Interview with Gérard Noiriel, part three

Gérard Noiriel is a historian, currently director of studies at EHESS (School of Advanced Studies in Social Sciences). He is one of the pioneers in the history of immigration in France, in particular thanks to his founding work Le Crucet Français, published in 1988 (reed. Le Seuil, Points Histoire collection, 1992). He is the author of numerous books including Immigration, anti-Semitism and racism in France (XIXth-XXth century), ed Fayard, 2007 or History, theater and politics , ed. Agone 2009. It supports the Collective “The day without immigrants 24h without us! »And grants us here an exclusive interview that we publish in three episodes.

After having explained the foundations of the concept of “national identity”  in the first part , Gérard Noiriel  then approached for the collective “LJSI: 24h without us!” the challenges posed by the construction of certain categories of thought such as “immigrants”, “integration”, “republican values”. In this last part, Gérard Noiriel looks at our initiative and expresses his support for the collective and the members of “The day without immigrants: 24h without us!”

Third part:
“Withdrawal from economic life is the mode of action
which comes closest to the truth of immigration”

LJSI: Why did the mobilizations of immigrants or their descendants developed in the past, and I am thinking in particular of the 1983 March for Equality , not change things? 

Gérard Noiriel: The forces fighting against power are part of a logic of resistance, except in revolutionary periods. We cannot make a social movement responsible for the limits of its action, when it faces powers that are so developed and structured. It was in the 1980s that the media logic mentioned above, the steamroller which imposed the image of the “Beurs”, was put in place.

With the benefit of hindsight, we can’t say either that these movements haven’t moved things forward. Some expressions that we heard in the past would no longer be spoken today. I remember a report from Le Figaro at the time of the Gulf War when the journalist went to the suburbs to question young people about their loyalty to Saddam Hussein. I already see a change between the debate on national identity of 2007 and the current debate. It is comforting to note that three quarters of the French denounce it as an electoral maneuver. In 2007, Sarkozy won the song easily.

So we can say to ourselves that even if we do not win the victories, we can ensure that the resistance bears certain fruits.

“Politics is not just responding to Sarkozy”

The other point is the importance of transmitting the traditions of struggles. This kind of movement transmits models of struggles to the groups who are subjected to these policies. It is very important that instead of locking themselves into victimization, a source of resentment (“we are always the victims”, “we are not loved” etc.), they convert that into action. We have studies on this: the people who suffer the most are those who are locked into the status of victims. Those who succeed in turning their suffering into action fare much better.

Resistance movements therefore also play a role at this level. Politics is not simply responding to Sarkozy. It is also asking ourselves what we are doing there, where we are, the example we are giving to others.

LJSI: The initiative “LJSI: 24h without us!” »Is very close to what Abdelmalek Sayad has developed , which you also take up again, according to whom work makes the immigrant and that the absence of work brings the immigrant into non-being. Do you think that the withdrawal from economic life that we are calling for for March 1, can be effective? 

Gérard Noiriel: In my eyes, this is the mode of action that comes closest to the truth of immigration. In the sense that, as Sayad effectively pointed out, immigration is always work-related. The “immigration-work” couple is currently obscured since in the discourse of the rights, immigration is exclusively attached to the notion of “illegal” or “terrorist”.

On the other hand, the most effective, the most legitimate mode of action on the part of the workers is the strike. In your initiative, we find this logic: “immigration” = “work” therefore “strike”.

Afterwards, is the strategy sufficiently developed for the day to be a success? It will be up to you to say.

A day without us, but with everyone.

Angélique del Rey, professor of philosophy and Miguel Benasayag , philosopher and psychoanalyst, sent the collective “The day without immigrants 24h without us” a support text. They offer us to see what could be March 1, 2010. We wish you good reading.

“ A day without us is a proposal and an invitation to solidarity , to resistance against rampant apartheid, to a joyful realization that ‘society is everyone’. That is why we wish her happy, far from a certain militant sadness.

A day without us is for everyone.We wish to prepare and develop this initiative, in the forms of what is called the new type of engagement, horizontal, without a center, or with “a center which is everywhere, and the circumference nowhere.” A network and a rizhome.

