Clip from 2008 Palme d’Or winning film: La Class: Entre Les Murs
This movie is about a well-meaning French teacher and his class at a difficult middle school in France. One of the themes explored is how to deal with multiculturalism in French society and what it means to be “French”. Though religion isn’t explicitly mentioned in this clip, I thought it was interesting how the students push their teacher to recognize their diverse origin heritages. Also, I think it is pertinent to our case study that Esmerelda, presumably a French citizen, wants to deny that she’s French. This is likely a response to the anti-immigrant, anti-Islam sentiment that characterizes much of French society.
It seems that as the French government pushes for a monolithic, assimilationist “French” identity, second-generation immigrant youth are increasingly turning to their parents’ origin cultures in the formation of their identities. After World War II, the Beur Movement was composed of North African immigrants who identified with the Arab Nationalist Movements. Today, immigrant youth chiefly identify with their Muslim identities.
As Olivier Roy says in “Globalized Islam: The Search for a New Ummah,” second generation immigrant turning away from assimilation tend to consider their origin culture as a “pristine” culture. In other words, they’re not conforming to a pre-existing identity but forming a new one. A good example of this is the rapper Akhenaton from the group IAM, who is the son of Catholic Italian immigrants. Akhenaton converted to Islam and mixes Arab and Muslim themes with themes about Ancient Egypt (hence his rap name). “…he says, Sicily was an Islamic state in the tenth century, and southern Italians have Arab blood, although they have forgotten this fact” (Swedenburg article). By claiming partial descent from Arabs, by reconciling monotheistic Islam with his parents’ Catholicism, and by associating Arab identity with Ancient Egypt, it seems that Akhenaton is fully creating his own cultural background.
This a highly interesting topic for me to think about. (I sometimes follow similar lines of thought in regard to my partially Korean descent.) If second-generation immigrants in France are forming a new culture that is different from the original, does that mean that their culture is illegitimate or contrived? Though fundamentalists and terrorists go too far, I don’t think that these immigrants’ identities are any more contrived than “French” identity is.