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"The immigrant is the emblematic figure of difference"

Jean-Marie Delarue, a senior civil servant, is the president of the National Consultative Commission on Human Rights (CNCDH). He comments on the main lessons of the "Racism 2018" report.

Tolerance vis-à-vis minorities has increased by 13 points between 2013 and 2018, it is unpublished. How do you explain it?

When you are rubbing yourself with strangers, you have reactions of rejection, then, after a while, you get used to the other and the other gets used to you. Concerning the Maghreb people, there was a massive rejection at the beginning, especially because of the Algerian war, and then, as people learned the French language, the families settled, in terms of the number of children, for example, on the host population, a phenomenon of acculturation, as sociologists call it, was implemented. This leads to tolerance because we know each other better and we are more and more like each other. The same is true in other European countries, but in France school plays a considerable role. There are also particular effects that are poorly measured, such as working solidarities, very strong in the workplace. But all this remains fragile, it is a movement back and forth, which certainly is continuous for five years and this is a good sign, but a brutal event or the eruption of populism in the public debate can weaken the propensity to tolerance.

What is tolerance?

Paradoxically, one is more tolerant under a right-wing government, in reaction, whereas when one is under a government of the left which is openly displayed in favor of the immigration, the tolerance is reduced a little. The immigration issue is central. Paradoxically, even immigrants who have been living in France for a long time are quite resistant to immigration. When people see a cohort of Syrians arrive, there is a kind of stiffening. In recent years, we have been quite closed on immigration in France and the tolerance index has not changed. In Germany, where the reception was massive, there was a tension. Be careful, I do not advocate at all for an immigration control, but I note that the major fact around this index of tolerance is whether there is or not a lot of immigration.

There are groups that are well accepted, but on which prejudices remain deeply entrenched. This is the case of blacks and Jews. It seems paradoxical …

These two elements are not incompatible: there is indeed a majority more tolerant but also a minority more and more intolerant, ready to fight. She stiffens herself against people she does not recognize as hers. As to say what explains it, it's difficult. We would tend to wonder if education is well done, but we must also be vigilant about the Internet. There are many pseudo-scientific sites. They are worthless but support the prejudices of people who sometimes act. Some engage in aggression, as when they compare Christiane Taubira to a monkey …

People swinging pork blood on mosques or synagogues are trying to provoke violent reactions to "prove" that Jews and Muslims are not "like us".

What is the responsibility of the media and politicians?

In the racist phenomenon, the justifications are very important. They find a part in deep convictions but also in public discourse. When a former president talks about the smell of immigrants, it's absolutely devastating. The immigrant is the emblematic figure of difference, which concentrates all the tensions. When we hold "ascientific" speeches on a reception threshold that is exceeded, or when the Minister of the Interior compares NGOs to smugglers, this reinforces these beliefs. It's devastating. The government is urged to be exemplary.

Kim Hullot-Guiot

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