01 April 2007

Hard-won successes for French Muslims

Hamid Senni, a second-generation Frenchman of Moroccan origin, was told by his teacher to change his given name to Lionel if he wanted to achieve anything in France. That advice has so far proven true: after getting an MBA in Sweden and a stint with Ericsson, Senni was offered a job as a travelling vacuum-cleaner salesman in France. He has decided to leave France for Britain, becoming one of 15,000 French people who cross the Channel permanently every year in search of work. In Britain, Senni runs his own consultancy, and has written a book about his experiences.

Meanwhile, Hamid's cousin Aziz Senni launched a shared taxi company in 2000, and is now a political consultant for French presidential candidate François Bayrou. He, too, has written a book about his struggles, entitled The Social Elevator is Broken... So I Took the Stairs. He counters right-wing presidential candidate Nicolas Sarkozy's slogan of "France, you love it or you leave it" with a more inclusive "France, you love it and you change it" (BBC).

Of course, nobody loses more from placing impediments in the path of immigrants and their descendants than the host nation itself. Despite the way he was treated in France, Hamid Senni dreams of returning there and doing something useful for his country. However, while he remains in Britain, France is deprived of his productive potential, exclusively through its own fault. As long as French Muslims need to package themselves as "Lionel" in order to achieve economic success (or even, simply, to get jobs that match their qualifications), France cannot escape social tensions and divisions. The way to move forward is together, and France would do well to learn from North American countries, where second-generation immigrants, at least, have a much easier time fitting in.

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