make Americans irritating to Europeans. I think one of the biggest is that there is no class system in the US equivalent to the European class system, which is determined by birth."
"Certainly the French frown on social mobility, on people not doing what their "betters" think they should do."
I certainly don't know where you got the idea that social mobility is particularly frowned upon in France.
And as far as the US being much better in that regard I have no real opinion, but apparently some people more informed than you or me, disagree strongly with your assessment of easy mobility in the US compared to Europe. And they apparently have hard data to back it up :posted by: amusedfrog on 12.19.03 at 04:45 PM [permalink]
“Calling this population Islamic is itself problematic: overall this population of Islamic origin is not very observant (which as far as I am concerned is good sign and a sign of integration: France is a secular country).”
There are still a good size percentage of Muslims throughout the Western World committed to Islamic extremism. How high is the percentage? I will let others debate the total numbers---but it took less than 20 of them to attack America on 9/11 and murder around 3,000 of our citizens.
“I am really appalled of the prevalent racism against Arabs I can see in the US including in the intellectual elites “
Please offer some specifics instead of vague accusations. If anything, the politically correct “intellectual elites” in the United States go out of their way to deny the radical Islamic threat to our country.posted by: David Thomson on 12.19.03 at 04:45 PM [permalink]
The very idea that France is going to be submerged by Islamism is paranoid and ignorant. It was the main theme of Le Pen and the far right when they emerged as a successful electoral force. But if you listen to Le Pen now, the danger of immigration is expressed with less alarmism and he has other themes (crime, corruption…).
This is an idea that is not longer credible enough for the French far right, but that I find frequently expressed in the US even by people who are clearly not far right.
“The very idea that France is going to be submerged by Islamism is paranoid and ignorant. “
Submerged? Why do you persist with your straw man arguments? The fact remains that sufficient numbers of militant Muslims are living in the West to cause some great concern. That’s all we need to know. Unless, of course, you believe that President Bush and the Israeli government are responsible for 9/11?posted by: David Thomson on 12.19.03 at 04:45 PM [permalink]
Staw man argument?
"Unless, of course, you believe that President Bush and the Israeli government are responsible for 9/11"
“"In the longer run, France needs American culture as a counterweight against its growing Islamic population". This is clearly an argument that there is a grave danger of submersion by Islamic culture.”
Fair enough. Let’s revise the above sentences in the following manner:
“In the longer run, France needs American culture as a counterweight against the continuing growth of its Islamic population---some it unwilling to become secularized. This is clearly an argument that there is a increasing grave danger of militant Islamic violence.”
Does that float your boat?posted by: David Thomson on 12.19.03 at 04:45 PM [permalink]
I have to agree with amusedfrog, at least in part, that the "Islamic threat" is projected wholesale onto France without much reflection or knowledge of the facts. I also think it's grossly overstated. L'Express Magazine published last week demographic studies showing that the best estimate of the Muslim population is 3.7 million, ie 6.2% of the population, expected to rise to 16% of the population by 2030. Barely one in five Muslims is practicing, a far smaller number are fundamentalists.
It is true that Muslim-bashing has become a marginal sport in the U.S., in particular in some confines of the web (eg, LGF) and is more prevalent among the educated simply because they tend to be more informed (and mis-informed) about the Islamic world. However, the anti-Muslim jihadists are far more widespread in France itself, and not only among National Front supporters.
It's probably more accurate to say that the Muslim population is highly marginalized in a society unwilling to recognize its racial and class barriers contributing to the exclusion of a population that is not easy to assimilate to begin with. There is a risk of radicalization of great numbers of these Muslims, the vast majority of whom are culturally more French than North African. Most French people that I know will not, as a matter of principle, hire or rent an apartment to an Arab. Indeed, many of my professional French colleagues of Arab origin encounter this kind of discrimination on a daily basis, and they are the ones who are educated, employed and otherwise assimilated. In this respect, amusedfrog should probably be less quick to congratulate his countrymen.
The semi-myth ("semi" because it is only partly true and not well understood) of islamization in France arises partly out of Chirac's stance on the war, which contributed to a major bout of anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism among young French Muslims, and speculation by some in the U.S. that Chirac feared an uprising from the "Muslim rue". That is false: when France caters to the Arabs, it is the Arab states abroad, representing huge markets for its products and infrastructure and defense exports as well as geostrategic leverage vis-à-vis the U.S., that count. France could care less about its local Arabs. Also, it should be remembered that France joined the U.S. in Gulf War I. Fully 95% of the French Senate and 92% of the National Assembly approved that war (cf the U.S. Senate 52-48 vote). And that was under a Socialist Party majority headed by François Mittérand. For balance, the disturbing fact should be noted that as many French Muslims supported Iraq in that war as Muslims who supported their own country.
The reality is that over the coming thirty years France probably faces a greater threat of mass social unrest from the National Front, and even more so on the left from the Communist League, the labor unions and the Bovéist alter-globalists. These groups may actually vie for power over an ever-diminishing center - that would be Jacques Chirac's UMP party and to some extent the Socialists, even if these two latter parties on their own are quite adequate to destroy an institutionally-challenged country in economic and social decline.posted by: Gabriel Gonzalez on 12.19.03 at 04:45 PM [permalink]
The problem with the American view from islamizing France is that it is no better than the French view of ghettoizing America: the French guy who goes to America to visit the worst crime-ridden poverty-stricken neighborhoods in the South Bronx and a bad part of Mississippi, then attends an execution of a mentally retarded teenager in Texas or Virginia, and goes back to report on the country's decline.posted by: Gabriel Gonzalez on 12.19.03 at 04:45 PM [permalink]
To amusedfrog, I think one character we're familiar with points this out: Dominique de Villepin. Doesn't the "de" indicate that Dominique is, shall we say, a high-class frog? And a person who is not a high-class frog with a "de" in his name, who tried in some way to put a "de" in his name after he got rich, would be regarded as beneath contempt. Or am I mistaken?
