To What Extent can Integration be Achieved in France and Britain?

Term Paper 2009 11 Pages

Politics - Political Systems - General and Comparisons


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. French and British Integration Policies
2.1. The British Model of Integration
2.2 The French Model of integration

3. Comparing both approaches

4. Conclusion

5. References

1. Introduction

France and Great Britain have dealt with immigration for many years, but represent two contrasting Integration Policies.

While the French model of integration aims at assimilating each immigrant, the British approach is a multicultural one, allowing immigrants to preserve their identity of origin, on the condition that they integrate into British society.In contrast to immigrants in Britain, who are meant to let their identity of origin co-exist with a new British identity, immigrants are expected to become fully-fledged members of societyin France; adjusting to French customs, traditions, values and attitudes. But both policies require a minimum willingness to integrate in order for integration to be successful.

To be able to comprehend that integration is a gradual process with many difficulties, ranging from insecurity about one’s identity to a feeling of complete alienation from the host society, it is important to analyse basic models of integration. In this case the opposing approaches to integration in France and Britain will be examined, trying to find a way to explain the difficulties of integration and explaining to what extent integration can be achieved in French and British society.

Finally, the conclusion will be drawn that integration is a very complex issue with both positive as well as negative aspects in both societies.

2. French and British Integration Policies

2.1 The British Modelof Integration

Before examining the British Integration Policy, a brief look at the history of immigration in Britain needs to be takento understand by which means the government tried to reduce discrimination to make room for a more tolerance.

To begin with, it is important to mention, that the largest number of immigrants came to Britain after the Second World War (1939-1945).They were either refugees, fleeing from war or persecution in their home countries, or people looking for employment in Britain.

When the “British Nationality Act” was established in 1948, allowing Commonwealth[1] citizens to travel freely to Britain, immigrants from the Caribbean and Indian subcontinent marked the beginning of post-war immigration. Of course, the British government was glad of the influx of immigrants, as they helped to ease the labour shortage in the post-war period (“Post-colonialism”, 2006; Michael McCarthy and Sam Henderson, 2006).

However, the massive rise of immigration in the 1960s was also accompanied by growing racism and hostility towards immigrants. For instance, in 1967 the right-wing extremist political party “National Front” was founded to try and put a stop to the continuing influx of immigrants.Around the 1970s this kind of racism resulted in violent attacks against immigrants, e.g. Skinheads called it “Paki-bashing” when they set out to beat up immigrants of Pakistani origin.

As a result of this racial tension, the so-called “Immigration Act” was established in 1971 to restrict immigration. In addition to this, the “Race Relations Act” was introduced in 1976 to make discrimination illegal and to spread racial equality.

In the 1990s efforts were made to integrate ethnic minorities better. A more multicultural environment began to develop with non-white Members of Parliament, the election of the first black politician and the opening of a “Muslim Parliament” in 1992 (“Post-colonialism”, 2006).

Nowadays, in the 21st century, immigrants from past generations are mostly integrated or at least accepted by their host society. A “Britishness” test for immigrants seeking British citizenship was introduced by the British government to support integration by helping the new arrivals to learn English and gain practical knowledge of the British way of life(Ben Russell, 2005).

In British Integration Policy immigrants are not expected to assimilate to British society, but only to integrate. Ideally, their identity of origin is meant to co-exist alongside a newly adopted British identity. Of course, this is not as easy as it sounds.

One of the most difficult things to come to terms with in a multicultural society is to find a balance between one’s identity of origin and a newly acquired British identity. Especially Muslim immigrants want to preserve their cultural heritage without losing the “ties with their homelands” (Parekh, 2008, p. 82).

The British society expects a basic commitment and loyalty from immigrants. To be integrated, they need to join in and participate in everyday life. It is also important to “build up bonds with some of the” members of the host society (Parekh, 2008, p. 85).

Feeling torn between former cultural beliefs and their newly acquired values is normal, but if integration goes wrong, immigrants are stuck in a “cultural limbo” (p. 85) says Parekh (2008) in his recent work about a new politics of identity. These immigrants are still “uprooted from their own community”(Parekh, p. 85), without having successfully integrated into their host society. This is when feelings of insecurity arise about their identity and a sense of frustration develops due to the feeling of not belonging anywhere (Parekh, 2008).

