February 18, 2012
This image has been posted with express written permission. This cartoon was originally published at Town Hall.
Marseille’s Melting Pot: As more European countries become nations of immigrants, is the multicultural city of Marseille a vision of the future?
February 18, 2012
It’s tempting to say, and probably true, that no rule made by Paris goes unbent in the city of Marseille. The capital of Provence has a well-deserved reputation as a rough and unruly place, a port that attracts all kinds of contraband and all kinds of people, some of them contraband too. Over the centuries, they’ve mostly come by sea—mingling, scheming, brawling, coupling, feasting, and drinking with unashamed and unapologetic flamboyance. The city has served as a refuge for people fleeing persecution, pestilence, and poverty. Recently its sizable immigrant influx has been largely of Muslim origin, and today when you gaze from one of Marseille’s many beaches across the Mediterranean toward the unseen North African coast, you can almost imagine a human deluge on its way as the spreading unrest in the Arab world pushes more refugees and job seekers toward the shores of Europe.
If you listen to far-right politicians, you’ll think this immigrant wave means, inevitably, an onslaught of Islamic puritanism that will challenge European ways and force every woman to dress like a Taliban bride. But then you realize that many of the men and women jostling around you on the Marseille sand are from African and Arab backgrounds, and that the young women are wearing bikinis, not burkas. Thanks to a remarkably efficient public transport system, you can get to Marseille’s beaches from any part of town in less than 45 minutes.
And so for several months of the year, rich and poor, white and black, African and Arab, Muslim, Christian, and Jew, all find their own space on the sand, strip off most of their clothes, and settle down to socialize—and be socialized— under the Provençal sun. Ask them where they’re from and you won’t hear Algeria or Morocco, the Comoros islands or even France. Almost always they’ll simply say, Marseille.
As more European countries become nations of immigrants, Marseille may be a vision of the future, even a model of multiculturalism. Not that its equilibrium is easy to maintain. In particular, the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East periodically send ripples of fear through this French city. “During the war in Iraq in 1991, I said to myself, Things are going to explode in Marseille—because of the images that were coming into Muslims’ living rooms through their satellite dishes,” says Michèle Teboul, president of the Provence chapter of CRIF, the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions of France. “We said, If this doesn’t explode now, it’s never going to explode.” And it didn’t: Local Muslim leaders managed to calm things down by working with other religious figures. Similarly in November 2005, when riot-fueled flames erupted in just about every other French city’s immigrant-filled housing projects, Muslim Marseille stayed cool.
Some locals believe, with reason, that the Marseille miracle of social peace has a lot to do with its beaches, which serve as its great melting pot. Farouk Youssoufa, 25, courted his 20-year-old wife, Mina, at the Plage de Corbière, and they now frequent the Plage du Prado. Youssoufa was born on a French island in the Comoros archipelago between Tanzania and Madagascar, and his skin is as black as anyone’s in Africa. Mina is the fair-complexioned, French-born daughter of Algerian immigrants. “The new generation is much more of a mixture,” says Youssoufa, who works with boys and girls of almost every conceivable skin tone and ethnic background at a cultural center in one of the rougher northern neighborhoods of Marseille. On the beach, especially, “there are a lot of different communities that mix, that mingle,” Youssoufa tells me one blistering hot afternoon in May. “Voilà: With time we’ve learned to live together.”
But “voilà,” a recurrent tic in Marseille conversation, doesn’t quite tell the whole story. The neutral turf of sun and sand reaches only so far into city life. While other municipal rituals also unite people (a fanatical support for the Marseille soccer team, for instance), once the game’s over and the sun sets on the beach, prejudices can surface. There’s plenty of racism to be found in Marseille, says Mina, including among its Muslim Montagues and Capulets. “When we are in places where there are a lot of people, it’s not such a problem. But when we go in the neighborhoods where the Arabs are, when the two of us pass by we’re looked at a lot, and sometimes they insult me.” She sucks in her breath and shakes her head.
