Hugh Capet was crowned king in 987 and the French now look on that date as the birth of France. The country is celebrating the end of its first millennium with religious ceremonies, sound-and-light shows, medieval jousting tournaments, historical symposiums, a bit of monarchist nostalgia and souvenir bric-a-brac decorated with 1,000-year-old designs.
The intense concern with identity has come at a time of festering debate over immigrants. More than 5 million foreigners or naturalized immigrants live in France, 10% of the total population. Many are North Africans whose strong Muslim faith makes them seem difficult to assimilate. Even [Fernand Braudel] wrote that the mosques of France vexed him as "the symbol of rejected assimilation."
Then revision of the code became a symbol of discord and French citizens are no longer in the mood for discord. [Jacques Chirac] found that although the diatribes of [Jean Marie Le Pen] appealed to some French, many more listened to the reasonable, anti-racist ideas of 27-year-old Harlem Desir, a dynamic leader of French and Caribbean descent who heads a popular organization called SOS Racism. Even if many French were irritated by immigrants, most did not want a conflict over them. The French were far prouder of Desir than of the sporadic, ugly racial attacks in large cities.