Project: Banlieues Ablaze

Interview with Dr. Georges Morin

Translated by Joe Mulia

Dr. Georges Morin
Dr. Georges Morin

Q. Many of the people we talked to have many different ideas on how many immigrants there are, where they come from, and why they are coming. Why is there such a debate and what are your ideas?

Dr. Morin
The problem is that in France, it is forbidden to list people according to their origins. This interdiction has historic origins because before 1940…there was a Jewish file that kept the names of the Jewish people living in France. The authorities of the Vichy Regime, which was an accomplice of Hitler, used this file to arrest Jewish people. Thus, at the liberation of France from the Vichy Regime, one of the first things to be changed was that no longer would they give the origins of the people. At the same time, it is difficult because as soon as the foreigner becomes a French citizen, he/she no longer is listed as anything but French. So, there is the problem of principles, but also, many people refuse a unique identity, as (for example,) there are many mixed marriages.

There is another problem, and that is, when people leave, it is not registered anywhere.”

Q. What problems do you see with the integration of immigrant youths in French society?

Dr. Morin
Because those who come from immigrant families are poorly represented, it is important to talk about positive discrimination. Those who wish to be the most integrated, some say that it is necessary to positively discriminate, like with women in French politics…

So now, in the French parliament, where there are 577 deputies in the Assemblé National, now there are an obligatory 42 representatives who are from immigrant families….who represent the whole of the immigrant community.

Q. How are you measuring progress?

Dr. Morin
How to measure the progress in diversity? A real problem…remarkable experience…the director of The Institute of Political Studies of Paris (SciencePo)…which is very important because those who form the administrative elite of Paris (those who go to the National School of Administration) come from this institute. So, the director said that they were only enrolling the bourgeoisie of the society, so he said, “I am going to change this.” He then went on to solidify some agreements with high schools in the Parisian banlieues where there are many poor, immigrants etc…but where there are also intelligent, hard working students. So, he did this with 5 high schools…choosing the best students, during the three years before their baccalaureate (equivalent to a high school diploma). These students would enter into this institute without passing the entrance exams (which one needs to have a distinguished cultural background to have any hope of passing). So now, those who entered the institute with the help of the agreements with the high schools of the banlieues are doing as well as any other. “One simply raised a barrier that had previously been there…it’s a very intelligent response to a problem that had seemed unsolvable; and this is not only for immigrants, but for whomever are the best students from these poor schools.”

Q. Do you see the youth taking steps to better these situations, or are they following the paths of their parents?

Dr. Morin
There are many young people who succeed and become professors, doctors, lawyers, and without help from anyone or anything. But, we don’t talk about them, because…because, well, a derailed train is more interesting than one which arrives on time.”

There are more and more journalists who have Maghreban backgrounds…integration is functioning by itself already. There are also many heads of enterprises who come from Maghreban backgrounds and who do an excellent job.

Q. Lets discuss the riots.

Dr. Morin
I think that when we analyze the crises of the banlieues (and the riots) there are people who say, “Oh, it’s the Arabs, or the Islamic…” Me, no, I don’t believe it at all…I believe it is really a revolt to reclaim the right to enter into society; because they are marginalized…the banlieues are very poorly organized…transportation is not good…there are some cities where those who live in the poor sections of the city can easily go to the center of town; Marseille for example. Paris, however, in the cities where there were the riots, nine times out of ten, the cities are poorly located. There is a lot of unemployment…the closer one is to the center of town, the higher the price of rent. The poorer you are, the further away you are from the center of town. So, in effect, it is even harder for the poor people to get to the center of town to work, and raise themselves from their poor station. “Breaking down the door to enter into French society.”

I think that there really is an awakening to these problems in the youth society, and in the French society. They really would like to “reclaim their place in the sun.” But there are barriers…

Q. Is it only a matter of time before people whose parents are immigrants consider themselves to be French?

Dr. Morin
The problem is that…when someone immigrates, and is not poor, or is of high culture, then integration is very rapid. The integration of the poor is different…say, illiterate, and then it is ten times harder for their children to integrate into society. The majority of immigrants from the Maghreb, are mostly immigrating away from misery…and have poor parents. When a doctor from Algeria or a lawyer from Tunisia immigrates to France, they don’t have any problem integrating. Not one problem. However, a peasant or worker has problems. It is really a question of social and cultural level more than origin.”

Q. How much time does it take for those coming from Maghreb to feel themselves to be French?”

Dr. Morin
When children are born in France, they have the idea of being French…and many say, “Me, I feel French, but it’s society which tells me that I am not French.” For the Maghrebans, it is worse. There are so many youths who feel completely French, but feel as if society still looks at them as if they are foreign. But, when they go to their country of origin, they are looked upon as foreigners there too! It’s a double rejection.

They have no ties to their country of origin except through their parents, and when they go to their countries of origin, they are poorly welcomed, because they are French in their heads.

The most successful integration is when someone feels totally French, but who remains proud of his parent’s origins. Because, too often, in the immigration of the poor, the boy or girl who goes to school in France takes in the culture, and learns the history of France. At the house however, their family members aren’t educated enough to speak about the history of France, or of their own countries. So, the boy or girl is nearly ashamed of their origins because of the rich history that France has, the history that they are learning in school, and at their own houses…nothing. So, if these children want to feel fully French, they need to know that they didn’t come from nowhere; they come from a country which also has a civilization, a culture. This is true of all immigration. When those who come from other countries are proud of their origins, they feel very good about where they are. So, one of the objectives of our association is to show the youth of the banlieues what they can be proud of. We have great writers and musicians, etc…this way integration can better take place.

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Our interview with Dr. Moran was the single most enlightening interview we conducted. This interview was the only one which left us with more answers than questions. Hopefully from this transcript one can better understand the problems as well as the possible solutions.

We feel that the solutions for the problems as Dr. Morin prescribes are reasonable and simple; social acceptance of other cultures and time for the dust (and immigrants) to settle. Nobody can tell how long it will be before the French have solved their problem of immigration and integration and there will always be banlieues. The hope is that in the future the banlieues will not be filled with "Arabs" or "Muslims" but the Frenchmen.