Just to explain, part of the purpose of this blog with be for me to have a place to organize the stuff I’m learning about immigration policy – a place to explore. And it may be chaotic at times, so I apologize now.

That said, today I decided to see what’s been happening in France.

Now, for those who really aren’t paying attention (and I know you’re out there) the new President Nicholas Sarkozy, despite being the child of Hungarian immigrants, has staked out a harsh stance on immigration.

And the simple act of naming has become one of the first battlefields in what will no doubt be a long struggle to reshape immigration policy. Last month (ok, so I’m a little behind, but I bet you are too so it’s alright), Sarkozy renamed one of the ministries the Ministry of Immigration, National Identity and Codevelopment.

What “codéveloppement” means in practical terms I have no idea, but no matter, as the first two words are the ones getting people’s shorts in a bind.

Nearly 200 intellectuals, activists, trade unionists and the like signed a petition protesting the renaming and the policy it implies. One signatory, a UN specialist on racism called it a “banalization of racism” and criticized “the ideological and political treatment of immigration as a security issue and as a menace to national identity”

Sarkozy of course sees it differently:

“If the commitment was made during the presidential campaign, to unite immigration and national identity in one ministry, that’s because it’s as foolhardy to believe that immigration is of no consequence to the future of our country as it is to think that immigration hasn’t contributed to the forging of our national identity”

Hmmm, ok. But just because one thing affects another does it necessarily makes sense to have them in the same ministry? Surely a case could be made that climate and natural resources have an effect on a people, yet no one’s gonna create a Ministry of the Environment and National Identity, right?

But that’s all sort of beside the point. Its not about what the National Identity Ministry should be paired with, its about whether it should exist at all. As another of the signatories, a singer, Dominique A has said that national identity “will never be fixed within the boundaries of a ministry”

Your nation will have an identity that will emerge with or without guidance from a ministry. It’s like having a Ministry of Public Opinion. Public opinion, like national identity is a reflection, not a construction. If someone proposed a Ministry of Public Opinion, we’d all know that meant something sketchy like, “propaganda and general brainwashing.” So what sketchiness does a Ministry of National Identity imply?

Because, really, what are these particularly French things about the national identity that need to be protected? Some of the rumblings I come across hint vaguely at making sure immigrants understand things like “democratic values” or in one instance regarding families and childrearing things like “the equal parental rights of fathers and mothers.”

These are particularly “French” things? Things that need extra protection? Because I do believe these are, ya know, enshrined in law.

It’s a democratic republic. Why do you need a ministry to remind people of that? Regulations exist protecting the equality of the sexes before the law. If someone from a culture with slightly unbalanced gender perspective steps over the line, the law will take care of it. So why the separate ministry?

As can be seen from my previous post, I’m wary of nationalism. Creating a rigid and easily digestible idea of a national identity is an important step in deluding people into thinking their “identity” is superior – as, of course, is the creation of a fear that it is under threat and in need of protection. As mentioned above, a national identity can’t really be under threat, just as “public opinion” can’t be under threat. It will exist no matter what. It may change though. And that, of course is what freaks people out.

But as long as there are laws protecting the most important values in a society – like that ever-so-French trio of liberty, equality and (the slightly outdated) fraternity – those changes will happen within a perfectly acceptable framework and will not lead to some wholesale dissolution of society.

So here’s a suggestion – create a Ministry of Citizenship. It could create educational programs in the values of the republic – for everyone! I’m sure there are plenty of non-immigrants who might need a refresher in, say, valuing women as equal partners in society, cherishing one’s country’s natural resources, or valuing people regardless of race…

…or country of origin, one might pointedly add.

(Sorry, but all links are to French-language articles, and please excuse my translations – I’m only an amateur!)