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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1998, Vol. 1 No. 2 .


Franco-Arab Encounters
L. Carl Brown & Matthew S Gordon eds.

(Beirut: American University of Beirut, 1996)
484pp. Index. ISBN 0-8156-6095-2. 10.50. hb



This edited book covers various aspects of Franco-Arab relations, treating "Images of Self and the Other", "Nineteenth Century French Mentalities and Algeria", "Experiences from Lebanon", "The Gender Issue", "The Diplomatic Dimension", "Individuals and Ideology", "Arabs in France: Past and Present".

Among them, "Arabs in France: Past and Present" includes a study treating directly ethnic conflict, "French Nationalism and the Issue of North African Immigration" by Soraya Tlatli, which researches causes of ethnic conflict in France between North African immigrants, particularly from Algeria, and French. We have already had many studies on this problem by different approaches. In 1980s, France faced rise of racism against Arabic immigrants, caused by their cultural differences from Frenchmen and by increasing rate of unemployment. In this situation, the National Front, extreme right party, has gotten more and more support of voters since mid-eighties, with its insistence of excluding Algerian immigrants from French territory in order that French people can have jobs which Algerians occupy. According to Tlatli, Jean-Marie Le Pen, the party's leader, insists on "the principle of natural selection and the cult of ancestors" (p.399). Citing A. D. Smith, the author analyzes Le Pen's way of thinking: he considers a nation as "the ethnic nation" (p.402).

Through the consideration on Le Pen's argument, Tlatli states that in France "[t]he colonial image is at the heart of contemporary debates on immigration, for the modern French concept of the nation provides the ideological ground justifying colonialism" (p.403), which leads to thesis that French nationalism is based on universalism or Messianic feeling.

Finally, she takes a problem of identity of "Beurs" (second generation of North African immigrants). Beurs are born and grow in France; they acquire Arab culture from their parents and at the same time French one from the society where they live. So Beurs have cultural duality and they suffer from "a feeling of being torn between two cultures without belonging to either" (p.412).The difficulty to integrate them into French society causes many socio-political conflicts and reinforces political power of the National Front. Tlatli insists, as a whole, that Franco-Arab ethnic problems are produced mainly by nature of French nationalism, i.e. "ethnic" nationalism rather than "civic".

Her work lacks some important problems: Islam scarf question in French public schools, which has produced a great controversy since the end of 1980s; theoretical examination of "integration" "assimilation" and "insertion", concepts often used by French sociologists so as to classify theoretically Arab immigrants or Beurs. However, this article is very useful for surveying Franco-Arab ethnic conflict and concerning socio-political phenomena. And this collected book helps our further understanding of Tlatli's argument.


Kazunari Sakai, Ministry of Education, Science, Sports and Culture, Japan



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