More than 2.5 million people participated and marched in the unity march in Paris Sunday.

Yesterday, Paris was the capital of the world. All eyes were on the different groups that marched today: the international personalites and politicians who marched arm in arm with French President François Hollande; the beleagured and mourning colleagues of Charlie Hebdo; the family of the victims of the Hyper Cacher kosher grocery attack and the policemen killed; and all the rest of the marchers.

The French and the world forgot for just a day that the French president's ratings were at the lowest levels of the executive office, that unemployment was high, that France's debt ratio to gross domestic product (GDP) was not in line with the EU's standards and that division in society is at a critical level.


Having lived in France for more than 20 years, I have been privileged to have a front-row seat to the evolution of France and its role in the international community and at home. France is a multicultural society and has taken in more nationalities and refugees and asylum seekers than probably most European nations. Its generous social programs make it a prime destination for most migrants.

But France has been overwhelmed by all these nationalities, which has certainly contributed to a very rich cultural diversity in the county but has also contributed to a very wide division between Old France and New France. You just had to look at the political side of the demonstration and the popular side of the crowds. You just had to look at the signs indicating religious or cultural affiliations. It is striking to listen to French people interviewed as to why they were there. Very few of them had ever read Charlie Hebdo.

This is indeed a watershed moment for France and for its political leaders to capture this moment and take on and face the cultural and religious cleavage that has resulted in poor integration policies, which have in turn marginalized large swaths of minority populations living outside Paris and big cities in banlieues — where even police forces can not go. Maybe this is why more French citizens are fighting in jihad (more than 950) than any other European nationality. Their economic opportunities are nonexistent as is their integration into mainstream France. Could it be that the French woke up today and came out today to be part of this massive, civil movement to bring about change in the country? Will the people finally become actors in a country where government is 57 percent of the GDP?

Certainly, security should be beefed up, but it is not for security forces to begin a very important dialogue amongst the French, be they Jewish, Muslim, Catholic or atheist. It should be by the French, for the French.

One should not be identified by his relgion but by his nationality. Has globalization pushed us into a cultural and ethnic divide, with the precedent being Kosovo?

This piece has been updated.

Wasylina is the president and founder of the Observatory of the Black, Gulf and Mediterranean Seas.