In short: to be united, we do not need political offices or central committees. It is an experience of horizontality and shared initiatives. This is why, based on the proposal of a few who are addressed to those who feel touched, we invite you to make this call your own, to develop initiatives where it seems good to you, and when it seems good to you. around this invitation.

That the initiators are overwhelmed, that is what will always be good news.

In your university, high school, in your neighborhood or workplace , or in forms or in places that we do not imagine, let us make this day without us really a day with everyone.

So that no one feels unauthorized or pending authorization , because there is no authorizer who authorizes. There is no small or large, important or peripheral. We are convinced that in this country, there are bound to be many of us who refuse with all our might the nightmare of a society divided into fortresses and no man’s land.

It is not therefore in this day to be in solidarity with anyone, but to deploy links of solidarity as a structure and mode of operation. That there are no master liberators in the movements of a new type, far from raising a weakness that some regret, is what gives strength, joy and power to this movement.

For a day without us, with us and with all.

Interview with Gérard Noiriel, part two

Gérard Noiriel is a historian, currently director of studies at EHESS (School of Advanced Studies in Social Sciences). He is one of the pioneers in the history of immigration in France, in particular thanks to his founding work Le Crucet Français, published in 1988 (reed. Le Seuil, Points Histoire collection, 1992). He is the author of numerous books including Immigration, anti-Semitism and racism in France (XIXth-XXth century), ed Fayard, 2007 or History, theater and politics , ed. Agone 2009. It supports the Collective “The day without immigrants 24h without us! »And grants us here an exclusive interview that we publish in three episodes.

In the first part of this interview , Gérard Noiriel returned to the concept of “National identity”, its genesis and its use. As an extension of his reflections, the historian addresses the issues raised by the construction of certain categories of thought such as “” immigrants “,” integration “,” republican values ​​”…

Second part :

Immigrants, integration, values:

“the question of language is fundamental”

LJSI: How to explain this permanence of the name “immigrant” or “from immigration” to name people who are French? And what can be the effects of this kind of expression on the individuals so named?

G. Noiriel: Here we find this question of language which is, I told you, fundamental in my eyes. Personally, I prefer to use the word “immigrant” to that of “immigrant”. Why ? Because “immigrant” refers to the American migratory experience. The history of the USA and that of France are opposed in the fact that for the former, the migrants took part in the national construction; while in the second country, the construction of the Nation, which began before the French Revolution and was relaunched at the end of the 19th century, preceded the first waves of foreign immigration. To use the word “immigrant” is therefore in my opinion preferable because it refers more to the status of actor, stakeholder in the construction of the country.

At the turn of the 1990s, the National Institute for Demographic Study (INED) seized the word “immigrant” to give it an administrative meaning [. In the sense of INED, an immigrant is a foreigner who has traveled between two countries, someone who has crossed the border between two States. However, today the word “immigrant” no longer has any meaning in most cases since it is the term that is used to stigmatize people who were born in France, who are French. These are language tics, which are found in particular among journalists, and which have developed since the 1980s. Language tics that must absolutely be fought.

LJSI: In your eyes and with regard to history, what could be the effects on French society of all this debate on national identity and immigration?

G. Noiriel: The effects of this identity debate are to generate and reinforce security fantasies in a part of the French population: the theme of invasion linked to the minaret for example. On the other hand, the groups which are thus constantly singled out tend to withdraw into themselves. This is how the logic of national separation between “them” and “us” is reinforced, which is part of the right-wing business.

LJSI: We agree to speak of “the failure of integration”. On the left as on the right, we speak of a return to republican values, to the values ​​of the republic. Are we not here in a kind of Republic fetishism?

G. Noiriel: To say that there would be a failure of the integration mode is nonsense for me, it doesn’t mean anything. There is no more community withdrawal today in France than there was fifty or a hundred years ago. What has changed is that the representatives of the republican state tend to “ethnicize” their speeches, defining people by their “Arab” origin, their “visible minority” skin color and no longer by their social position. , as the French Republic was honored to do before. And what is sold off in this debate on the failure of integration is precisely the social definition of individuals. Take “immigrant workers”, which we used commonly until the 1980s, this notion of “workers” has been removed to keep only “immigrants”.

