The 4th Of July Elsewhere
June 29, 2006 - 9:44am ET
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The story is familiar. A nativist, racist strain of populism has arisen denouncing dark-skinned immigrants who speak a strange language and have unfamiliar cultural practices. Unfounded worries of a lack of assimilation that threaten the very fabric of the nation. Even the paranoid phobias of an “reconquista” parallel (just substitute “Eurabia” for “Aztlán”).
The story is being told in French at almost the same time as it is being told in English (and German and Dutch and any one of a number of European languages). The feared Other in this case are Muslim North African immigrants (or Turks in
But as the Fourth of July approaches, and we celebrate our independence from Old Europe, another story is unfolding that shows there is something we can learn from France—not about how to better seal ourselves off from the globe, but about the real meaning of courage and dedication to liberty.
Some background: rightist French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy has vowed to deport 25,000 immigrants this year. Muslim illegal immigrants are estimated to number between 200,000 and 400,000 in France (or about .6 percent of the population of France—about a fourth of whom are school-aged children). Popular outcry earlier this spring led him to declare a temporary truce from deporting thousands of French schoolchildren unfortunate enough to have been born elsewhere. Now he has announced that on July 4, the end of the French school year, the deportations will begin anew.
And in response, parents, teachers, army wives and religious figures (The Christian Science Monitor calls them “French soccer moms ”) have taken truly inspiring action. They have pledged humanity in the face of a bureaucracy that tears apart families, by taking hundreds, if not thousands of children into hiding all over
From a Guardian report in May:
According to Jean-Michel Delabre, an activist with Education sans Frontières (ESF), the battle is about more than just the future of several thousand youngsters. 'This is a fight for the soul of
and for the sort of society we want to live in,' he told The Observer. 'Do we want our country to be tolerant and multicultural? Or xenophobic and closed?' France
One of the toughest battles is being fought in the western
where, for months, a six-year-old Dagestani girl called Sakimat Amiralieva has been hidden from the authorities by a network of concerned local mothers. 'In an emergency, hiding the child is the only way of stopping [the expulsion procedure],' said David Rajjou, the immigration lawyer representing the girl, explaining the drastic tactics. 'If a mother is separated from her child, neither can be expelled.' portof Brest
But the reality is brutal. Sakimat is passed clandestinely from family to family, often at night. For six weeks, for fear of surveillance by immigration services, she has not seen her mother. 'She passes her days drawing, stroking the dogs, writing lines and lines of an invented script,' said one protector, who risks a large fine and five years' jail, last week. 'When someone rings the doorbell, she hides.' A few drawings have been smuggled into the officially registered hostel where her mother is staying.
Sarkozy is a descendent of French Jews himself, but it has taken others to remind
Other leaders of the volunteer movement have tried to draw a parallel between helping immigrant families in today's
and hiding Jewish children threatened with death in World War II. France
"One reason why there's been such a good response to our efforts to help immigrant schoolchildren is because of our history," says Mr. Moyon. "We are very careful when we make such comparisons, because the threat in the past was genocide. But it's only natural that people ask themselves what they would have done then if a Jewish child in front of them was at risk of being rounded up."
As immigration battle lines are being drawn in
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