Rafia Zakaria in The Baffler:
I HAVE NEVER FELT WELCOME in France. From the sneer on the face of the immigration officer stamping my passport, to the in-your-face staring of black-clad middle-aged women on the metro, to the standoffish workers in Parisian bakeries—it all adds up to a collective face-palm. They’re forced to let me into the country because of my magical American passport, but that doesn’t mean they have to be nice about it. I know the reason; traveling to France and being treated well is yet another exercise of white privilege, one open to all the fresh-faced English and French majors at American universities, and all the social-climbing women hoping to live some version of the I-found-a-French-lover/bakery/apartment-that-I-cannot-live-without. It’s not easy to explain to these uncritical consumers of a Fantasy France that the country is a racist and bigoted hell for those born sans white privilege. Americans have invested a great deal in anointing the trip to Paris as a ritual that endows the taker with the chic they so desire.
In the past several decades, but particularly in the past few months, France’s two-faced truths have been exposed in all their grimace-inducing reality. On February 16, the French National Assembly passed a bill, originally termed the “anti-separatism” law, that would allow the state to intervene and shut down any religious or community organization that it found wanting in its commitment to French secularism. The legislation, which is now under consideration in the Senate, mandates further scrutiny of homeschooling—a method many French Muslims have resorted to so as to educate girls who are not permitted to attend regular school because they wear the headscarf. The legislation will bolster the French state’s ability to impose its version of secularism—what they call laïcité—on everyone they dislike. France’s Muslims, who make up about 8 percent of the population and are widely stigmatized as being potential terrorists, are the targets. Absent entirely are any plans for the French state to confront how racism contributes to religious violence in France.