But above all, one must remember that the degree to which immigration is successful depends partly on the individual immigrants and to which degree they find a compromise between their culture of origin and the host society’s customs, and partly on the way the host society treats immigrants, be it with or without respect.

Moreover, one has to differentiate between two types of immigrants: the ones that come of their own free will and the ones that are forced to leave their home, e.g. refugees. Either immigration is voluntary or involuntary.

For the latter, integrating into the host society can be a great dilemma. Some of the involuntary immigrants are illiterate with hardly any education. For them to be able to fit in, a huge effort has to be made to attain British citizenship. This is only possible if immigrants are motivatedand want to integrate, but being supported by the host country is no less important.

If immigrants are forced to leave their homeland, they do not prepare for what awaits them in their host country. Apart from having to cope with many new impressions that may overwhelm them at first, they might also be traumatised by whatever life they left behind them, no matter what they fled from. So, it is not easy to integrate these kinds of refugees. If immigrants come from war-torn countries, trying to adapt to their host society will probably not be first on their list.

Especially immigrants coming from the East have difficulty integrating into Western societies. For instance, when Muslims come to Britain, they often feel alienated from society and live in “parallel communities”, instead of integrating. They feel rejected, complaining about a high level of “Islamophobia”, which did increase after the terrorist attacks in New York on September 11. Since this incident Muslims have been under more critical spotlight and the British government thinks the British Muslim community needs to make a greater effort to integrate (“Post-colonialism”, 2006).

Even though Muslim immigrants prove to be patriotic about Britain and feel a strong sense of identity with the UK (this was revealed in a report by Maxine Firth in 2004), they are always a “source of public anxiety” (Parekh, p. 100), often seen as a menace or a threat. However, according to Maxine Firth, most immigrants who were born and bred in Britain feel primarily British, as they grew up there.

In addition to this, a distinction has to be made between the different generations of immigrants.Taking a closer look at Muslims in Britain, one can say that the descendants of the first generation of immigrants often feel their primary allegiance lies with Britain. Even though they acknowledge their roots and are proud of them, they lead a British way of life and feel British, rather than seeing themselves as British Muslims. For immigrants of the first generation, who were not born and bred in Britain, it is more difficult to integrate, as their lives are still dominated by their religion.

There are, of course, also young Muslims who feel alienated from society and “lack roots” (Parekh, 2008. p. 124) in Britain, even though they were born there. These youths lead “parallel lives”(Parekh, 2008. p. 124) and get involved with drugs and crime as a result of their feeling of detachment from their parental, as well as the British culture.

Some British Muslims of the younger generation are not willing to integrate and reject the British way of life.In order to give their life meaning, they become fanatically religious and lead “parallel lives” in separate communities. For them the Islamic culture is superior and idealistic with its sharia law[2] and jihad[3] (“Post-colonialism”, 2006).Integration in Britain has not always worked out properly. The Brixton riots of 1981 and the London bombings of 2005 show just how difficult integration can be.

The riots in Brixton (London) in 1981 flared up as a response to the high rate of unemployment and the police searching young black teenagers without reason. It was a rebellion conducted by immigrants of the second and third generation, revolting against “the fact that they had nothing in society” (“News Analysis”, 2005, p.1). Theway these immigrants were mistrusted and harassed enraged them.

The London bombings in 2005 were carried out by four British Muslims who wanted to show their disapproval of Britain’s involvement in the Iraq War, as Britain tried to make Iraq more democratic. They were often referred to as “home-grown suicide bombers” (Sivanandan, 2005), implying that multiculturalism practically “bred” terrorists.

Certain elements of Islam are not compatible with western values. There is a culture clash between laws that force “women into a permanent status of inferiority” (“Post-colonialism”, 2006), while men enjoy “overwhelming power” (“Post-colonialism”, 2006) and western values, such as gender equality.At this point, the question arises whether a multicultural society has to tolerate even those values that clash with common Western values or if a compromise has to be found.