So those who claim that the Republican model no longer works with regard to “the failure of integration” are in fact the first to sell it off. Since the republican model is above all a social model, which does not want people to be defined by their origins. (I put aside here the colonial question which invalidated this republican “model” from the start).

“To say that there would be a failure of the integration mode is for me nonsense”

With the “fetishization” of the Republic, as you say, you are approaching another aspect that should be criticized. The republic is a political system which is also a political system of domination; within which you have exclusions that have been legitimized. Class domination and male domination in particular. Look at J ules Ferry . He justified colonization in the name of the superiority of the “French race”. There is a famous speech by Jules Ferry in 1885 , legitimizing the military conquest of Tonkin in the name of the rights and duties of the “superior race” over the “inferior races” 1 . We must therefore analyze the Republic in its contradictions.

In this debate on national identity, republican values ​​are exhibited as if they had always existed and that they had been shared by all. We researchers completely reject this. There is not a single historian worthy of the name who could analyze the history of the Republic solely through the prism of “republican values”. What are called republican values ​​today were issues of yesterday’s struggles. They have been at the center, at different times, of social conflicts.     

Finally, there is a whole series of values ​​which are completely obscured, in particular the right of asylum . France was the first country in the world to recognize the right to asylum in 1793. I don’t hear much Monsieur Besson talking about this value.

1 Speech “the foundations of colonial policy” delivered by Jules Ferry to the Chamber of Deputies on July 28, 1885. Extract: “There is a second point that I must address…: it is the humanitarian and civilizing side of the question … The superior races have a right vis-à-vis the inferior races. I say that there is a right for them because there is a duty for them. They have a duty to civilize the inferior races. ”

LJSI: In your opinion, the new dividing line between “them” and “us” is therefore built around republican values?

G. Noiriel: Yes, now the offensive is there: “we” France is the country of freedoms, equality, secularism, republican values ​​presented as being both French and universal ( sic). So we French want to welcome everyone, but on condition that foreigners respect these values ​​since they are universal. So, it is a universal “us” but one that excludes all the same. And who does he exclude? It excludes… Those who exclude. Do you see the rhetoric? And those who exclude, who are they? These are the Islamists, those who force women to wear the burqa, the polygamists. This is why one of the major issues of this identity discourse today is the question of women. 

This rhetoric operates on the basis of the obvious, of common sense. If you criticize the stigmatization of Muslims, you are told: how are you for the burqa, for excision?

LJSI: Earlier you mentioned a connection between the stigmatization of immigrants and colonization. In fact, by placing the debate in a historical perspective, have all the waves of migration posed the same problem for France?

G. Noiriel: We have the feeling that the current debate on national identity refers to a certain category of immigrants, and in particular those originating from the former colonies.

I am quite critical of the postcolonialist theses . I find it reductive to believe that the question of immigration would arise only in relation to groups from the former colonial empire. We know, for example, that those who are today the object of the strongest refusal are the Roma from Romania, a European country.

In addition, we note that in European countries which did not have a colonial tradition, we find logics identical to that developing in France.

Obviously, this does not mean that today’s questions do not have to do with colonial history. But what is important is to perceive the logic of state manufacture of elements, of fantasies, fed by different vectors. We are dealing with a matrix that can renew itself from generation to generation. When you see what was being said about German Jews in the 1930s, there are a lot of things that sound like what you hear about Muslims today.

“This is why the social question must always be linked to the migration question”

My criticism of postcolonial theses also does not invalidate the fact that the colonial heritage may play a role in the xenophobic vote. For a certain number of people, the Algerian war or even all the representations that were built during the colonial era, can still play a role. But the more time passes, the less it is true.

I think we should not reduce the issue of immigration to postcolonial issues because the risk is to get trapped. The identity politics of the right targets both the “majority” and the “minority”. We put forward some representatives of the latter to show on television a “visible” democratization that masks reality: namely an aggravation of social inequalities. It is not by chance that the Institute Montaigne (an employers’ institute) organized the colloquium on “national identity” on December 4, 2009 2. The strategy of the big capitalists is precisely to create the logic of minorities. This is extremely pernicious because a certain number of elites from these so-called “minority” groups have an interest in playing this game. They are becoming, as is the case today, those who agree to come to government, the to promote socially conservative policies, in the service of the richest (cf. the tax shield). This is why we must always link the social question to the migration question. If we hide the social issue, we are the loser. So the colonial dimension has its place, but it is an element in a whole.

