Mary Claire pretty well summed up our feelings after our interviews today. (She added tonight, “Yeah, it’s more like a hundred years and understanding the French and Algerian relationship and history and how it relates to and or fits into modern, secular France” - it’s been a long day.)
This morning we traveled to Aix-en-Provence, about 45 minutes away from Marseille and the home of IAU College, where Mary Claire studied for a semester in college. We interviewed the president of the college, Dr. Carl Jubran, as well as Professor Aboubakr Jamai, working to build first-hand background understanding of the history of and the current climate surrounding immigration in France. These two conversations proved quite informative, particularly in terms of putting the current immigration issues facing France and their uncanny resemblance to America’s own issues. Takeaways...
- The reasons people migrate from North Africa to France are as diverse as the countries themselves.
- “The French define safety not as diversity, but as uniformity.” (Jamai)
- Westerns treat people “like numbers” (Jubran).
- Frustrations around assimilation may contribute to violence and, at least in Europe, terrorism. (Jamai)
- The situation with migration to and terrorism in France is “poisonous” for immigrants. (Jamai)
- The United States seems to mirror France in its views of immigrants and shifting political climate.
Jamai spoke to us at length about this today as we spoke with him in an empty classroom. As a professor of media, Middle Eastern studies, business and more, as a Muslim and as a native of Morocco, Jamai gave us a wealth of background information. We talked to him about the secularism of modern France and the country’s emphasis on égalité - he said the French would claim they are “über-egalitarian.” They remove the the things that make immigrants different from one another (religion, nationality, etc.) in an attempt to level the playing field for immigrants and others. In contrast, though, Jamai says immigrants view this as “antagonistic to their identity.” We spoke with him about the nature of identity: how we all have a number of identities and how some people identify strongly with specific aspects of our identities when faced with opposition or when called into solidarity with others. (We might assert our identity as women when men around us make sexist statements; Jamai said he feels solidarity with other Muslims when Muslim women are attacked for wearing veils.)
We learned about the deep history involved in French/Algerian relations. Algeria, for instance, was a department of France (essentially a French state), whereas Tunisia and Morocco were territories but only temporarily. Due to these differences in history, the people in those countries choose to move to France for varied reasons, and they interact with French people and with French society differently. Algerians who have moved to France believe themselves to be purely “French” since their citizenship was granted before the two formed separate countries. The Algerians were granted French citizenship while Algeria was occupied by France. The catch was that only Jewish Algerians were granted this citizenship, whereas Muslim Algerians were not allowed to be full citizens in France. The differences for migration are rooted deep in French history, and they continue to deepen as people seek asylum in France.
Essentially, we have some great background information that lends itself well to the development of Mike’s social studies unit, as well as Sarah’s journalism stories. For the language arts narrative, we might have a difficult time finding someone to tell us a complete story with enough details - at least the amount of information we ask of our freshmen and sophomore English students. No answers yet, just realizations and more understanding of students who struggle to create plots from interviews.