2.2 The French Model of Integration

The first attempts to control immigration in France were not made until after the Second World War. Just like Britain, France suffered from an acute labour shortage in this post-war era and needed to recruit immigrants as employees (coming from countries such as Germany and Belgium) to take action against the diminishing workforce. Shortly before and after the time when Algeria gained independence from France in 1962 after the Algerian War of Independence[4], unregulated immigration grew massively (Hamilton, Simon &Veniard, 2004; McNeill, 1998).

The French Integration Policy centres on the principle of assimilation, as the French government vehemently stresses the importance of preserving the French national identity with its three pillars of laïcité, égalité, fraternité [5] .As Patrick Gaubert, the Haut conseil à l’intégration [6] in France defines the essence of French identity:

« Se sentir français, c’est se sentir représenté par une communauté de valeurs que sont la laïcité, l’égalité, la fraternité «[7] (Bos, 2009, p. 22)

In thisquote it becomes clear how important the French national identity is to the French. Nikolas Sarkozy, the current president of the French Republic, feels threatened by immigrants who maintain their culture and religion instead of assimilating to the core values of the French identity.

His way of reacting to the supposed threat posed by immigrants was to establish a « ministère de l’immigration, de l’intégration et de l’identité nationale «[8] in 2007(Bos, 2009. p.22).

According to the French approach to integration “society cannot be cohesive and stable” (Parekh, 2008, p. 82), unless immigrantsassimilate to the common values and lifestyle of their host society, into the “national culture” (p. 83). Immigrants in France are basically expected to exchange their identity of origin for the French national identity, undergoing a kind of “cultural rebirth” (p. 83). The other option is to be excluded from common life in “parallel societies” or the banlieues[9] of large cities, such as Paris.

Nikolas Sarkozy feels that the Muslim religion is not compatible with the French national identity. For instance, he feels that the burqa[10] should be banned, as he sees this Muslim garment as a “symbol of the enslavement of women” (Majeed, 2009), which goes against the French principle of equality. Whether he is right or not is debatable, but there are Muslim women who wear the burqa of their own free will.

In Britain, for example, a young Muslim girl called Shabina Begum fought for two years to be able to wear a “full-length Islamic dress to class” (“Schoolgirl”, 2004). But she lost the battle, as the uniform has always belonged to the British school system and her particular school was fairly liberal, also allowing pupils to wear a shalwar kameez[11], as the majority of pupils at that school were Muslims. (Majeed, 2009).

The riots in Paris in 2005 were a cry for help due to a feeling of alienation from society. The protesting immigrants felt rejected by French society, even if they themselves felt to be French, having been brought up in the republic. So, even if immigrants feel to be assimilated, it does not prevent them being treated as inferior, e.g. due to their skin colour.

3. Comparing of both approaches

Although French and British Integration Policies are completely different from each other, there are also some similarities concerning both societies and general fears the societies have concerning religions, such as Islam.

In both Britain and France there is a high level of xenophobia, as in the whole world. But most of all the media takes advantage of fears concerning a supposed “threat” or menace” of Islam. News is often inflated. The riots in Britain and France were shown repeatedly on TV and also in newspaper articles (especially tabloids). The notion that we are in danger of being overpowered by Islam is exaggerated (Legrain, 2007).

Immigrants are, however, vital for every country. They enrich a society with their diversity and have helped after the Second World War to build up Britain and France’s economy.

4. Conclusion

Taking all the above mentioned aspects into consideration, one can say that integration is not only a very complex topic to talk about, but it is also an extremely complicated one. It is impossible to do justice to the issue and the individual fates of immigrants. Integration mainly depends upon the individual immigrants and their capacity to integrate.

What one can surely say, though, is that integration is easier said than done. There is no real formula on how to manage migration and integration successfully. France has the ideal of assimilating all its immigrants, due to their national pride. Britain is known to be a multicultural country, being proud of its diversity.

In both countries, immigrants may feel alienated from their host society at first and there is also racism in both societies. A smooth transition into a new community is impossible.

