France is the word's most popular tourist destination. 80 million people visit annually; 25 million more than the second-ranking USA, 15 million more than France's own population - who holiday in millions in their own country rather than go abroad, or have chosen to settle in France rather than in their country of origin.

So... you could be excused for thinking that something characterises France. A "national identity" that millions across the globe are able to identify, recognise the particularity of, or just see great appeal in.

Shame on you!

A debate on French national identity is underway in the French senate; justifiable, given the pressures the French model has undergone for the last two or three decades. France is a mixed economy in a world where free markets prevails; a secular republic in climate where political religion is ascendant; a self-defining nation in period where "nationhood" is under attack by transnational bodies; a positively-defined Western culture struggling against a hegemonic mindset which insists that Western culture is culpable for the worlds ills. So, good time for a debate. Yes?

No. The media is... outraged. Every day a new headline, op-ed, or analysis piece in Le Monde - the centre-left paper of reference - tells us that to even think a meaningful notion of national identity can be debated - let alone exist - is an appalling affront, a right-wing trap, a shameful witch-hunt, a sinister electoral stunt. The reflexive accusation of "nationalism" lurks implicitly or audibly in every article, and "fascism" not far below that.

This is a remarkable thing to observe. Most of all, incomprehensible. Why are the people not outraged by the media's outrage? Aside from those millions of tourists (who must be onto something) an average Frenchman picked from almost anywhere on the political spectrum has an instinctive attachment to la republique and its values. One that would cause the average liberal Brit to shift in their seat with embarrassment. Despite everything, the French are still proud of their country in a way that has become utterly politically incorrect in England. "Patriotisme" is not pejorative, here.

The media exists in a separate sphere; it's the only explanation. They are simply unrepresentative. And, predictably, the pundits that oppose the idea that a French identity can be asserted, are radically for the assertion of non-French identities - even those expressed in most nationalistic and confrontational terms. After Algeria beat Egypt in the recent World Cup qualifiers - the day of France's dubious win over Ireland - Paris was a riot of Algerian nationalist fervour. Cars skidded about with young men hanging out of them, shouting nationalist slogans in the face of everyone in their path. Green and white flags with a red Islamic crescent covered their every back, head, and car roof.

The press only fawned over this remarkable display of... "energy". They didn't have a word to say against it. (I've written about this before; the basic contradiction always strikes me.) In the obligatory comment from Eric Canotna, the whole debate is "stupid"; France is only "revolutionary". It's the tired trope of the self-hating French intellectual: be wild! be primitive!

So, some identities are apparently inadmissible, while others must be free. Strangely, the actually tolerant and free one - France's - is in the former category.

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