People like me–the descendants of immigrants, whether Arab, black or Asian–are turning to our roots and embracing our heritage, just the opposite of what our parents did when they arrived. My grandparents, for example, who came to France from Algeria to live, work and build a better life, accepted the role of guest. They did all they could not just to fit in but to become invisible. Calling attention to themselves usually meant trouble–endless ID and visa checks from police, racist remarks and insults–so they avoided that. They tried as much as possible to integrate, and in doing so shut away their customs, language and heritage.
I certainly don\’t belittle their choice. But people of my generation are not shy about embracing their heritage, and, far from seeking invisibility, we\’re standing up to denounce the prejudice and injustice we face. In my case, Islam is an enormous part of who I am, just as being French is. The two aren\’t in opposition or even mutually exclusive. Yet when you hear the debate in France today, you\’d swear they must be.
The people who live in projects like those where last week\’s riots raged are treated as second-class citizens. We have less access to the rights and services of the republic–schools are run down; job opportunities are remote. What we do have is a supermarket, a mall for low-cost shops, a few fast-food joints and maybe a movie complex. That\’s it. The idea is to create just enough diversion so we stay where we are. The message is, Don\’t come in to mix with the people in the city centers. That\’s what the police tell you when they stop you on a bus coming into town: \”You have no business in the center? Then you have no reason to be there. Go back where you belong.\”
Before Sept. 11, I would have said this was a kind of residual racism. The problems people had with us were due to our ethnicity, our skin color. Today, with many young people returning to religion as they start searching for their own identities, faith is becoming the difference that\’s most often pointed out. I\’m not just a black guy or an Arab anymore; I\’m a Muslim. And that\’s a code word for alien, someone who\’s determined not to fit in.
But I was born and raised in France. I\’ve been a citizen since birth. How much more French can I be? And there are many more people like me, not just Muslims but blacks, Asians and South Asians. It\’s time for the French to reject those outdated labels. And it\’s time for minorities to reject the cult of victimization too. Things aren\’t perfect. There are a lot of problems. Those problems exploded last week, unleashing the long-held resentment of people who feel unwanted, scorned and swept into the margins like so much trash. To change that, the gap between the banlieue and the rest of France must be bridged. We need to make peace with the things that make us different. I`m French, I\’m Muslim, and there are millions like me. We live here, and we\’re not going anywhere. So let\’s start getting used to it.
MAdina, 22, is a Muslim rapper from Le Havre. His latest record is Jihad: The Greatest Struggle Is Within Yourself