“Muslims who leave France have been disappointed with the meritocratic republican ideal”

“Muslims who leave France have been disappointed with the meritocratic republican ideal”

The publication of the work France, you love it but you are leaving it, written by three social science researchers, led to a healthy debate on the expatriation of the “French Muslim diaspora”. Following the article from New York Timespublished in French, which opened the media ball from 2022, the French newspapers adopted more or less the same tone as their American counterpart: highly qualified French people of Muslim faith would be pushed to expatriation because of the deeply discriminatory nature of the local job market simply because of the ethnic and religious origin of the candidates.

In light of the release of this important work, and based on a study that I myself carried out in 2021, which focused not on religious data but on the North African and sub-Saharan origin of French expatriates , some important points deserve to be raised and debated.

While it is not surprising that the expatriation of descendants of immigration occupies increasing attention in the media and academic debate, a nodal point should nevertheless be noted among the analyses: individuals would leave France to the sole and main reason that their identity (Arab, black and/or Muslim) would be the basis of the social and economic and therefore political discrimination of which they are victims. This strong influence of the prism of identity as an explanatory factor of expatriation then relegates the social question to the background, when it is not simply forgotten by certain commentators.

A negative perception of French reality

However, the reality is more nuanced than it seems. By focusing on the expatriation of French people with immigrant backgrounds to the Gulf countries, I chose not to place Muslim identity at the center of the analysis in the selection of people to be interviewed. Certainly, many justify their departure mainly by a rejection in France of what they consider to be“Muslim identity”.

But this expression reflects, for them, above all a negative perception of the French socio-economic and political reality. This does not mean, however, that religious data alone constitutes the primary explanation for expatriation. Indeed, the religious variable can only be disqualified on the condition of integrating much more relevant and general variables such as the social origin of the actors.

These French expatriates certainly qualify as Muslims, however with very heterogeneous degrees of religious integration, but they remain above all the grandsons and granddaughters of immigrant workers. Their criticisms and their unease are therefore a resounding reminder of the structural tendency towards a relative social reproduction of French society to the detriment of the lowest social strata. These French people are thus experiencing this long-established reality head-on and with greater force. What we must therefore remember from the negative perception of the social reality of these expatriates is rather the persistent unease between them and the rest of French society.

Class defectors?

Once the religious variable has been put back in its rightful place in relation to social data, one element deserves particular attention to understand what pushes some of the descendants of the most qualified immigrants to expatriate: the notion of social capital and the importance of the network as a career facilitator. Indeed, these French people still encounter too many difficulties in reaching the highest social positions despite their training and their high qualifications.

Despite their undeniable social advancement, it is here that the greatest frustrations are found which push some to expatriation, perceived as the only possibility of circumventing these pitfalls. These candidates for expatriation then leave disillusioned after having believed in the meritocratic republican ideal. The question of access to networks is therefore at least as important as that of origins or real or supposed religion.

Access the best positions

These expatriates share, with a portion of working-class French people of non-immigrant ancestry, access to a social and professional network which is not sufficiently extensive to be mobilized with a view to accessing the highest positions. The in-depth study of the social and professional trajectories of these French people shows, based on the work of American sociologist Mark Granovetter, that their networks are not yet sufficiently efficient and diverse to allow them to reach these coveted positions.

They thus see these positions, objectively within their reach from a skills point of view, slipping away from them in favor of individuals with equivalent – ​​or sometimes lesser – skills but with much more established, long-standing and solid social capital. This great source of social frustration – otherwise legitimate – clearly undermines the ideal of meritocracy that they have perfectly integrated. Religious and/or ethnic origin therefore becomes an “aggravating” circumstance, but neither the main nor the most central.

Social or identity variable

Expatriating means reshuffling the cards and offering yourself a wider and, above all, faster field of possibilities. And this observation can also be made for French people without a link to immigration or to Islam. The detailed study of the state of integration into existing networks or the creation of new ones remains an exciting field of investigation. There remains to be explored for research, it is still necessary to put forward a social focus rather than systematically granting primacy to the identity variable.

The release of the work France, you love it but you are leaving it and its echo in society therefore represent a good opportunity to deepen and broaden the areas of reflection, thus ultimately overcoming the dangerous question of identity in the public debate. This will help to appease people and strengthen the French social model in which everyone can find their rightful place beyond certain determinisms.

It now remains to be seen how the political class will take up (or not) this debate so that France continues to benefit from all its skills from the school of the Republic.

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