How can this be an indication of anything but a rigid class system?
We simply don't have little twists on our names over here that say we're high-class Yanks or not. Someone can be named Washington or Roosevelt, on the other hand, and be a homeless person or a janitor.posted by: John Bruce on 12.19.03 at 04:45 PM [permalink]
De Villepin comes from an aritoscratic family, yes. But what is exactly your point? The privileges his family enjoyed were abolished 214 years ago.
Nobody buys title in France not because it is supposedly "beneath contempt" but because nobdy cares.
Personally, from my experience, the cultural distinctions between the two nations are but a sideshow. It still makes for colorful discussion, but it is in essence just an argument over style.
The real line of demarcation exists in social policies and economic systems. You can lump some cultural aspects in with that, but for the most part it's the degree of "laissez-faire" approach to the economic engine and the focus on social stability vs. opportunity. In fact I think this is still the main line for distinguishing between the US and most of Europe. I would imagine the senstitivity towards social stability has a lot to do with the history of Europe, while on the other hand the US has done well by growth and opportunity above all historically speaking. In many ways we still have the "land of opportunity" thing going for us, but throw in a few modern civil wars and I would imagine we might become downright stuffy.
In some ways I think the US does well to have a "counterbalance" in Europe, so that sword cuts both ways.posted by: Waffle on 12.19.03 at 04:45 PM [permalink]
What I am interested is are the chances of assimilation of the muslim minority in France. Quite a large proportion of the French christian population is descended from immigrants from Southern & Eastern Europe; all these have blended into the native majority without a trace except in their surnames. I don't think there was ever in French history ethnic riots involving Poles, Portuguese, Italians (though of course there was the Dreyfus Affair). Whether the majority of French Muslims actually practice Islam or not is not that important if intermarriage rates are very low or if they continue to percieve themselves as Muslims/Algerians/etc.
BTW, the French can view LOTR as part of Anglo-Saxon global culture, which it is, of course. British, Irish, Australians, NZers, Canadians have easy access to becoming junior partners in the Americans' cultural hegemony - the BBC is more influential than other European media outlets because it is in English, frex. The French do not have this sort of access, and it is no surprise that they are resentful about it.posted by: Danny on 12.19.03 at 04:45 PM [permalink]
"Quite a large proportion of the French christian population is descended from immigrants from Southern & Eastern Europe; all these have blended into the native majority without a trace except in their surnames. I don't think there was ever in French history ethnic riots involving Poles, Portuguese, Italians ..."
In fact there was very bloody incidents (dozen dead) with Italian immigrants in Provence near Arles at the end of the 19th century. Nobody remembers that it happened.
That is why I am rather optimistic regarding integration of second generation immigrants. I know quite a few who are perfectly at ease and successful in French society.
But you know how it is. The biased liberal media reports only the problems. Integration in France is even more succesful that the reconstruction of Iraq.posted by: amusedfrog on 12.19.03 at 04:45 PM [permalink]
Um... Catholic.. The film is, as a faithful retelling of the author's work, a singularly Catholic fable.
That French intellectuals would try to spin Catholic tales of inspiration as 'American Culture' is almost completely incredible, today - not to mention found absurd by ALex and impossible by the American Founding Fathers.
David - What 's the famous book on JRR's Catholicism?posted by: Art Wellesley on 12.19.03 at 04:45 PM [permalink]
"How can this possibly be said to represent American culture in any way that is prejudicial to the Europeans?"
Why would you care what these people say? They are less than irrelevant. Old Europe is going the way of the horseless carriage, and new Europe won't look anything like it. Save your old passports and money, you may need them sooner than you think.
Actually, as an American, I would like nothing better than to believe that amusedfrog is quite right, and I would not deign to place myself in a position to tell someone actually living there (I would assume) that he is wrong. The fact is, the worst case scenarios being spun on my side of the Atlantic, setting aside veracity for a moment, come largely from the not entirely unjustified anger that Americans feel toward the Chirac governments (apperently with majority support) willingness to stick it's neck out on behalf of genuinely appalling tyrants.
But if our scenarios about France ARE true, it would be a catastrophe for Western civilization, something worth keeping in mind as we drink a warm and tasty draught of schaudenfruede.
So I am not quite ready to jump on Chirac for his headscarf ruling, as I wonder if we might be forced to face some equally difficult decisions in the future, particularily if there are more large scale terror attacks. And the idea, if true, that most French Muslims take the ruling in stride bodes well for all of us, for a number of reasons.
As for LOTR, well, one notes that it is a mythological telling of the ancient roots of Western Civilization, which is of course mainly European. Given that pouring contempt upon their own past, as well as ours, in the name of "multiculturalism" is a reigning sport over there these days (also with the North American left), it is not surprising that many such people as Cowen talks about feel as he says they do. And it it not surprising that both sides see Americans as being particularily forthright about defending that civilization "against all enemies, foreign and domestic", if you will. One side holds this reality in contempt, the other holds this reality with pride and determination.
We wonder they are at odds?posted by: Andrew X on 12.19.03 at 04:45 PM [permalink]
"The semi-myth ("semi" because it is only partly true and not well understood) of islamization in France arises partly out of Chirac's stance on the war, which contributed to a major bout of anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism among young French Muslims"
Actually, I've read more than once that the real increase in violence coincides with the outbreak of violence between Israel and Palestine in 2000.posted by: andalucia on 12.19.03 at 04:45 PM [permalink]
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