Saturday, February 6, 2010

Prisoners of National Narratives.

More than other peoples, the Germans are anxious about the debt, (and have the reduction of the debt written in their Constitution) as they remember the days of the Weimar Republic and how the economic crisis led to the Nazi era.

Meanwhile the French are anxious about how religion -namely Islam- may be encroaching on their national secularism when becoming more visible (see the Burqa and Headscarf recent controversies or the National Identity debates), as they remember how religion (the Catholic church) opposed Republican ideals and freedom.

As for the Americans, they have their own national anxieties - that the government should take away their personal rights and freedom, including their rights to bear arms, which is iniquely American (including the Tea Parties), as they remember the American Revolution and the fight against a “tyrannical government” (Taxation without Representation) and as weapons played a major role in American history, including its western expansion.


No one can deny that the debt is real and may cause serious problems (look at Greece this week) or that Islam extremists have a scary political and religious agenda, or that the US Federal government is more powerful than in any other time in history.

But if you think reasonably about it, the situation in Germany and Europe has nothing to do with the 1930s, religion (including Islam) is no threat to the French Republic, and the U.S. government, as powerful as it is, is far from tyrannical (while many Americans don't like to pay taxes, they can vote and be represented).
Not only are those fears unreasonable, but they are also unique to each nation and cannot be transferred anywhere else.

So my question now is are all mere products of our history and can we somewhat escape our national narrative?

Personally, I find this a very challenging idea.
As I was listening to the opposition party leader say that she "would not accept a woman with a headscarf on one of her lists [of candidates] because religion must remain a private matter and not become part of Republic domain. You are elected and present the Republic, you represent everyone and you don’t need to show ostentatious [conspicuous] religious signs which belong to the private sphere." (here in French), I was torn.
At some level, I got it and agreed... but at another level, I suspected my views were tainted by my upbringing in French national narrative. So I have been trying to change the paradigme and find some less "national istic"view of the entire issue. After all, the French claim that their ideas from the Revolution and the Enlightenment are universal. But are they?

5 comments:

themanbehindthecurtain said...

In the U.S., and maybe elsewhere, I think that politicians and the media use sensationalism to prey on people's culture based fears.
In the U.S., its the fear of losing our "freedoms". In France, and i am just guessing, it's probably the same tactic used on the same culturally based fear (the loss of secularism).
Its definitely something I have noticed more and more over the last few years. Its sad and I think it speaks volumes about the affect "the media" has on people.

Jerome, said...

You're asbolutely right. Fear and sensationalism sell, whether in France or in the U.S. The media know it and so do the politicians. Antything to make a buck, or get a vote. That's why we have to learn to put things - including our own emotional reseponses - into perspective.

Anonymous said...

There's another big point that is the female condition. Wearing a burqa and stay hidden from other people can lead to self negation. If women do it unwillingly it's hard to stand in France in the name of freedom.
Of course our culture and education make us as we are and as we think. Fortunately life makes us change too for worse or better so personal narratives is not enough to explain fears, doubts or certitudes.
Michèle

Anonymous said...

There's another big point that is the female condition. Wearing a burqa and stay hidden from other people can lead to self negation. If women do it unwillingly it's hard to stand in France in the name of freedom.
Of course our culture and education make us as we are and as we think. Fortunately life makes us change too for worse or better so national narratives are not enough to explain fears, doubts or certitudes.
Michèle

japropos said...

Fears, doubts or certainties are universal indeed but the forms they take are shaped by national narratives. The focus of the fear is based on national obsessions.
As for the "female condition"... I wasn't trying to discuss the core of the matter - merely to say that the focus on this issue in France (which is not as much the case in other European countries- even those who have large Muslim communities) reflects France's historical conflict between the Republic and Religion.