In some Western countries of today we can see that there is much emphasis on the act of becoming part of a whole, a nation. Immigrants and minorities are expected to blend into society and as a result, to take on the cultural identities and characteristics of the majority. Other countries work on the ethic that cultural and minority diversities should be welcomed and sometimes even savoured, thereby maintaining a multicultural society. These two philosophies of integration, as recognised by M.Martiniello, are better known as assimilation and pluralism.
Since the Revolution of 1789, France has been visualised as a ‘nation une et indivisible,’ which would be intolerant of a nation within a nation, but in more recent times morals, views and policies have been questioned and changed. Would the French republican model now be considered ‘assimilationist’ or ‘pluralist’? Assimilation is a policy of making similar, which presupposes a political conception of membership and belief1 by those who are to be assimilated.
Nowadays people tend to point to France as being more assimilationist than other EU countries, both with immigrants and its own citizens. At the time of the Revolution linguistic unity was indispensable to Republican citizenship. 2 Although France had several significant regional languages such as Breton, Occitan and Basque, many believed that a universal language would allow citizens to communicate their opinions without hindrance.
Although Renan denied in ‘Qu’est-ce qu’une nation?’ that language was strong enough to bind a nation, linguistic assimilation was nevertheless practiced and in the twentieth century political expansion into natural frontiers led to the elimination of provincial languages and, following the Jacobin motto ‘one nation, one language,’ French was to be spoken exclusively. Assimilationist workings were incorporated into education and the army and French was diffused into all levels of society, not just the intellectual elite. This has still carried over to today with the Conseil supi?? rieur de la langue frani??aise fighting to uphold the French language so that foreign immigrants and the preservation of regional languages would not affect it.
3 ‘Le droit i?? l’indiffi?? rence’ has been the general policy of the French state since the Revolution concerning religions such as Catholicism or Judaism. During the Third Republic conflicts between the Church and the state led to their separation and in 1905 a policy of complete secularisation was introduced, where religious practice became a private matter. Once again educational institutions were the means used to get the new policies across and all religious training was replaced by civic training.
This was the base from where the state could promote ‘lai?? citi?? ‘. Schooling was to become standard throughout France holding foreign as well as French children4 and teaching them to believe above all in the French nation. France is community blind and neutral to religious or ethnic backgrounds and therefore concentrates on its individual citizens. There is a reluctance to accept different opinions and spheres of life because the aim of this kind of assimilation is to respect all beliefs but not to favour one over the other.
Although in more recent years there has been some leniency on the ‘lai??que’ laws of France, such as state subsidisation of religious private schools following the Debri?? law (1959), there have still been some controversial issues raised such as whether Muslim girls should wear a headscarf to school, as it would breach the secular principle of neutrality. In the past 50 years most immigration has been from North Africa creating a large Muslim community within France. The goal of France is to assimilate foreigners to become citizens by adopting language, history and culture without proceeding with their own beliefs.