I’m leaving France later today for London, so time for a reflection on
the most controversial current issue in France: what Phillipe de
Villiers, head of the Movement for France and rival to Jean-Marie Le
Pen for the extreme right-wing vote, last month called the
“Islamisation” of the country.

It’s 17 years since I was first in France, and there has always been a
noticeable Middle Eastern or North African presence, particularly in
the south. There’s no doubt, however, that it has become stronger in
recent years. Hence the scaremongering: not just among the real
extremists, but among mainstream politicians like interior minister
and presidential aspirant Nicolas Sarkozy, who has been playing the
race card with proposed reforms to French immigration laws.

The same demographic trend, of course, is visible in Australia as well.
Arab/Muslim countries are exporting surplus population, just as
southern and eastern Europe did before them. France, being
geographically closer and with stronger historical ties, feels the
effect more.

But what an opportunity this is! Large numbers of people from the very
countries that we in the west are most concerned about for their
supposed cultural hostility to us, are coming into contact with
secular, enlightenment culture. Following the pattern of earlier waves
of immigrants, they will get wealthier and better educated, have
smaller families, become less religious, and they will export some of
their new wealth and “western” views back to their home countries.

“But they don’t assimilate!”, cry the Mark Steyns and Janet
Albrechtsens of the world. Well no, they don’t become white or
Christian, which is what these people are really demanding. But they do
become acculturated: the prevailing culture changes them, although they
change it as well, just as their predecessors did.

Nobody disputes that immigration poses problems. But let’s try focusing
on the opportunities rather than the problems, on the ways in which
western societies can draw strength from their newest residents, and
how in turn the exchange of cultures can help change the
Arab/Muslim world for the better.