Governments obviously should promote integration, as should bodies representing French Muslims. However, without absolving governments or organisations, it is individuals who have the primary responsibility for making their own lives better.
This piece is a follow up to my August piece, Integrating Muslims. The UK does better than the US (just). And both do better than France. It is of course applicable, mutatis mutandis, to British Muslims as well.
Know your objectives
Unless you decide upon what you want from life, it is impossible to achieve it. I believe that your objectives should include:
What is a Frenchman?
At least since 1789 if not earlier, France has had a clear vision of what it means to be French. It is not ethnic, although of course some people (of all backgrounds) are racist. The key components are:
I would also offer the following specific pieces of advice:
Education in technical subjects such as engineering is worthwhile for career purposes, but by itself is inadequate. You need to be as familiar with French history and with the great French intellectual and literary tradition as the white Frenchman you stand alongside.
Otherwise your claim to equality with him is not well founded. Frankly, to overcome prejudice, you need to be better educated than the white Frenchman.
Choose careers where skill is indisputable
In a country where there is significant discrimination, it helps to choose a career where there are objective measures of skill. You are far more likely to succeed as an accountant or a doctor than in general management or journalism.
Excel in individual games
In team sports, you depend upon choices made by other team members or the team manager. Overcoming discrimination is much easier in games like tennis or chess where success depends entirely upon your own efforts. Chess is particularly worthwhile, if you enjoy it, since consistently defeating white Frenchmen demonstrates your intellectual capabilities.
Embrace the national symbols
Legal citizenship is vital, even if that requires renouncing citizenship of a country of origin. Wear the Tricolore with pride, just as I wear the Union Jack. Sing La Marseillaise with enthusiasm, and celebrate Bastille Day as an important part of your adopted history.
Join mainstream organisations
Some memberships – such as becoming active in your professional body – will advance your career. Your joining one of the main political parties will automatically advance French integration. Similarly, join civil society organisations which campaign for equal rights for all citizens, and multi-faith organisations which bring people of different faiths together.
French Muslims should learn from how French Jews have successfully overcome past discrimination. Indeed, French Muslims and French Jews are natural allies about all matters concerning France (such as circumcision, halal and kosher slaughter) and should put to one side fruitless disputes about Israel and Palestine.
Dress like you belong in France
There is no conflict between dressing like your fellow citizens and retaining modesty. In no way can the dress of the President of France or the dress of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom be described as immodest.
Even though I am a Muslim of Pakistani birth, when I see a man walking the streets of the UK dressed as if he belonged in a Pakistani village, my inner reaction is one of dismay: “Here is a man telling everyone that he wishes he was not in the UK and who does not think of himself as British.” If that is my reaction, consider what people who are ethnically white British and non-Muslim must be thinking!
As a Frenchman, you should dress as your fellow citizens dress. This does not preclude following religious obligations. If you believe Muslim men should have a beard, wear a neat beard like other bearded Frenchmen. If you believe that you should wear a hijab, you can wear hijab alongside other clothing that would be worn by white Frenchwomen in senior business or political positions.
Simplify your name
Simple names are now the norm in French and British culture.
I meet too many people who, when asked for their name, give you a long string of names incapable of being remembered. The UK’s foreign minister has the full name of Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson but, apart from legal purposes, is universally known as “Boris Johnson.” Similarly. Nicolas Paul Stéphane Sarközy de Nagy-Bocsa long ago decided to become Nicolas Sarkozy. Learn from them!
In a perfect world, without discrimination, none of the above advice would be needed. Many of us seek to bring that about. However meanwhile every person has to make their own way in the real world as it is, while trying to make it better. Hence the advice.