Colloquium on “national identity” organized on December 4, 2009.

Interview with Gérard Noiriel, part one

Gérard Noiriel is a historian, currently director of studies at EHESS (School of Advanced Studies in Social Sciences). He is one of the pioneers in the history of immigration in France, in particular thanks to his founding work Le Crucet Français, published in 1988 (reed. Le Seuil, Points Histoire collection, 1992). He is the author of numerous books including Immigration, antisemitism and racism in France (XIXth-XXth century), ed Fayard, 2007 or History, theater and politics, ed. Agone 2009. It supports the Collective “The day without immigrants 24h without us! »And grants us here an exclusive interview that we publish in three episodes.

Part 1: Review
 of the concept of “national identity “

LJSI: In a forum in Le Monde written with Stéphane Beaud in reaction to the comments made by Brice Hortefeux last September, then in the appeal that you signed with other researchers for the suppression of the ministry of immigration, integration, national identity and cooperation, you mobilize the notion of “identity politics”, of “identity power”. Could you explain to us what you mean by that?

G. Noiriel: In a democracy, understood in its broad sense, that is to say in which there is freedom of expression, of parties etc., we see that political power no longer has the power to ‘impose his answers, but he can impose his questions. Here lies one of the main challenges for political power. Today, for example, we know that if the social question is on the political agenda, it will rather serve the left or the far left. But if it’s national, security etc. it will be the right that will be favored.

“There is a real ‘derealization’ of politics. “

In this case, the advantage of politicizing identity is that it divides people who otherwise have common interests. From the end of the 19th century, in France, when the workers’ movement becomes powerful, when strikes multiply, when the fear of a new social revolution is taking place, nationalism, linked in particular to the anti-Semitism, becomes institutionalized. In this sense, identity power is a political structure that is perpetuated by taking, with each generation, a different form. At the time I was speaking about, hatred of foreigners was growing against the backdrop of the threat of world war. Today, we no longer even have this pretext since we are in a context of a peaceful society. We must then constantly invent fables about Islam, on veiled women who would threaten the French state. It all becomes a matter of symbols constructed from what people see on TV every day. There is a real “derealization” of politics. At the same time, this policy has very real effects, since it contributes greatly to the stigmatization of Muslims.

LJSI: Your work shows that the question of national identity was the invention and political property during a time of the National Front, then slipped into the field of the republican right.
How do you perceive this shift and the fact that the Republican parties, on the right and on the left, have gradually adopted this theme?

G.Noiriel: Indeed, the debate on national identity, which is presented to us as a neutral debate, places the themes of the National Front at the forefront of the political scene, since it is this party that put into circulation, in the early 1980s, this expression recovered by the “republican right”, as they say. 
Let us come back to these words forged into a political concept: “national identity”. Words matter because words convey representations. In the French case, the expression “national identity” was put into circulation by the FN. I wrote a little book in 2007, What is national identity used for? , in which I have shown it, supporting evidence. 

As soon as it appeared in the hands of the FN, the expression “national identity” was linked to immigration. It is not we, the researchers, who invented this or who are trying to pretend. So here is the trap: the expression “national identity” carries, by definition, an exclusion whether it is explicitly named or whether it is implicitly designated. The republican right has taken up this formula and legitimized it by constantly presenting Islam as a threat (see the constant speeches on terrorism, the burqa, etc.). The simple fact of accepting a “debate” on “national identity” is to endorse this type of reflex. This is why our collective : For the suppression of the Ministry of Immigration and National Identity, proposes to change the debate by asking the question of the legitimacy of this ministry.