Such a story raises the question of whether Marseille is really an example of cosmopolitan harmony—or a society on the brink of unrest. The uncomfortable answer is that it’s both.
Marseille’s tile-roofed city hall, built in the time of Louis XIV, is an understated edifice by the standards of French officialdom. It’s described in travel literature as “of modest proportions.” Not so the mayor who serves there. Jean-Claude Gaudin looks half as wide as he is tall, with his double-breasted suit jacket unbuttoned and the collar of his purple pin-striped shirt undone. The 72-year-old Gaudin lumbers into his office and settles behind his desk like a bear guarding honey. He has held this job since 1995 and doesn’t look inclined to leave anytime soon.
Outside, sailboats pack the Vieux-Port, their masts glistening in the hard white light of a summer morning. Despite the heat, the windows are open because “the air-conditioning gets me in the throat,” says Gaudin. The atmosphere is an odd mix: subtropical air wafting over baroque decor.
“Marseille is the oldest city in France,” the mayor begins. “It’s been in existence for 2,600 years.” I think for a moment that Gaudin is going to say, as the Marseillais are wont to do, that the city was founded by the Phoenicians: “Marseille, white, warm, alive; Marseille, the younger sister of Tyre and Carthage, successor to the empire of the Mediterranean; Marseille, always getting younger as it grows older,” wrote Alexandre Dumas. But Gaudin wants to make another point.
“It’s a port,” says the mayor, “and so we have always been used to having foreigners come here. The city itself is composed, stratum by stratum, of populations from abroad who came because of international developments.” After 1915, for instance, Armenians escaping genocide in Turkey began arriving. In the 1930s Italians who fled fascism settled in Marseille. After World War II a Jewish immigration from North Africa began. And by 1962, after France had given up colonial control of Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia (the Maghreb), came tens of thousands of pieds-noirs, or black feet, who were actually white French citizens fleeing newly independent Algeria, where many had lived for generations.
At the same time, “after the decolonization of ‘black Africa,’ in quotes, as we say,” Gaudin explains, “and the independence of the countries of the Maghreb,” Marseille gradually became filled with other people “issus de l’immigration”—produced by immigration. Even as the mayor says this, he seems uncomfortable with the politically correct euphemism “issus de l’immigration,” so I ask him to be more precise. “That means that often the grandparents were in Algeria, the parents came here, and the grandchildren are French but have an Arab last name,” says Gaudin. In other words, people who are French by birth but are still viewed as of foreign extraction.
Yet the mayor of Marseille can only guess how many of his city’s residents—20, 25 percent?—are issus de l’immigration. He does not know how many are of Arab or African descent. He does not know how many have Muslim roots. In accordance with France’s “republican values”—its secular and egalitarian ideals—it’s against the law for any functionary, including the census taker, to record a citizen’s race, religion, or ethnicity. Church and state are not only separate, but religion is officially ignored. If you are French, you are French: nothing more, nothing less, and nothing else. Yet Gaudin knows that even for the second and third generations, assimilation does not always come easily. The challenge for any city with a large immigrant population is rarely how to deal with the first wave of arrivals, but how their children and grandchildren will adapt, or not…
February 18, 2012
Scotland’s nationalist ambitions don’t generally get international attention, but the past few weeks have been a uniquely exciting time in the long-running campaign for Scottish independence. On Jan. 25, Alex Salmond, Scotland’s first minister, and his Scottish National Party (SNP) government announced plans for a historic referendum on independence to be held in the fall of 2014, attracting coverage, comment, and curiosity from around the world.
The SNP government’s proposed question is “Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?” The SNP is considering whether a second, as yet undefined question should be asked, suggesting an intermediate step of devolving powers to the Scottish government without full independence. This notion, known as “devo max,” has the support of a significant portion of public opinion — though this support remains unmeasurable given that no serious detailed proposals have yet emerged.