What is important, though, is to be open-minded, even if intercultural experiences are never crisis-free. Integration is a gradual process and does not happen overnight. It also takes patience and motivation to integrate into a new society.

Integration is a goal worth striving for, but it takes co-operation between the host society and the immigrants. The toleration of certain ethnic and religious values is just as important as self-criticism on the immigrant’s side. Mutual acceptance and understanding is the goal, which can be achieved by engaging in dialogue and respecting each other’s diversity.

6. References:

1. J.-M. Bos :La France a mal a son identité » (p.22), taken from : “Écoute” magazine (October 2009)
2. Maxine Firth: “Ethnic minorities feel strong sense of identity with Britain” , (January 2004), taken from: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/this-britain/ethnic-minorities-feel-strong-sense-of-identity-with-britain-report-reveals-578503.html
3. Sarah Hinz: “Colonial Rule- the Origin of Integration Policy”, taken from:http://www.fdcw.unimaas.nl/mesp/Papers%20(2006)/MESP%202006-01.pdf
4. Sam Henderson and Michael McCarthy: “Immigration: This island’s story”, The Independent (2006), taken from: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/this-britain/immigration-this-islands-story-413017.html
5. Bikhu Parekh: “ A new politics of identity-Political principles for an interdependent world” (2008)
6. Ben Russell: ”Introducing the Government’s ‘Britishness’ test” (2005), taken from:http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/introducing-the-governments-britishness-test-only-foreigners-need-pass-natives-can-bask-in-ignorance-513462.html
7. “Post-colonialism and migration” (2006), taken from: http://home.arcor.de/vhailor/408_FF_Fact_file_2_NRW.pdf
8. “News Analysis: Britain’s multicultural experiment goes on” from the New Yorktimes (November 2005): http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/18/world/europe/18iht-brixton.html?_r=3&pagewanted=1
9. A. Sivanandan:“It's anti-racism that was failed, not multiculturalism that failed”(2005), taken from: http://www.irr.org.uk/2005/october/ak000021.html
10. Tony McNeill: “Immigration in France: A Short history” by (1998), taken from http://seacoast.sunderland.ac.uk/~os0tmc/contemp1/immig2.htm
11. ”The Challenge of French Diversity” by Kimberly Hamilton, Patrick Simon and Clara Veniard (November 2004), taken from: http://www.migrationinformation.org/Profiles/display.cfm?id=266
12. “Sangatte refugee camp”, (May 2002) http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2002/may/23/immigration.immigrationandpublicservices1
13. “Banning the Burqa isn’t the answer”, Rushda Majeed, July 2009, taken from: http://www.religiondispatches.org/archive/international/1631/banning_the_burqa_isn%E2%80%99t_the_answer
14. Philippe Legrain: “Immigrants your country needs them” (2007)
15. “Schoolgirl loses Muslim gown case” (June 2004), taken from: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/education/3808073.stm


[1] The “Commonwealth of Nations”, formerly the “British Empire”, is an organization of fifty countries with political and economical connections, which create a community of different nations, promoting principles such as world peace and human rights.

[2] The sharia “law” is a way of life, derived from Islamic law. It puts women into a status of inferiority and makes men almost all-mighty.

[3] Jihad refers tothe devotion of one’s life to spread and defend Islam in a violent or non-violent way. Either it means living a virtuous life or fighting injustice and oppression.

[4] The Algerian War of Independence (1954-1962) began after a group of Algerian exiles formed the so-called Front de Libération Nationale (National Liberation Front) to fight for Algeria’s independence from French colonial rule.

[5] The three pillars are: separating church and state, equality and fraternalism.

[6] Patrick Gaubert is an important French advisor when it comes to issues centering onintegration.

[7] „Feeling French is feelingrepresented by common values, meaning the separation of church and state, equality, fraternity“

[8] This is a “ministry of immigration, integration and national identity”

[9] The suburbs or outskirts of a town

[10] A dress robe Muslim women wear, covering them from head to toe and only revealing their eyes, hands and feet

[11] A two-peace garment of trousers and a dress


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Title: To What Extent can Integration be Achieved in France and Britain?