A French Minister has urged her compatriots to learn from Britain how to treat minorities.
Yamina Benguigui, Minister for the French language in Francois Hollande’s new government, and a Muslim, caused a stir when she held up Britain’s spirit of tolerance as a template for her country. In France, which has banned the veil, xenophobic parties like Marine Le Pen’s Front National flourish. Benguigui, who is of Algerian descent, points out that the French do not try “to integrate any sort of immigration from the former colonies”.
Benguigui’s praise of Britain was vindicated by a large scale study on identity which shows Britain’s Muslims feel profoundly patriotic. Popular misconceptions about ethnic groups being unwilling or unable to integrate are total fiction, the Institute for Social and Economic Research and the Institute of Education findings prove. The survey, “Understanding Society”, tracked 40,000 households — including 10,000 from minority backgrounds.
British tolerance pays: rich Arab Muslims, who traditionally holiday abroad to escape the sweltering (40 degree heat) summer of their homelands, no longer go to France because of its veil ban; and no longer feel safe in a Middle East engulfed by the Arab Spring rebellions. Britain, and in particular London, offer a haven for the super-rich from Saudi, Qatar and the UAE — and their money. Last year, Arab summer visitors spent £120 million in the capital alone.
Benguigui believes that France could benefit from studying the Anglo-Saxon approach to minorities. “We don’t have a culture like you do of simply letting communities live together,” she said. “You can pronounce the word community without it being a dirty word.” If her compatriots listen, France too could benefit from what one newspaper calls the “Ramadan gold rush”.