France’s ideals are harder to sell among diverse youth

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The meeting with a minister was to be the highlight of the event.

Ms El Haïry, 32, the daughter of Muslim immigrants from Morocco and one of the youngest members of President Emmanuel Macron’s government, could have been the wildly successful older sister of many there. But there were also clear differences. His family was well-off: his father was a doctor and went to work in Africa, and his mother and stepfather ran a restaurant in Casablanca, Morocco.

Politically, she had espoused clear and conservative positions since at least her high school years, recalled her classmates at the prestigious Lyautey high school in Casablanca, where she spent part of her teenage years. Unlike the adolescents she faced in Poitiers, Ms. El Haïry strongly adhered to the noble universalist ideals of France.

France, she said in an interview with her office in Paris, was a “chance”.

“He doesn’t look at you with your religion, he doesn’t look at you with the color of your skin, he doesn’t look at you with the position of your parents,” she said. “It gives you the chance to be a full citizen and to build yourself in this pact.”

This was not how the teenagers saw it.

One of those present was Jawan Moukagni, now 16, the daughter of a white Frenchwoman and an immigrant from a former French colony in Central Africa. As far back as she can remember, she had wanted to join the national gendarmerie, the French military police.

She grew up as a practicing Catholic, but the many West African immigrants to her neighborhood in Poitiers sparked an interest in Islam in her.

Jawan saw it from both sides. At school, where strict French secularism forbids the wearing of any visible religious symbol, some of her teachers said nothing when she wore a cross. But when she saw Muslim friends wearing a veil in public, she saw how many French people considered it radioactive.


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