London has not responded well to this development. In a speech on Feb. 16, British Prime Minister David Cameron vowed to “fight with everything I have to keep our United Kingdom together.” He continued: “To me, this is not some issue of policy or strategy or calculation — it matters head, heart, and soul. Our shared home is under threat and everyone who cares about it needs to speak out.” In the end, Cameron may find that this type of rhetoric will only hasten the demise of the union he has vowed to protect.
Many are wondering why, exactly, this disquiet has emerged in Scotland. After all, the union has been a pretty peaceful one since at least the 17th century. But there is indeed a strong case to be made for an independent Scotland, a case that has only grown more compelling in light of Europe’s and Britain’s latest economic woes.
Scotland is a different place from the rest of the United Kingdom, and increasingly there is no such thing as a unitary UK politics, but Scottish, Welsh, Northern Irish, and English politics with devolved parliaments and assemblies in the first three.
The union of Scotland and England created Great Britain in 1707*, but Scotland has grown gradually more independent over the last century. First there was the Scottish Office, a department of the UK government set up in 1885 to oversee the slowly expanding state, followed by the “secretary of state for Scotland” becoming a full cabinet post in 1926 with more junior ministers added over the postwar era. Then, in 1999, the Scottish Parliament was established, with control of most of Scotland’s public services.
The SNP was formed in 1934 and in its early days stood for full self-government. It then began to become a serious political force from the mid-1960s onward. In the 1980s, the SNP — which defines itself as a party of the center-left — was a vital part of the anti-Tory coalition against Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. But the SNP is also a big tent reflecting the spectrum of Scottish society, with a majority in the Scottish Parliament and six seats in the House of Commons.
The last 30 years have seen a long, slow decline in Scottish voters’ identification with and trust in the British state. In 2009, the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey found that 61 percent of Scots trusted the Scottish government to act in Scotland’s interests versus 25 percent who trusted the British government. Increasingly, Westminster’s interventions and policies — including macroeconomic policy, welfare, defense, and foreign affairs — are seen as problematic to many Scottish voters and inviting challenge. And the majority public opinion increasingly points toward wishing to have a more autonomous, distinctive Scottish political space in which the Scottish Parliament runs most domestic issues, leaving defense and foreign policy to the folks in London.
Scottish politics were once defined by a powerful collectivist and socialist-oriented labor movement and a national culture centered on traditional industries and solidarity with the rest of the United Kingdom. But this tradition has fallen into crisis in recent decades, weakened by the demise of the British Empire, the decline of religion, and Thatcher’s assaults on Scottish labor unions.
Scotland and England have evolved in very different directions over the last three decades. Under Thatcher, Tony Blair, and now Cameron, English public services have become increasingly marketized and prone to corporate influence. Scottish public services have pointed in a very different direction, championing equity and clear lines of accountability. For instance, the Scottish and English health services are now very different entities, with Scotland’s organized as one national service with targets set by the government, whereas the English system is more fragmented, being run in places by private providers and allowing profits…
February 18, 2012
PAKISTAN REACTS WITH understandable resentment to criticism of its role in Afghanistan. During the long war there it has provided sanctuary to millions of refugees. It has lost far more troops fighting terrorists than has ISAF. After September 11th 2001 it swiftly repudiated the Taliban and threw in its lot with America and its “war on terror”. In 2004 it was named a “major non-NATO ally” by America. Its territory has provided ISAF with vital supply routes and bases for attacks on suspected terrorists by unmanned drone aircraft. Many of its civilians have also died in those and other attacks. It has provided intelligence that has led to the capture of a succession of al-Qaeda leaders. And the “American” war in Afghanistan has fuelled the rise of violent Islamist extremists in Pakistan itself, the “Pakistani Taliban”, bent on overthrowing the government.
