The great exceptions to any comments about immigration and race in Europe are going to be France, and to a lesser extent, England.
It is interesting though, in this context, that the results of the survey questions used here did not show them differing much from other West-European countries.
The French do score low on insisting on a shared religion, and that is as expected, considering the essential role the notion of laicite plays in their concepts of national identity and citizenship. It is not a surprise that they show the lowest insistence on a shared religion of all Europeans, and are on a par with the Americans on that count.
But the difference is one of a minor shade. The Irish, Dutch, English and Hungarians show a barely higher value.
Meanwhile, when it comes to the insistence on shared customs and traditions, the French are actually among the less tolerant, so to say. More than half the French wants "almost everyone" to share those -- a stark contrast with the Americans and fellow-Europeans like the Swiss and Swedes, who more readily accept a diversity of customs and traditions in their country.
This makes sense, in a way. With their long-standing tradition of being a "political nation", rather than an ethnic one, and with their longstanding embrace of every man born on French soil as a fellow French citizen, they modeled the "melting pot" concept of national identity long before the Americans discovered it. And there's a certain quid pro quo involved here, which was never abandoned in France, the way it was at least partially let go in America when the "melting pot" concept was replaced by the "salad bowl" metaphor.
In America, the old, at least rhetorical insistence that everyone leave all their cultural "baggage" behind upon entering the country, in exchange for the equanimous welcome everyone received, has been much relativated over the past couple of decades. There's been at least a partial recognition of the downside of such collective cultural amnesia, and at least on elite levels the notion of America as a peaceful coexistence of a wealth of different cultural influences and traditions has caught hold.
In France, this has barely happened. Maybe because ethnic and racial minorities have not achieved anything like the kind of emancipation that blacks and hispanics, but also Italians, Irish etc have experienced in the US. In France, the only way to obtain a voice in the political, academic or business establishment is still very much to assimilate, point blank.
Part of the reason why is maybe how in America, ethnic and racial minority groups aiming to have their own, hyphenated identity recognized and empowered have had the support of at least the liberal side of the political landscape. In France, on the other hand, the leftwing parties have been among the most strident defenders of the concepts of universalism. It's probably no coincidence that it took a conservative President (Sarkozy) to appoint a Muslim to a cabinet post (and even then only one who has a long track record of critiquing the religion).
A belief in the universality of values implies equal rights for everyone, but also implies that there is to be no cultural relativism of any kind. Above all, in France, this means fealty to the secularism of the state. Hence the furor over Muslim women wearing headscarves, and the joint resistance of the political left and right to allowing any kind of public servant, whether teacher, local government employee or policewoman, such a marker of religious identity. (Crucifixes are equally taboo, if with much less emotional intensity.)
All of this makes France have a much harder time, currently, with dealing with a continuing influx of immigrants than the UK. The British are pragmatic when it comes to issues of identity; as long as you dont actively proclaim yourself in opposition to the British state, you can express your cultural Otherness in any way you want; and thus, you see Sikh bobbies with a turban under their helmet, and uniforms redesigned to allow for combining them with a headscarf. In France, on the other hand, fealty to the secular, universalist, and therefore culturally non
-specific identity of the state is a prerequisite for acceptance. I mean, this is a country where even registering ethnic backgrounds has been a governmental taboo which only Sarkozy now is breaking.
All this is awfully broad-brush, of course, and there's a great many generalisations in the above. I'm sure a French poster will soon call me to task. But it is at the root of the volatile troubles now playing out in France with the sizable Maghrebien, Muslim immigrants and their descendents, which simply have not emerged to anything like the same extent in Britain.
Basically, France's rigid ideology of non-ethnic universalism and its insistence on an official secularism that bans all expression of religious identity from the public domain have made it unable to integrate its Muslim and Maghrebien immigrants, many of whom experience these values as a deliberate and oppressive attempt to deny them their identity. Hell, it can be as basic as integration policies being misdrafted or not drafted at all simply because it's not done to count how many people of a certain ethnic or cultural group there are in the first place.
All of this to say that I disagree with Setanta's conclusion that France has a history that particularly favours its chances of succesfully adapting to an era of unprecedentedly diverse populations. Within Europe, the UK seems like a much more successful example to follow. When it comes to the policies that prepare a country for greater cultural diversity and facilitate the emancipation and integration of immigrant communities, it's Britain, like America, that's lightyears ahead of continental Europe.
The reason why is that Brits have understood that in modern times, emancipation is at the heart of successful integration. Browbeating old and new minorities into a collective, neutral mold of identity worked back when the state actually could get away with a fair degree of violence to make it so -- the building of the unitary French nation-state has been a story of blood and violence, just ask the historians of Brittany or the Southeast. But it doesnt work anymore now.
The nominal imposition of a neutral mold of societal identity on minorities, refusing any accounting for their cultural difference, when there is no more possibility to force it through with violence if necessary, doesnt lead to assimilation. It merely becomes an excuse for exclusion and neglect. They can play by our rules and assimilate and get access to our middle classes, or they can stick to their cultural difference and rot away in the banlieues.
Problem is, if you're dealing with new minorities whose loyalty to their cultural difference outweighs, in different ways, their ambition for social climbing, that's exactly what this recipe ends you up with: resentful, unintegrated, forgotten and excluded minorities, rotting away in the banlieues - and eventually rebelling in nihilistic violence.
If you want to avoid that, you have to offer those new minorities in your country who simply wont fit your universalist, 19th century mould, a way to succeed in society with maintenance of their cultural specificities. You have to afford them the chance to emancipate. Because an emancipated, upwardly mobile community will still be culturally other, but not prone to the Pied Pipers of extremism who feed on feelings of resentment and disenfranchisement. It's paradoxical but true: sometimes you have to embrace cultural diversity in order to avoid it taking on toxic manifestations.