PARIS (Reuters) - France has not done enough to integrate its ethnic and religious minorities and needs to give Muslims a place in mainstream society, U.S. diplomats said in leaked cables published on Wednesday by a French newspaper.
Comments in diplomatic cables released by whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks and published by the daily Le Monde show frustration over France’ record in assimilating minority groups and highlight concerns the problem could be deepening.
“France not only has a problem with integration or immigration; it also needs to act to give Muslims a sense of French identity,” the U.S. embassy in Paris said in a secret diplomatic cable to Washington dated August 17, 2005.
The comments foreshadowed a wave of violent clashes in December that year between youths, many of them second-generation immigrants, and police in the gritty suburban housing projects that ring major French cities.
Television footage of burning cars and rioting youths was beamed around the world, casting a spotlight on tension between the French government and descendants of immigrant groups, many of whom belonged to France’s 5-million-strong Muslim community.
“The real problem is the failure of white Christian France to view its dark-skinned and Muslim compatriots as citizens in their own right,” the U.S. embassy told Washington in a cable dated November 9, 2005. Craig Stapleton was U.S. ambassador to France under the administration of President George W. Bush.
A succession of WikiLeaks releases has exposed the inner workings of U.S. diplomacy and revealed at-times brutally frank views of foreign leaders, prompting charges of irresponsibility from countries including France.
The cables published by Le Monde date back to mid-2005 and cover the presidencies of both Bush and Barack Obama, but there is little variation in U.S. attitudes toward France and its policies on immigrants and minorities.
“French institutions appear insufficiently flexible for a population that is growing more diverse,” said a cable from January 2010. Charles Rivkin is currently U.S. ambassador to France.
President Nicolas Sarkozy pledged to smooth relations with descendants of immigrants when he came to power in 2007. He renamed the immigration ministry to add the words “national identity” and encouraged debate on what it meant to be French.
His efforts did not hold up. In the wake of controversy over his expulsion of Roma migrants last summer, the immigration ministry was absorbed into the interior ministry and Sarkozy said efforts to promote national identity had been “misunderstood.”
U.S. diplomats said in the cables that France would suffer if it failed to build closer ties with minorities.
“We believe that if France, over the long term, does not succeed in improving prospects for its minorities and give them true political representation, it could become weaker, more divided and perhaps inclined toward crises ... and a less effective ally as a result,” said the cable from January 2010.
Reporting by Yves Clarisse and Nick Vinocur; editing by Mark Heinrich