Nicole Bacharan is a historian and political scientist specializing in American society and French-American relations. She is a researcher with the National Foundation for Political Science (Science-Po) and a National Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University in California.
Famous for her books and her TV and radio appearances in France and the United States, she is the author of numerous essays including Faut-il avoir peur de l’Amérique ? (Should We Be Afraid of America?) and Américains-Arabes, l’affrontement (Americans-Arabs, The Confrontation). In collaboration with Dominique Simonnet, she also writes novels in the Némo series.
On September 11, 2001, live from the France 2 evening news show hosted by David Pujadas, she left a mark on French television-watchers when she said “Tonight, we are all Americans,” a phrase repeated the following day in the newspaper Le Monde.
In France, Nicole Bacharan is a radio contributor for Europe 1 on international politics, questions concerning the United States, and transatlantic relations. In the United States, she covers these same topics for The New York Times and The Washington Post, and sometimes appears on CNN and NPR.
From 1997 to 2002, she taught a seminar in English at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris on contemporary America (The New American Dream). She is also a member of the scientific committee of the Blois Historical Association and the History-Science Commission on Man and Society at the National Book Center.
Diversity or "communautarisme"? Integration the French way, Integration the American way
Many French people are convinced that, far from being united, American society is divided into communities, within which the most disadvantaged are said to be victims of constant discrimination. Depending on their origins, citizens are thought not to have the same rights, with blacks always pushed to the fringes of society. In ghetto neighborhoods, immigrants stay divided into competing groups. And the “races” are tallied up, with varying treatments and quotas applied, which in turn cultivates disparate identities that pose a threat to national cohesion.
What is the real situation? What is the reality of affirmative action, which, strangely, is translated into French as “positive discrimination”? How does it work? What are the results?
France has often denounced “American communalism” by making it the model to avoid. But does the French model work better? Is France truly the country of equal rights where each citizen is integrated, irrespective of gender, religion, or ethnicity? Is it fair, or in keeping with the republican ideal, to refuse to take into account citizen’s gender or race – which also has the effect of making it impossible to take a poll on the real situation of minorities? In the name of important principles, doesn’t France run the risk of achieving the very opposite of what is sought? The unprejudiced comparison of the French and American systems holds some surprises, and allows us to learn useful lessons for better integration.
Should we be afraid of America?
The history of French anti-Americanism predates the birth of the United States. Nevertheless, the “Bush years” have caused an unprecedented revival of this old French passion. In the aftermath of September 11, some pointed a finger at a guilty America, a source of threats and eager for confrontations. The war in Afghanistan, but still more the war in Iraq, has reinforced that hostility.
Does America conform to the image some French people voluntarily assign it: arrogant, violent, unfair, imperial, set on its convictions, so sure of its democratic model that it wants to impose it over the whole earth?
With power soon to change hands in the White House (and an election that is rousing a passionate reaction from the French), American democracy needs a truth serum, objectively and with no taboos. Does the American Dream still have meaning in the era of terrorism and war? Is religion slowing taking control? Is the country of the death penalty and Guantanamo really a democracy? Has America betrayed its ideals? Does it want to dominate the world? In short, should we be scared of it?
Franco-American rapprochement: towards a new transatlantic relationship?
For many French people, the American “hyper-power” could pose a global threat, and, as such, they believe they must keep their distance. In this way, we create the false image of a France that is different, a France that alone holds the recipe for democracy and the defense of diversity and cultures against U.S. hegemony. Breaking with that systematic defiance, the first visits by president Sarkozy to the United States were criticized as signs of allegiance.
Has France gone from independence to submission? Is it a temporary appeasement or a true rapprochement between old allies? Will the Atlantic alliance come apart under the pressure of a “continental drift” that will continue distancing the United States from the Old World? Or, on the contrary, is the relationship soundly based on shared values and interests?
Despite their differences, France and the United States share not only the same ideals (democracy and human rights) and the same problems (those of an open society), but also the same enemies. Terrorism, nuclear proliferation, violence in the Middle East, and China and Russia’s excesses do not threaten only Americans, and the United States cannot face them alone. How is it possible to even imagine an effective fight against global warming without American cooperation?
With the upcoming election of a new American president, isn’t this the time to reshape the European-American alliance and to create a new transatlantic relationship that is based on openness, balance, and clarity?
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