The New Inquisition

Nationinquis Apropos of recent discussions, Laila Lalami in The Nation:

In 2002 Manuel Valls, the mayor of Evry and a member of the Parti Socialiste, shot to national prominence when he tried to close down a halal supermarket because it did not carry pork or wine. He claimed the store had to “help us maintain some diversity.” Two years before his election to the presidency in 2007, Sarkozy promised he would “hose down” the “scum” of the Paris suburbs, where many of the city's Muslims reside. Declarations such as these cut across party lines and constitute what the French press euphemistically calls dérapages, or blunders.

The reactions to the dérapages are also something of a tradition. Members of the offending politician's party rally behind him, while members of the opposition call him a racist. Meanwhile, leaders of the far right gloat that–at long last!–the mainstream is recognizing something they have been saying for years. After Chirac's infamous “noise and smell” comments, for instance, Jean-Marie Le Pen, the avowedly racist and anti-Semitic leader of the Front National, gleefully insisted that the French would always prefer “the original to a copy.”

So it would seem that the perfect Muslim immigrant in France is one who cleans the house, picks up the trash, attends to the infant or, increasingly, fixes the computer, heals the sick and runs the bank, and then disappears in a wisp of smoke, before his presence, his beliefs, his customs, his way of dress, his “noise and smell” offend the particular sensibilities of the general population. France is not alone in wishing that its Muslims were invisible. As anyone who has visited Western Europe in the past few years will tell you, the “Muslim question” is a matter of grave concern.