Last week, Erik Bleich and Rahsaan Maxwell wrote that Muslims in France have been largely successful in integrating into the nation. However, two days later, Kim Yi Dionne argued that "things are looking pretty grim" when it comes to Muslim integration into France. Both pieces are correct. How can this be?
This apparent paradox is caused by the word "integration," which has taken on a very particular connotation in French political discourse. The social scientific definition of "integration" refers to a dual process whereby immigrants embrace and become invested in their new home and are, in turn, accepted as equals by those who were there before them. In French political discourse, however, the term "integration"generally loses the reciprocal connotation. Here, a "failure of integration"refers lopsidedly to the inability of immigrants to assimilate into local customs and attitudes, consequently retaining markers of social difference that set them apart.
The central point Bleich and Maxwell make is that French Muslims identify with and participate in their nation. They are, according to the first sense of the social science definition, an integration success. Dionne stresses, however, that French Muslims remain "unintegrated" in the second sense: they are still socially and politically marginalized, suffering from discrimination in terms of employment, housing, and even treatment in school — all three of which I highlight extensively in my book "Constructing Muslims in France," which is free to read under creative commons licensing.