Now, too, there is a reciprocal grudge against Afghanistan. Armed fighters from the Pakistani Taliban, defeated in the Swat region of Pakistan in 2009, have set up camp in eastern Afghanistan and continue to launch attacks on Pakistan. All of this helps fuel popular anti-Americanism, which is steadily worsening. The war is a political liability for the government.
Yet American politicians seethe at Pakistan’s refusal—despite large amounts of American aid lavished on the army—to start operations in the tribal area of North Waziristan against the Haqqani network, a group that Mike Mullen, then chairman of America’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, last year called a “veritable arm” of the Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI), Pakistan’s main spy service. This year a NATO report leaked into the public domain alleged that “Pakistan’s manipulation of the Taliban senior leadership continues unabated.”
Yet even American diplomats believe that some of these charges are overstated. Having helped form, train and arm the Taliban in the 1980s (with American backing) to fight the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, and having in the 1990s used other terrorist outfits against India in Kashmir, the ISI has deep links with the extremists. But that does not make them all passive tools of the Pakistani state.
Publicly, the ISI plays down its links with such groups, mocking the tendency to see its shadowy hand everywhere. “We are a very responsible organisation,” says an ISI spokesman. “People think we are responsible for absolutely everything.” Yet at the same time the ISI somehow manages to give the impression that it has more control over the extremists than it probably does.
The army’s explanation for its restraint in North Waziristan is capacity. Roughly 150,000 soldiers are already deployed in the tribal areas; 10,000 are on UN peacekeeping missions; and 60,000-70,000 were diverted to providing flood relief in 2010 and 2011. Add in troops kept in reserve, and that leaves only around 200,000 to keep an eye on 2,900km (1,800 miles) of Pakistan’s eastern border with the traditional enemy: India.
In fact by late 2011 there were plenty of other reasons too for restraint in North Waziristan, argues Rifaat Hussain of the Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad. A severe humanitarian crisis in which one-third of the population of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas had already been displaced would have been made even worse by intervention. Divided tribal loyalties in the region might have coalesced in a united anti-army front. A relative lull in the second half of 2011 in suicide-attacks elsewhere in Pakistan might have been broken. And the army might not have won but instead got bogged down, as has happened to so many foreign armies in similar rugged terrain, across the border in Afghanistan.
The need for caution on the Indian border helps explain why Pakistan’s strategic objectives in Afghanistan seem at odds with ISAF’s. Its main goal is to thwart the establishment of any government that might align Afghanistan firmly with India. Partly this reflects its abiding fear of Indian invasion and the need for “strategic depth” to withstand it. Also, Pakistan sees the administration of President Hamid Karzai as dominated by former members of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, which was close to India and Russia. Officials in Islamabad claim India is already using Afghan territory to foment unrest in Pakistan, especially in the restive province of Balochistan.
Another reason why this does not seem Pakistan’s war is that the Taliban are dominated by Afghanistan’s largest ethnic group, the Pushtuns, many of whom also live on the Pakistani side of the frontier. And the Afghan government has never recognised the border with Pakistan dating from the British colonial era, the Durand Line. If a hostile Afghan government were to resurrect the dispute, recollecting old calls for a separate “Pushtunistan” that incorporates not just the tribal areas but most of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, Pakistan would be destabilised further.
In 2011 the continuing tensions between America’s and Pakistan’s objectives in Afghanistan became acute. From the perspectives of the American and Afghan governments, the evidence of Pakistani double-dealing became more flagrant. When bin Laden was found to have been living in Abbottabad, a town not far from Islamabad that is known for its elite military academy, it was hard to believe that no part of the Pakistani establishment was aware of his presence. After that, Admiral Mullen seemed to accuse the ISI of complicity in bloody attacks on America’s forces in Afghanistan and on its embassy in Kabul, blamed on the Haqqani network (though Hillary Clinton, the Secretary of State, later said there was no evidence implicating the ISI). Afghan politicians, for their part, blamed Pakistan for the assassination in September of Burhanuddin Rabbani, a former Afghan president involved in seeking a peace settlement…