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These days, many people feel that French identity is under threat. They think, or they say, that our way of life and the very foundations of our nation are endangered; according to some, by globalisation, which would standardise everything, or, for others, by immigrants who would impose their culture, their religion, their way of life; or again by social groups that were once a minority and submissive, and which would now demand that France obey their values; Some people are terrified that Americans, or Germans, or women, or homosexuals, or Africans, or Muslims, will soon impose their values and rights on others, calling into question what they think is the French identity.
This feeling is not recent. For a long time, the French people have feared, often justifiably, that they would be invaded or militarily dominated by a nation that would come to subjugate them. They feared it in turn from the British, then from the Germans, then from the Soviets, and not long ago, they spoke of the “Chinese peril”.
Then, the fear became more economic and cultural: in the sixties, what was not wanted was a France where only English would be spoken, where the main companies would only be subsidiaries of American companies, where we would only see American films, and where we would only eat in American fast food restaurants.
Today, what some people fear and no one wants is a France where economic decline has destroyed our social model, where French is no longer spoken, where Islam has become the dominant, proselytising and conquering religion, where restaurants are only halal fast-food outlets and where ethnic communities are juxtaposed, indifferent or hostile.
So what we don’t want is clear. But it is much less easy to name what we want.
For what is this French identity to be defended? For a long time, it was described in a phantasmagorical way by the image of a village with its bell tower and its town hall, old people playing boules and young people going to school or to work; only, it was never that, and even less so today.
So what is French identity? What is immutable, what must be absolutely defended? A religion? A way of life? A relationship to money? A language? A cuisine? A territory?
A religion? Catholicism has not been dominant for a long time and it no longer defines “the eldest daughter of the Church”, where secularism has been the law for a century. A way of life? Fortunately, it has changed enormously since it was subject to religious and cultural prohibitions that are now considered by the majority to be unbearable. A cuisine? There have always been dozens of them, inspired by everything the world has ever borne. A territory? Absolutely, even if some still wish to move away from it. A language? No doubt, but it is constantly changing, nourished by words, expressions, turns of phrase and rules of grammar from elsewhere, all of which make their bed in the common river.
So France, like Heraclitus’ river, is constantly changing, and constantly unchanging…. It is above all a very rare, even unique nation, built by a powerful State for more than a thousand years, within borders that have now been stabilised, in a region of the world blessed by the gods, with a temperate climate, a fertile land and a maritime domain that is almost unparalleled. A unique nation, where everyone can now live in their own way while respecting common rules; where one must work and live in society only in French, even if the use of other languages is highly recommended; a nation where one can practice any religion, or none, as one wishes, provided that it is not imposed on anyone and that it does not call into question the rights of men, women, children and minorities; a nation where everyone who lives there is bound to respect a demanding secularism, built up over centuries; a nation where freedom of speech is limited only by the obligation not to harm others.
No other nation in the world makes such demands of its citizens. No other nation in the world gives them so many rights. This is the French identity, the French privilege. And this is not the end; other rights will come; if we know how to maintain our rank and be nourished by the battles to come, without destroying what has been mentioned above, which is the essential.
All in all, what structures French society, what will maintain or eliminate its identity, is work and innovation, which will protect our standard of living and our sovereignty; and education, which should constantly explain these values, these rights, these duties, these privileges; and allow each person to find out who he or she is and to blossom, legitimately; a nation in which we would no longer speak of oppressed minorities, of closed communities, but of blossoming people, proud to be French, to “do France”.