The flurry of information available online sometimes means it takes a long time for a news story to make its way into my hands.
The following article was written two months ago, but its topic is still worth discussing.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who was elected with a conservative mandate by the French people to act tough on immigration (a veiled reference to the millions of resented North Africans in the country), is proving to be more progressive than one expected.
In addition to breaking with the US and bringing Syria in from the cold as well as building nuclear reactors in Libya - all with the aim of winning Arab support for his ambitious Mediterranean Union - the descendant of a Hungarian Jewish immigrant has gone to say the following statement, one which has rattled the conservative French camp:
"Arabic is the language of the future".
French royalists and conservatives love to recount the heroic stories of French history, including that of Charles Martel's successful triumph against the Arabs in the south of France in the 8th century. The same "prestigious civilisation and spiritual values" Charles Martel expelled - an important victory in the emergence of the French nation - has now been invited by the current French ruler to be taught to not only the Arab immigrants, but to the French as well.
I was in France at the time of the previous presidential elections, and had many discussions with Sarkozy voters who saw him as a modern, albeit watered down, Charles Martel that would fight to remove the current Islamic threat haunting France and their 'unique' identity. Instead, he's said Arabic should be taught in more schools.
I certainly don't object to Sarkozy's attempt to break the stigma surrounding everything Arabic and Islamic in France, but I can't resist being cynical.
During the presidential elections, Sarkozy took an overly hardline stance in an attempt to draw the far-right voters from Le Pen. He didn't bother catering to the Socialist left, whose weakness was epitomised by the fact they couldn't come up with a better candidate than the horribly stiff Segolene Royal.
Sarkozy succeeded. His anti-immigration stance and staunch conservatism broke the back of Le Pen. The National Front was annihilated. I, the centre-leftist that I am, was appalled. I assumed Sarkozy's victory would be the worst thing for the Arab world, for France's involvement in the Middle East, for the Arab migrants in France who now occupy ghettos, and for tolerance. It was a triumph for xenophobia, so I thought. I'm now wondering whether I've thought wrong.
Sarkozy virtually ended the deadlock in Lebanon after giving Syria what she wanted, undermining both the US and Saudi Arabia in the process. Sarkozy was the frontrunner into bringing Libya in from the cold, despite the controversy over the nuclear reactor/Bulgarian prisoner deal. He's been incredibly active on the Middle East, North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa.
And now he's on the march to promote tolerance within his country by pushing for more Arabic in French schools.
If anything, it's the complete reverse of what he promised. He used the fears of the French people in order to combat those fears once in power, so it seems.
France is peculiar when it comes to migrants, much different from Anglophone countries. Whilst Anglophone countries have established their societies based on the principles of multi-culturalism, France has stuck to its guns and pushed the integration agenda. Integration essentially means forsaking your origins and embracing the French way of life.
The integration policy was so deep rooted that I struggled to find adequate ingredients to cook my Lebanese dishes. Perhaps the Lebanese in France are accustomed to that, but when one attempts to find a small Lebanese corner that mimics Beirut, its meager in comparison to Australia or even the UK - where there is a substantially smaller Lebanese population than in France.
This policy is a failure that has only created resentment and fear. The North African migrants resent the fact the French want them to renounce their origins and embrace la baguette, le fromage et le vin rouge. They fear they would lose their identity and culture. The French resent the fact that the North Africans refuse to integrate, and fear that their identity and culture is being undermined by an 'alien' presence.
Sarkozy may also see integration as a failed approach, and being the most Anglocised leader in French history, perhaps he wishes to implement the Anglo model of multi-culturalism.
The problem stems from the false belief that you can't love more than one country, share more than one culture, speak more than one language, and still remain loyal to the country where you reside. This is something I encounter also in Anglo-Saxon conservative Australians each time I state I hold a Lebanese citizenship.
'You can't have both, you're Australian. Where do you live? Australia. So you can only love Australia. If not, go back to Lebanon.'
This belief is false. The one thing Australians and French share is their distaste for foreign languages. Neither believe they need to learn a foreign language because everyone else should learn theirs.
'If you're in France, speak French.'
'You can't live in France and speak Arabic, English or German. You're not truly French.'
'If you're in Australia, speak English.'
'You can't live in Australia and speak Arabic, Italian or Chinese. You're not truly Australian.'
Wrong. You can. And I'm glad Sarkozy sees that.
Sarkozy: "Arabic Is The Language of the Future"
The French government is strongly advocating the teaching of Arabic language and civilization in French schools. Not surprising, considering the number of Arabs and Muslims in France, and the unctuous deference with which they are treated by officials, beginning notably with Nicolas Sarkozy, who cannot praise enough the splendor of Arabic contributions to the world.
The French National Assembly was the scene of a meeting earlier this month of the first Conference on the Teaching of Arabic Language and Culture, attended by a variety of interested parties. There was much wearisome blather about the need for "dialogue."
In his message to the participants, French President Nicolas Sarkozy called Arabic the "language of the future, of science and of modernity," and expressed the hope that "more French people share in the language that expresses great civilizational and spiritual values."
"We must invest in the Arabic language (because) to teach it symbolizes a moment of exchange, of openness and of tolerance, (and it) brings with it one of the oldest and most prestigious civilizations of the world. It is in France that we have the greatest number of persons of Arabic and Muslim origin. Islam is the second religion of France," Sarkozy reminded his listeners.
He proceeded to enumerate the various "advances in terms of diversity," the increase in Muslim sections of cemeteries, the training of imams and chaplains and the appointments of ministers of diverse backgrounds.
"France is a friend of Arabic countries. We are not seeking a clash between the East and West," he affirmed, emphasizing the strong presence of Arab leaders at the founding summit of the Union for the Mediterranean, last July 13. "The Mediterranean is where our common hopes were founded. Our common sea is where the principal challenges come together: durable development, security, education and peace," added the French president.