France is frightened about many things these days, terrorism above all. But there is another fear - raised recently by prominent politicians on the Right and on the Left - of slipping into an acceptance of what is often called an "Anglo-Saxon" multicultural model, in which ethnic communities live separately, even autonomously, reports The New York Times.
The idea that this model, or “communautarisme,” should be so repellent can be baffling to Anglo-Saxons, largely understood by the French to be British and Americans who, for the most part, stopped thinking of themselves exclusively in such narrow terms long ago.
France’s idea of an Anglo-Saxon model has meant many things over the last century, sometimes referring to liberal capitalism, rampant individualism, consumerism or, in the view of President Charles de Gaulle, the threat of a global hegemony based on American power and the English language.
But today the perceived Anglo-Saxon threat is about the breakdown of France into distinct communities based on ethnic identity. Prime Minister Manuel Valls referred to this obliquely in criticizing a New York Times article about the European experience of Muslim women, who described a day to day “struggle.” Mr. Valls, a socialist, stressed that “France, as distinct from other countries, does not see itself as a juxtaposition of communities, each with their autonomous path.”
Nicolas Sarkozy, the former president now seeking his conservative party’s nomination for next year’s presidential election, was more explicit in his latest book. Calling for a muscular defense of the French identity, he wrote, “We are not like the Anglo-Saxons who let communities live side by side, ignoring each other and at any rate not mixing.”
The issue is not just whether the French model, which emphasizes integration or assimilation into a single identity, is succeeding or not these days. The question is also why the British and American experience with immigration is viewed through such a skewed lens.
Both countries have long traditions of tolerating multiple identities and community-based politics, which produces candidates who represent ethnic groups and their concerns.
Unlike France, the United States and Britain allow census figures on ethnic origins and religious affiliations, and celebrations of diverse identities are encouraged.
That is not to say that racism and de facto segregation are not stubborn realities in the United States and Britain, with issues like police violence against black men growing more visible rather than less. This year, appeals to nativist sentiments helped propel Britain’s decision to leave the European Union and are fueling Donald J. Trump’s campaign for president. In both countries, economic and social mobility can be limited by race and ethnicity.