French Identity Crisis

When you think of French stereotypes, what comes to mind?








A man dressed in the French Stereotype

A man dressed up as an exaggerated version of the French stereotype.


Yeah…probably something a little bit like this guy ——————————————————————->


Well, let me tell you something. I have been to France, and while these stereotypes do occur (okay, so maybe the beret is a bit of an exaggeration), they are not usually all found together, on a single human being. And although these may be attributes of some French people, I dare not say that any of them are exclusively French. Let’s face it; people around the world smoke cigarettes and drink wine, so long as it fancies them.

This leads me to the question, if we cannot identify a modern French man  by his red beret and absurd mustache, then how do we determine who is truly French? And what makes somebody French as opposed to something other?

This is a question that I have been wrestling with all semester, and over and over again I have come to the conclusion that you’re of course French if you are a citizen, but furthermore “frenchness,” so to speak, can also mean that you have grown up in France, that you identify with some aspect of the culture, and that it is your home. My opinion, however, is just one of many, and so I feel that it is important to see what others are saying.

We’re in luck! It just so happens that French people, whether consciously or not,  are asking themselves the same question. Furthermore, it is apparent as French current events are plagued with stories of the conflict that arises between different French ethnic identities, in particular between those of European descent and those of North African descent.

A few weeks ago it was the liberal news journal, Charlie Hebdo, to rile up the public about Islam in France with racy charicatures of the prophet Mohammed, while this past week the conservative youth movement, Génération identitaire has stolen the extremism spotlight.

A couple of weeks ago, Génération identitaire posted a nationalistic “Declaration of War” video that calls for a revival of  (European) French Identity, stating things such as,

We are the generation who gets killed for glancing at the wrong person, for refusing someone a cigarette, or for having an ‘attitude’ that annoys someone. We are the generation of ethnic fracture, total failure of coexistence, and forced mixing of the races.”

Honestly, it’s probably best if you just see the video for yourself.


Video put together by the French youth movement, Génération Identitaire

This past Saturday approximately 70 protestors from Génération identitaire acted on their nationalistic sentiments by storming an unfinished mosque in the town of Poitiers, displaying a banner that read “732 Generation Identitaire.” (Arabian Business)

Generation Identitaire Storming mosque in Poitiers, France

Generation Identitaire occupying the roof of a soon-to-be mosque in Poitiers, France

And in case you, too, were concerned about the meaning of the number 732, the group has stated that it refers to the year of 732 in which Charles Martel, a leader in the medieval French army, halted an Arab invasion of Poitiers.

I must say that the video made by Génération identitaire as well as their occupation of the mosque not only struck me as bigoted, but also as bizarre. I was not alone in this conclusion as the following quotes from various French authorities can attest .

“We are thunderstruck … these are people who are stuck in the year 732, and who don’t see that the world has changed. People can live differently than in a mindset of war and conflict.”

–El Haj Boubaker, an imam from Poitiers

“A hateful provocation”

–France’s Interior Minister Manuel Valls

“What they did was scandalous. They basically declared war against Muslims in France. These groups are dangerous because they promote hatred. We have asked the government to prevent them from publishing their intolerable propaganda.”

–Bernadeye Hetier, Co-President of MRAP (Movement Against Racism)

Truth be known, I agree with all of these statements, especially the one about the year 732. In my mind, it seems silly, of all things to write on a banner that will be displayed in images world-wide, the date of a halted arab invasion from hundreds of years ago. If anything, it proves to me that Arab peoples have been in Europe and had contact with the French for centuries and therefore their ancestory in France is not, as some may call it, an “invasion of recent times.”

And along this same line, how is it logical to accuse North Africans of taking over French land when in fact it was actually the French who colonized their land first? For this reason the mindset behind the Génération Identitaire seems rather contradictory to me.

And finally, I believe the words and actions of the Génération Identitaire are insufficient. They claim to support a “true” French identity, however they are not able to pinpoint what exactly French Identity is.  They are only able to show what they believe is not French, and that is Islam. For example I am sure that the Génération Identitaire would not accuse Napoleon Bonaparte of not being French, even though he had Italian ancestry, but then again he was Catholic. What’s up with this!?

Clearly I have a lot of thoughts about this, but I realize that it’s only fair to bring in their perspectives of others, so without further ado, here is what supporters and critics of Génération Identitaire have had to say about the video and mosque occupation:

“These white youths in France have had enough of multiculturalism and third world invasion and are taking a stand for their culture and heritage. Good for them.”

–Author of

“These guys smell wrong to me. It’s probably just because they’re a product of a different culture and a different language, but after watching that video and glancing at their site, I get the feeling that G.I. is some kind of performance-art stunt to expose fascism’s latent support. Their graphic design and production values are too good.”

–Lawful Neutral, a commenter on

“I got goosebumps when I watched this the first time…However…I am struck by how much they sound just like the 68ers they denounce.”

Nicholas Stix, Uncensored 

“Violence against white people is rampant, these anti-racist leftists don’t care about white people it’s simple as that. It’s so sad that whites are doing to this to themselves and future generations. How can we educate them?”

–angrywhitewoman, commenter on

“You can bet once the muzzies achieve high enough numbers this ridiculous display of “tolerance” will be deeply regretted. What they can’t do with guns and bombs they will accomplish with babies . . .”

–C Smythe, commenter on

Though I have tried, condensing what is currently happening in France into clear, concise points seems impossible. I will conclude in saying that there is no real way of telling who is and is not French at face value. It’s just not possible. However, the deep-rooted xenophobia that runs through the veins of traditional French culture makes Muslims an easy scapegoat because women in particular, are marked by what they wear, and easy to identify as being different. No matter what conclusions you make on your own, I think one thing is clear: This issue is relevant because week after week in French media, the national identity is being challenged by incidences such as the mosque occupation of Poitiers.