A Feeling of Belonging
Nicolas Sarkozy's Commissoner on diversity, Algerian-born Yazid Sabeg, has been in the news recently with proposals designed to measure the ethnic make-up of the country.
His proposals will be unveiled to Sarkozy in greater detail on March 21, but the websites are already alive with criticism concerning his methods for achieving a race-free measurement of France's ethnic composition.
French speakers can hear a relatively short radio interview he gave on Europe 1 here.
While waiting for March 21, we can turn to this preview in Le Monde:
(...) Monsieur Sabeg grabbed the ball (thrown out by Sarkozy last December when he announced his intention to keep ethnic statistics) and ran with it, but took many precautions. He proposes a special committee, "very pluralistic", to examine the issue in detail and define the ways to apply the new measurement devices. According to Sabeg, the surveys will be based on voluntary, anonymous self-declarations.
It is out of the question to classify those surveyed by racial categories, as they do in the United States for example. "We will instead ask people how they define themselves, what they feel themselves to be," explains the Commissioner on diversity. "It is not about keeping files", he insists, "but on measuring discriminating factors other than social ones."
This means excluding any reference to one's birthplace, or to the nationality of one's parents or to one's family name. "At a time when we are concerned with national cohesion, it is not appropriate ("pertinent") to keep referring constantly to the origins of individuals," Sabeg points out.
Seeing as a major advancement the idea advocated by Socialists, who have introduced a bill authorizing surveys based on "a feeling of belonging" to a community, he says he is convinced that a consensus will soon be reached.
In addition to the above, those who listen to the radio interview linked above will hear Sabeg declare that "discrimination relating to ethnic characteristics has reached an intolerable level", that he now prefers the term "positive action" to the former "positive discrimination", that the Guadaloupean rebel leader Elie Domota is guilty of discrimination against a minority - the white bosses - because in Guadaloupe, as elsewhere in France, there must not be a separation of peoples, that Rachida Dati was at one time a good example of diversity, but is no longer the only example to follow (he was trying to avoid criticizing overtly her conduct, but his message was clear.)
His proposals have met with strong criticism from many quarters, including members of Sarkozy's UMP party, as well as leaders of SOS Racism, an anti-racism agency, that sees in ethnic statistics an invitation to ethnic separation.
Michèle Tribalat, is a demographer who has been vigorously advocating the use of reliable and objective methods of measuring ethnic composition for a long time. She has also written about the dangers of Islam and the oppressive nature of political correctness among the "bien-pensants" (we might say "bleeding-heart liberals"). Interested French readers can consult this long web page from Riposte Laïque, in which she discusses these and other related topics.
In a more recent interview with Marianne2, Michèle Tribalat took issue with Sabeg's ideas. Here are some excerpts:
- Yazid Sabeg wants to measure diversity. That is similar to the establishment of ethnic statistics that you have been advocating for so long, isn't it?
- No. I know what ethnic diversity is. But measuring diversity means what? Nothing. In truth it is a cover-up, fashionable today, that allows us to avoid certain words. Everyone knows that this is essentially about blacks and Arabs. Even if, in fact, the targeted categories are those enumerated in the law on discrimination.
- Yazid Sabeg explained that he would exclude from these statistics any reference to place of birth or nationality of parents. So, how will he proceed?
- I don't know. What I see is that he refutes anything of an objective nature, such as filiation. But filiation is what allows us to distinguish the generations. It is indispensable to the knowledge we are seeking. Moreover, Yazid Sabeg is forgetting that public statistics have only recently begun to incorporate questions on the parents' country of birth. It took 15 years to achieve this breakthrough. And now everything is up in the air again! (...)
- Certain opponents of ethnic statistics feel that they may bring to light truths that are not pleasant. What is your response?
- Statistics are necessary for knowledge. We must have statistics for that reason, not to achieve some expected result. I don't agree with those who refuse ethnic statistics on prison populations on grounds that the realities that would come to light - namely that most prisoners are of foreign origin - are unpleasant. Mainly because some did not wait around for statistics in order to say it was so, using estimates that were totally guessed at haphazardly. At least a real study would reduce the degree of guessing. (...)
Note: Sabeg has also announced plans to change the criteria for entering competitive high-school courses of study by emphasizing the "potential" and the "creativity" of students from the ghettoes, by favoring the "diversity of talents", by creating preparatory classes that would allow entry into technological courses, by developing work/study programs, i.e., where the students would work part of the time in a business connected to their courses - what we call "hands-on experience", with 5% of the positions in the business reserved for these students, and by promoting the use of anonymous resumés.
The photo shows Sabeg, obviously "feeling" very French (in the republican sense), next to a statue of Marianne, symbol of the French Republic.