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The serpent's egg

France’s walled-off immigrant populations have turned mischievous and murderous

The serpent's egg

(Emma Foster/EPA/Landov)

As an innocent abroad hitchhiking through France and Switzerland in the early ’70s, I kept seeing pro and con billboards about foreign guest workers and felt like an eavesdropper to an argument Europe was having with itself over the continent’s ambivalence toward its foreign workers. 

America has its own love-hate thing between natives and noncitizens, or between inhabitants with papers and inhabitants without papers. But it would be a mistake to think the drama is similar in any but a superficial way. The French put no such value on religion as we do, being children of Robespierre and not John Witherspoon. If they ended up encouraging the spread of Islam in their country, which they did, it was not originally from love of their guests’ rights to worship but from the motive of keeping their travailleurs étrangers from becoming permanent residents. 

That is, France thought its North African labor force should go home—back to Algeria and Morocco and Tunisia—after their usefulness had been served, and they thought themselves decent enough hosts in the meantime to prepare to send them packing with their religious customs still intact. Thus the allowance and even encouragement of Muslim prayer places would evolve from that.

France’s need for foreign labor waxed and waned with the vicissitudes of history, war, and economy. In the late 19th and the 20th centuries, the low-birthrate nation put out the doormat for Italians, Belgians, and Poles, their first preference. Whereas voices in America complain about immigrants smuggling whole families in, French employers welcomed family migration, reasoning that it would curb the baser instincts of men alone in a foreign land. 

When European guests began unionizing and demanding better pay, Lady France sent suitors to her North African colonies, actively recruiting after World War I. But being loath to actually intermarry with the North African workers, they built them “workers villages” and “garden cities,” or bionvilles—shantytowns. These were isolated housing in which linguistic, cultural, social, and religious practices would be maintained, as in a hothouse. Eventually, great complexes of low-cost social housing were erected. What could go wrong?

This too is the irony, that a nation like France that cares nothing for religion should foster the most virulent religion on Earth.

Algeria’s independence from France in 1962 coincided with a marked expansion of the French economy, for which laborers were sought. From the ’60s to the ’70s (where I come in, backpack in tow) the number of foyers (in hostels) had mushroomed, and now it was not only France fostering the maintaining of cultural and national identity but the North African nations as the biggest advocates. A demand for accommodation to Muslim religion arose. The seminal mosque was a prayer room in a hostel, overseen by a “worker imam.”

William Shakespeare wrote in Julius Caesar: “And therefore think him as a serpent’s egg / Which hatch’d, would, as his kind, grow mischievous; / And kill him in the shell.” But do we ever see the menace of what will be in the harmless sleeping embryo?

Even as France was trying to divest itself of now unneeded foreign labor in the wake of the 1973 oil crisis and economic recession, and even as the climate in the country was cooling toward foreign workers, Under-Secretary of State for Migrant Workers Paul Dijoud proposed proceeding full speed ahead with maintaining separate cultural identities, including special language classes for the children of migrants, the ELCO (Enseignement des Langues et Cultures d’Origine). 

This is the irony of the French Muslim situation, that programs implemented to keep foreigners and their religion separate—to let Algerians be Algerians and Moroccans be Moroccans—the better to return to sender with good speed, became virtual laboratories of cancerous forces that would ultimately engulf the nation. This too is the irony, that a nation like France that cares nothing for religion should foster the most virulent religion on Earth.

Roughly 1,900 years before Christ, a band of 70-plus Israelites from famine-stricken Canaan showed up for help in Egypt. By the time they walked out under Moses after four centuries of incubation, they were over a million strong. In that particular case, they were not the serpent but the serpent-slayer. What is in the future is not always recognizable through the opaque membrane of the tiny egg.



  • jzepi
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 01:08 pm

    Great article. We need to wake up and learn from the effect of large populations of Muslims in France and elsewhere - like Sweden. And Nigeria. We don't want to believe it because it goes against our indoctrination as Americans not to "discriminate" on the basis of religion. Yet the fact is there to be seen if one looks honestly that Islam does not seem to bless any country where it becomes prevalent. I don't know how we're going to be able to protect ourselves from this eventually happening here in the US too unless we face up to the fact, or at least overcome political correctness enough to seriously examine the possibility, that all religions are not actually equally good.

  • Cyborg3's picture
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 01:08 pm

    Hidden life, I don't think Mrs. Peterson would question the Christian call to evangelize all peoples - even Muslims. She was examining the root causes of the problem today. One of the take aways from the article is that our polictal dealings today can have profound implications for tomorrow. We need to come to terms with the fact that the Muslim religion is a serpents egg that doesn't lead to good. This is not the politically correct thing to say but from a Christian perspective is the truth. And here I should emphasize that not all Muslims are radical at heart, though all Muslims need to be evangelized, but with some you may lose your head.

  • hiddenlife
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 01:08 pm

    Appreciated the thoughtful article here. While fully understanding the political and worldview differences separating us, I question whether the serpent word picture does anything to truly further our views. We are Christians first - which means we should see these people primarily as ones for whom Christ died; people who, many of them, are disillusioned, desperate, and trapped in a dead religion without any understanding of spiritual life and freedom. If Jesus calls us to love our enemies, can we see them as people?

  • Richard H's picture
    Richard H
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 01:08 pm

    France is showing the world the consequence of pluralism and multicultural diversity. 

  • Midwest preacher
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 01:08 pm

    The interesting thing to me is the way Islam was considered an oddity.  It was exotic and strange and not thought to be an eventual force to be reckoned with.  Islam has the ability to change to fit the situation it finds itself in.  As power grows and numbers increase the peaceful helpers become the enforcers of strict codes and the executioners of infidels.  Religious tolerance is not a conviction but a convenience is certain situations.  

  • CGK's picture
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 01:08 pm

    Dear Ms. Peterson: while it's true that French society has become more and more secular since the revolution of 1789, you might be interested to know that as recently as 1927, the Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain was writing about France's calling among nations to be the primary sustainer of the Church.  French Catholics today remember and quote the precise date that the Socialists came into power: May 10, 1981.  On Sunday, January 13, 2013, a demonstration that according to participants brought out a million people and that consisted in great part of families who had just attended Mass, spontaneously overflowed onto the Champs Elysées (which is officially off limits for demonstrations).  This phenomenon was played down by official media and went unreported in the U.S.  The government estimated numbers at one third of a million, but aerial photographs readily available online tell their own story.  The purpose of the demonstration was to protest the Socialists legalizing gay marriage.  I mention all of this because the figure you cite of 1% Evangelicals in France does not do justice to the ongoing efforts of Catholics in the country to resist anti-Christian forces.