Migrants in France

Study Does Not Confirm Notion of a Growing Re-Islamization

The Center for the Study of French Life has conducted a soon-to-be-published survey on the political behavior and the social values of French people with a migrant background. Bernard Schmid had already had a look at it

Grand Mosque, Paris (photo: Arian Fariborz)
Of those who declared themselves Muslim, only 21 percent said that they attend a mosque regularly, meaning "once or twice a month"

​​"French just like the others?" This is the title of a study by the Center for the Study of French Life (Cevipof) which will be published in France this November. Since early summer twenty copies of the study have been handed out to the press and to government bodies.

The researchers' aim is to find out about the political behavior and the social values of French people with a migrant background. The selection of those surveyed – first, second and third generation immigrants from Maghreb, West Africa and Turkey – shows that the study is focused on migrants with Muslim heritage and their descendants.

Islam as main research factor

This connection to Islam is not made explicit by those who carried out the study, but it is obviously the factor that lies behind several of the questions asked.

Those surveyed were all French citizens. This "representative" group, a total of 1,003 people who fit the given criteria and were then chosen from a large list of candidates – the researchers had 28,000 telephone numbers at their disposal – were interviewed in April and May 2005. The control group was made up of 1,006 French citizens who were not of migrant background.

Co-author Vincent Tiberj says that the comprehensive study – 159 pages long – "questions some of our prejudices."

Indeed, the study sets out to test many widely held ideas and prejudices. The results do not confirm the recent notion of a "growing re-Islamization." Twenty percent of those French citizens of migrant-Muslim background surveyed understand themselves as "without a religion" (in comparison with 28 percent of the French group of non-migrant origin).

Of those who declared themselves Muslim, 21 percent said that they attend a mosque regularly, meaning "once or twice a month." Only 5 percent say that they would like to send their child to a "private Koran school."

On the other hand, 80 percent of those who declared themselves Muslims fast on Ramadan – a reality that is increasing among the younger generation in comparison with their parents' generation, but which can also be read as the expression of a desire to belong to a group and to show solidarity with others who fast.

Migrants' weak tie to religious institutions

Eighty-one percent of this group also declared that they would like to make a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once during their lifetime. It can thus be said that this group holds onto the strongest symbols of identification, but in everyday life a weak tie to religious institutions prevails.

This figures are largely in agreement with the results of the last large-scale study of Muslims in France commissioned by the Paris evening newspaper Le Monde in September 2001.

At that time, 21 percent of those surveyed – in this case inhabitants of France with a Muslim family background – attended a mosque regularly. Twenty-one percent said they were not religious ("without a religion" or "having at most a Muslim family tradition"), 42 percent professed to be "religious, but non-practicing" and 36 percent "religious and practicing."

The issues of marrying and homosexuality

As regards social values, 65 percent said they would not have a problem with one of their children marrying a non-Muslim partner. But 39 percent were "not in agreement" with the statement that homosexuality is "an acceptable form of living out one's sexuality."

In the test group of those with non-Muslim backgrounds, the number for this figure was lower, but among French society at large it also seems to be the case that over 39 percent harbor homophobic ideas or prejudices, as can be seen in the figures concerning questions on the right of gays to marry.

Prejudices against France's Jewish population

The study found that the "Muslim" group has strong prejudices against the Jewish population in France, as 39 percent of them (compared to 21 percent in the control group) agreed with the statement that Jews have "too much power in France."

This disquieting figure is not necessarily identical to anti-Semitism, but rather an expression of a "competition between minorities for social recognition" which has become a reality – some immigrants and their descendants reproach Jews for their status as a recognized minority, accusing them of thereby monopolizing the role of the victim and the special need of victims to be protected from discrimination.

Political affiliations

Concerning their relationship to political life in France, the French of Muslim-migrant background tend more toward the various parties of the left than the "native French."

Seventy-six percent of the first group declared that their own ideas are "close to" those of the leftist parties (social democrats, CP, Trotskyists), compared with 54 percent in the control group.

The main reason for this can, of course, be found in the social composition of the migrant population, in which workers and those with "simple" jobs are more dominant than France's overall population.

When compared with those voters who have a similar social background, the differences on this question tend to disappear.

Bernard Schmid

© Qantara.de 2005

Translated from the German by Christina White

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