France’s identity crisis, a tale of French Moroccan self-discrepancy

By Hicham Sabir

France’s response to fear today is similar to that of the US after 2001: war, Islamophobia and an identity crisis; except it's doing it with a touch of absurd “je ne sais quoi”: schizophrenic self-destruction, forced eroticism and conservative revolution.

As a Moroccan who moved to France, it didn’t take long to figure out my nationality had a coolness deficit. It might sound exotic here in San Francisco, but besides some short-lived pride during the Arab spring, being Moroccan in most places in Europe boxes you in with the violent drug dealers, gang leaders or welfare abusers. And even if you’re not one yourself, you still have a funny accent, you’re a statistical threat on the streets, you don’t get the concept of privacy and you’re most likely Muslim.

But being from Northern Africa has never been more uncool anywhere anytime than last year in France.

A Kafkaian schizophrenia

First, you’re likely holding the same nationality as the guys who killed journalists in Charlie Hebdo, gunned down tens of 20-somethings at a hip terrace near canal Saint-Martin, even more inside the Bataclan concert hall and drove a truck into a festive crowd in Nice. Given that those are the most fatal terrorist attacks in France in… ever - that’s a disturbing connection.

The schizophrenic drama about this tragedy is that you also hold the same nationality as those who were gunned down at a hip terrace, shot at Bataclan and hit by that truck on the riviera, since many of them were Moroccan too.

To make things more traumatic, I’m also French; which has a much higher coolness rating. It doesn’t matter if you are grumpy, unwilling to speak English and chauvinistic; French is sexy, your accent is cute, food is great, and you have Edith Piaf (and Daft Punk). And because you’re cool and the victim, the world is on your side, the world is Paris, the world is love.

However, since the last couple of months, you also have declared and prolonged state of emergency, declared war on terror, stigmatised Arabs, stacked illegal immigrants in the Calais “Jungle” and eased preventive detention rules. All this unleashed an unprecedented Islamophobic discourse that flows in the media, amongst politicians, crowds and friends.

To summarise, the evil Arab guys (whom were also French) have attacked the cool French guys (amongst which many were Arabs) that are turning into dangerously scared bad guys.

And then came the Burkini

If you’re a traditional Muslim woman who decided to wear a veil, going to the beach can be… tricky. You’re wearing this annoying headscarf all day long to cover your hair from the sight of testosterone-filled men living by their animal reproductive instincts; so exposing ninety percent of your body by wearing a bikini is not really your thing. Until the invention of the Burkini, you had two options: don’t go to the beach, or dive in with your clothes on. But as the porn industry found out a long time ago, wet clothes is the new naked. And after showing your beach selfies to your friends you realised that the headscarf you were wearing wasn’t what attracted their attention.

So you need a plan B. Something that covers everything without becoming “sexy-wet” in the water. Difficult? Not with the power of conservative fashion. See for yourself.

Because wearing this horrendous piece of clothing makes you a terrorist, cities along the French Riviera have passed a law forbidding Muslim women to go to the beach dressed in it; setting the stage for the upcoming The Republic Fights the Return of Bazine Netal by Jar-Jar Binks.

 Bazine Netal wearing a burkini in Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens - All credits go to Lucasfilm and Disney

Bazine Netal wearing a burkini in Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens - All credits go to Lucasfilm and Disney

But why limit it to burkas and burkinis? How is it different from djellabas, kaftans and headscarves anyway? As it appears, for some French beach-goers and policemen, it isn’t. And that’s how, in France in 2016, women wearing djellabas on the beach are given tickets by the police for not “wearing an outfit respecting good morals and secularism” — read “a bikini”. Add to these scenes the sweet sound of the crowd cheering “Go back where you come from!” to someone who’s been in France for three generations and you’ll get a feel for the ambiant hysteria.

Since then, the Human Rights Leagues went to the Highest Court and managed to suspend the ban. But it’s all too late: it sent the message that “yes, it’s ok to tell a minority what it has to wear” and helped Muslim extremists’s call to moderates to stand up against this society that doesn’t accept them.

Fuelling both sides of radicalism

While growing up in Morocco, I was at worse atheist, at best not interested in religion. And in a country where most cultural aspects and societal rhythms have a religious origin, I didn’t always fit in. Freedom of faith is as abstract an idea as gay marriage or nudism and outside of very rare exceptions (Jewish communities), every Moroccan is Muslim, from birth and by decree.

In that context, the “we” for my teenager self was the oppressed, the rebellious atheists and the progressivists, always surfing the boundaries of public morality and personal convictions.

Since France’s identity crisis, I realised that the woman lying on the beach, forced to take her clothes off, could be my aunt; and that I bear a striking physical ressemblance to the tens of thousands suspected of adhering to radical ideas. Perhaps even more painful, life-long friends have argued that “most Arabs were likely to become terrorists” and that Islam was the root cause of violence and had to reinvent itself. “But I’m not talking about you here, you’re not like that” was the counter argument to my shock and surprise.

The absurd effect of Islamophobia and stigmatising is that even the most moderate atheist not-interested-in-religion is pushed to the side with the religious group. The more this debate goes on, the more it strengthens our Moroccan and Muslim identities, feeling the “we” is on the side of the oppressed, the religious few and the minority facing the hateful mob.

Dear France, please, chill the f*ck down

Dear France, with a government that’s unable to stabilise unemployment, a raging war in Syria and Iraq, an unprecedented refugee crisis and the possible explosion of the European Union, I’m sure there are more important issues to discuss than summer fashion. In the same way Italians, Spanish and Portuguese have immigrated to France through the 20th century and are now fully part of society, Moroccans, Algerians and Tunisians are likely to follow the same path. And while I understand the cultural and religious clash, Maghreb immigrants have lived in France for the last fifty years, initially brought by post-war French policies. So it might be time to get over it, and broaden your definition of secularism beyond Christianity.

Dear France, please understand that your assimilation model of ethnic minorities might have reached its limit; especially amongst a population that is statistically poorer, parked in ghettos and in search of a new identity. Many of your children of Moroccan descent consider Morocco as the true country of their heart. Instead of showing them they’re the black sheep of the family, give them time to realise they barely speak Arabic, have only been there on holiday, do not understand its social dynamics, that they’re considered aliens there, and they’ll run back to you.

Dear France, chill down and find a mission we can all feel connected to. Maybe all those wars against Arabs and Muslims weren't the best idea. Maybe, forbidding our aunts to go to the beach wasn’t the best reaction. Nevermind, everyone makes mistakes. Those around us who say they don’t love you have never said “I love you” to anyone. But they will eventually, one day.

Hicham Sabir is a new Are We Europe contributor. He is Moroccan-French, and currently lives in San Francisco in the US. He writes down his own "random thoughts from a socially-conscious millennial Moroccan European intrapreneur who loves to dance. He has ambitions to make Europe this strong human union it once aimed to be. Reach out to @hichamsab. 

This blog was first published on his Medium page