FRANCE EN BREF
One year after the controversial debate on national identity in France, where do we stand? Murderous identities, is the title of the famous essay from new French Academician Amin Maalouf*. And it is also a scary statement.
hen Michka Assayas** got his passport stolen and went to renew it at the local municipality, he was asked to show all sorts of papers, certificates and proofs of identity. That would have been maybe quite a regular procedure had Assayas been a tourist or a foreigner on a visa visiting France. But Michka Assayas is a French citizen. So when the lady from the town hall showed him the door and asked him to go and get a proof of him being French, he just thought she was joking.
But, indeed, in 2009, when this event happened, the law changed. A passport had become a proof of identity and not a travel document anymore. And one has now to prove how she or he has obtained it. Being a former French passport holder is just not enough. So how does one justify his “Frenchness”? The answer is easy for those born in France whose parents
22 Impressions Sep-Nov 2011
(at least one) were also born in France. But, as Assayas discovers, for the others, the experience can turn into quite a nightmare. Writer Michka Assayas is born of parents having origins in Hungary and Turkey. His father was given the French nationality for great services to the French nation after the war, his mother has chosen the French nationality over her own. He was raised as a Frenchman, even if details of his mixed identity were kept like sweet childhood memories. “At home I was called Michka but back in 1958, the administration only accepted names from the Christian calendar, and hence I was Michel”. In 1998, years before the debate on national identity took place in France, ten years before the excellent Composition Française by Mona Ozouf on identity, Amin Maalouf explained very well in his essay Les Identités meurtrières (Grasset), the capacity of identities blending together. He narrates through various examples, how identities are built together, and sometimes, unfortunately one against the other. A topic also developed brilliantly by Indian author Amartya Sen in Identity and Violence, the illusion of destiny (2006, Norton). The issue of justifying his own identity leads to create more identity crisis. Why would anyone point out identity as the answer? When French deputy Eva Joly questioned the relevance of military display on the 14th of July, the first comments made by opposition and various public figures were about her Norwegian origins. Michka Assayas relates in his essay, published in June 2011, the trauma of having to look for origins, to dig for archives, birth and death certificates of his parents, and finally, acknowledge the simple fact that he was not the Frenchman
he thought he was. “I realized, finishing this book, that the brutal order given by the French administration to justify my belonging [to the French nation], has moved in me a feeling of illegitimacy hidden since childhood”. As he went out of the administration office, in fear of being called back in, with finally his new passport and a certificate of nationality, with the feeling he begged for it, he writes, “one thing is sure, till date, I will never consider myself an ordinary French citizen, because it is not true, it will never be anymore”. C.C *Amin Maalouf was born in Lebanon in 1949 and lives in France since 1976. Historian, novelist and journalist he has traveled the world and written several historical novels. In July 2011 he was honored with the seat left vacant in the Académie Française by the death of Claude-Lévi Strauss. **Michka Assayas has published several novels and authored a huge dictionnary of rock and a book with Bono from the rock band U2 (Bono par Bono, Grasset).
Available at the library: Faute d’identité, Michka Assayas, 2011, Grasset Composition française, Mona Ozouf, 2009, Gallimard Contemporary French cultural studies, William Kidd and Siân Reynolds, 2000 and 2005, Hodder Arnold L’intégration, Azouz Begag, 2002, Le Cavalier Bleu Editions The suffering of the immigrant, Abdelmalek Sayad, 1999, Editions du Seuil Les Identités meurtrières, Amin Maalouf, 1998, Grasset
The illusion of cultural identity, Jean- François Bayart, 1996, Librairie Arthème Fayard, Translation published in 2005 by C. Hurst & Co. (Publishers) Ltd
Immigration, ‘race’ and ethnicity in contemporary France, Alec G. Hargreaves, 1995 and 1999 Routledge La France dans deux générations, Georges Tapinos, 1992, Librairie Arthème Fayard Race et histoire, Claude Lévi-Strauss,1952 and 1987, Unesco