“When there was only the National Front to speak this language of identity,
we said to ourselves: it is the vocabulary of extremists, adventurers of politics”

G. Noiriel: This legitimization of the concept of national identity by the republican right is dangerous because when there was only the National Front to speak this language of identity, we said to ourselves: it is the vocabulary of extremists, of adventurers. of politics, who seek to occupy the ground by making blows, by taking risks with political concepts a little hot. Why did it work so much that Republican parties took over? This is because nationalism today no longer jeopardizes the foundations of democracy. Its effects are targeted on the immigrant population and on minorities. We find it difficult to sensitize the majority of citizens because they do not feel directly threatened by this nationalism, as was the case in the 1930s,

With the establishment of a ministry whose title mixes “national identity” and “immigration”, the shift we were talking about has become radicalized. In 2007, I resigned with 7 colleagues from the scientific council of the National City of Immigration History to demonstrate against this ministry. We did a petition that collected more than 15,000 signatures. But that did not start a lasting movement.

LJSI: Do you think, then, that the concept of national identity presented on the one hand by Le Pen and on the other currently by the government are of the same nature?

G.Noiriel: No, we cannot say that it is equivalent, because in politics each party seeks to occupy its own space, by positioning itself in relation to the others. The FN is not the UMP and each of them uses different springs to make this ideology work as effectively as possible. Each political party occupies a niche. In this sense, Sarkozy is obliged to distance himself from Le Pen.

The whole problem today for the UMP is to use a so-called “correct” political vocabulary to escape the accusation of racism (which would cut it off from the centrist electorate), while giving pledges to the electorate. lepenist. To counterbalance the national identity policy mentioned above, the right now advocates “diversity”, highlighting people of immigrant origin. From the cleavage between the “immigrants” and the “native French” of the 1980s, the denunciation has shifted to designate the good immigrants of the past and the bad ones of today.

“From the cleavage between the“ immigrants ”and the“ native French ”of the 1980s,
the denunciation has shifted, with the apology for diversity,
to designate the good immigrants of the past and the bad ones of today. “

G.Noiriel: The UMP and the government no longer reject immigration as a whole and even declare themselves in favor of diversity. Sarkozy presents himself moreover as being of “mixed blood”. But this use of the theme of “diversity” or “visible minorities” does not prevent this power from using the identity matrix as a discriminatory instrument. Always point the finger at the threatening stranger. This is the current function of “burqa” speeches.
The way in which the burqa problem has been brandished allows us to see how what I call the “politics of conditioned reflexes” works. From this symbol is linked an association of ideas and images that fuel the rejection of immigration: burqa -> veil -> Islam -> foreigners -> immigrants -> threat to “republican values”.

It is these automatisms that we have highlighted with Stéphane Beaud, in connection with the “slippage” of Brice Hortefeux. When they think they are in a private context, these politicians give free rein to jokes, revealing their unconscious. They are associations of ideas. There is not even a need for articulate speeches.

Pascal Blanchard, French immigrants. ERNEST

Pascal Blanchard is a French historian, president of ACHAC (Association for knowledge of the history of contemporary Africa). He specializes in immigration from the “South” in France and in colonial history. An active participant in contemporary debates, he has notably published De indigène (1998), La fracture coloniale (2005) and directed a series of television documentaries: Human Zoos (2002), Des noirs en couleurs (2008).

[Published with permission from Pascal Blanchard]

Brief history of immigration to France

France was one of the very first immigration countries in the world between the 1880s and 1980s.

End of the 19th century: the time of the neighbors

  • Under the Second Empire (1851-1870), there was a sharp acceleration in immigration from neighboring countries under the double effect of progress in transport (in particular the railroad) and the free trade treaties signed with the Belgium and Great Britain. The foreign population doubled between 1851 (381,000 people) and 1866 (655,000 for a total population of 38 million inhabitants). At that time, the concept of nationality as we understood it was not fixed and it was more the rural / urban divide that was determining. Migrants from Brittany or the Creuse are perceived by Parisians as “barbarians” in the same way as the Piedmontese or the Flemings and suffer just as much from stereotypes.

  • The break-up of the 1880s. The foreign population doubled again between 1872 and 1886. At that date, it reached 1.2 million people, a figure which remained more or less stable until 1914. It made it possible to fill serious labor shortages. of work (second industrial revolution). This does not prevent the economic crisis (Great Depression 1873-1895) from exacerbating competition between foreigners and nationals in certain regions, particularly at the border, and in certain sectors of activity (BTP). Multiple violence broke out during the years 1880-1890 and caused many victims. This is the case in the saltworks of Aigues-Mortes in August 1893: 8 Italians killed, around fifty wounded.

  • At the same time, the first law on French nationality was adopted in 1889 (land law and census of foreigners). Until World War I, migrations remained at the border. The two main nationalities recorded in France at the beginning of the 20th century are on the one hand the Belgians, on the other hand the Italians.

The turning point of the First World War

  • The First World War is a pivotal moment in the history of immigration . Given that able-bodied men are at the front (at their side will fight 600,000 soldiers from the colonies), the workforce deficit worsens sharply, which requires the collective recruitment of workers from allied countries but also of the colonial empire: 440,000 foreign workers and 225,000 colonial workers (more than a third coming from Algeria). From the outset, it was clear to the authorities that the “natives” of the colonies did not represent a sustainable source of recruitment. Most of them were repatriated in 1919.

  • The policy of organized recruitment of immigrants (“chosen” immigration in a way) was reactivated during the 1920s in a context of reconstruction of the country and a lack of manpower. The rule which is then imposed is to set aside the “antagonistic races” (the Germans) and the “inferior races” (“natives” of the colonies). The “chosen” immigrants are opposed by those who are called “undesirable”. At the end of the 1920s, France had more than 3 million foreigners. It was then the largest immigration country in the world.

  • The Italians, who passed in front of the Belgians, now form the first foreign community in France. They remained in the lead until the early 1960s. New to this period: the arrival of immigrants from the countries of central and eastern Europe. In 10 years, 500,000 Poles were recruited. The interwar period was a very important period in the field of asylum rights. France becomes the main host land for refugees: several hundred thousand Russians, anti-fascist Italians, Armenians, victims of Nazism and Francoism.

The colonial turn and the Trente Glorieuses

  • During the post-war boom, companies resorted heavily to immigration. Between 1946 and 1954, the foreign population hardly increased. The number of Belgians, Poles and Spaniards is even in decline. That of the Italians increased by 10% (50,000 people). The only spectacular increase concerns the Algerians, whose numbers are multiplied by 10 (from 22,000 to 210,000).

  • Between 1962 and 1965, the immigration rate reached a level that France had never known ; but from now on the public authorities seek to slow down the movement. Certainly, between 1962 and 1982, the Algerian population registered in France passes from 350,000 to more than 800,000 people. This increase is proportionally lower than that for the Portuguese, the group which experienced the strongest increase: 90,000 people in 1962, 760,000 in 1982. At the same time, we are seeing recourse to Moroccan workers (from 31,000 to more than 440 000 in 20 years) and Tunisians (from 26,000 to 190,000). During the same period, there was a strong growth in immigration from other African countries (17,000 in 1962; 157,000 in 1982).

Until our days

  • At the beginning of the 1970s, the French State embarked on a policy of “flow control” (granting of a residence permit subject to a work permit in 1972, cessation of immigration of salaried work in 1974 ) reinforced by the economic crisis following the oil shocks. Since that date, only foreigners concerned by family reunification and asylum seekers have been authorized to settle in France. The foreign population grew weakly between 1975 and 1982 (from 3.4 to 3.7 million people), then it decreased steadily to reach 3.3 million individuals in 1999. One of the reasons for this weakening is due to the acceleration of the phenomenon of naturalizations. immigrants who arrived between 1950 and 1975.

  • The inequalities between French and foreigners remain glaring. In 1999, nearly half of foreign workers were workers against a quarter of the French by birth. With regard to unemployment, in 2002 8.3% of French people were job seekers against ¼ of active non-nationals of a European Union State. Among young people belonging to the latter group, the unemployment rate reaches 36%.

Code of entry and stay of foreigners and the right of asylum

In French law, the code for the entry and stay of foreigners and the right to asylum or CESEDA, sometimes called the foreigners code, is the code grouping together the legislative and regulatory provisions relating to the law of foreigners.

It was created in 2004 at the initiative of Dominique de Villepin, then Minister of the Interior and of Jean-Pierre Raffarin, Prime Minister, in particular by taking up the provisions of the ordinance of 2 November 1945 relating to the conditions of entry and stay of foreigners in France. It entered into force on March 1, 2005. The regulatory part was published on November 15, 2006