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Monday, 7 November 2005
The French Conflagration
Opinion Journal

A week and a half of "urban unrest" in France has claimed its first fatality, the Associated Press reports from Paris:

Rioting by French youths spread to 300 towns overnight, and a 61-year-old man hurt in the violence died of his wounds, the first fatality in 11 days of unrest that has shocked the country, police said Monday. . . .

On Sunday night, vandals burned more than 1,400 vehicles, and clashes around the country left 36 police injured, setting a new high for overnight arson and violence since rioting started last month, national police chief Michel Gaudin told a news conference.

The AP adds that "apparent copycat attacks" have taken place outside France, "with five cars torched outside Brussels' main train station." Earlier, Belgian blogger Paul Belien described the European elite's passivity in the face of barbarism:

Here are today's headlines in Belgium's (only) Sunday newspaper De Zondag. Page One: "No Sign of Revolt in Belgium Yet." Page Five: "Violence Moves Towards Belgium." It almost sounds like a weather forecast, anticipating the onslaught of a hurricane that is inevitably coming.

What is happening in France has been brewing in Old Europe for years. The BBC speaks of "youths" venting their "anger." The BBC is wrong. It is not anger that is driving the insurgents to take it out on the secularised welfare states of Old Europe. It is hatred. Hatred caused not by injustice suffered, but stemming from a sense of superiority. The "youths" do not blame the French, they despise them. . . .

Unlike their fathers, who came to France from Muslim countries, accepting that, whilst remaining Muslims themselves, they had come to live in a non-Muslim country, the rioters see France as their country. They were born here. This land is their land. And since they are Muslims, this land, or at least a part of it, is Muslim as well.

A somewhat different view comes from Stephen Schwartz in the New York Post:

France has special problems with its immigrant population. Unlike Britain (where radicals dominate Islam) or Spain, the Netherlands and Denmark (where small groups of Saudi-financed Islamists operate), France faces a predicament that has more to do with Arab and African nationality and race than with faith.

France is not an upwardly mobile society when it comes to immigrants. It doesn't reward education or entrepreneurship by encouraging fair integration of Arabs or black Africans. . . .

Assimilation in France means something very different from assimilation in America. Those who permanently pledge their allegiance to France must pay a much higher price: surrender of one's own identity, and full acceptance of "Frenchness"--meaning exclusive use of the French language, radical secularism, and, typically, abandonment of most attachments to the immigrant's former home.

"We don't have the American dream here," 45-year-old Mohammed Rezzoug tells the Washington Post. "We don't even have the French dream here." The Post attributes the "rage" of "French youth" to a "fight for recognition." But other news stories bolster Belien's point about the distinctively Islamic nature of the insurgency. From Reuters:

Ahmed Hamidi, a white-bearded Moroccan electrician long resident in France, had no patience with politicians in Paris, which lies hardly an hour away but seems like another planet.

"All the politicians care about are laws for homosexuals and all those immoral things," he fumed. "They are against headscarves, against beards and against the mosques.

And from the Boston Globe:

Mahmoud Khabou, 20, the jobless son of Algerian immigrants, knows little of the world beyond the concrete housing projects that rise in bleak rows barely an hour's subway ride from the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, and other grand monuments of Paris.

But he knows who his heroes are. ''Osama bin Laden and Rodney King," he said, referring to the Al Qaeda leader and the African-American whose videotaped beating by Los Angeles police in 1991 spawned massive racial riots.

''One because he gives pride back to the Muslims," the young man asserted as he and a trio of friends stood near the charred ruins of a carpet shop. ''The other because he was just a poor man, a 'nobody man' of color, but he caused a great city to burn."

Mark Steyn sums up the geopolitical significance of it all:

The notion that Texas neocon arrogance was responsible for frosting up trans-Atlantic relations was always preposterous, even for someone as complacent and blinkered as John Kerry. If you had millions of seething unassimilated Muslim youths in lawless suburbs ringing every major city, would you be so eager to send your troops into an Arab country fighting alongside the Americans? For half a decade, French Arabs have been carrying on a low-level intifada against synagogues, kosher butchers, Jewish schools, etc. The concern of the political class has been to prevent the spread of these attacks to targets of more, ah, general interest. They seem to have lost that battle. Unlike America's Europhiles, France's Arab street correctly identified Chirac's opposition to the Iraq war for what it was: a sign of weakness.

Steyn adds: "French cynics like the prime minister, Dominique de Villepin, have spent the last two years scoffing at the Bush Doctrine: Why, everyone knows Islam and democracy are incompatible. If so, that's less a problem for Iraq or Afghanistan than for France and Belgium."

We do not believe that Islam and democracy are incompatible. It seems likely that if France had a freer economy and a more supple sense of national identity (as does a certain hyperpuissance of our acquaintance), it would be better able to assimilate its Muslim immigrants and their children. Many Americans no doubt are tempted by schadenfreude, but a better response would be gratitude that we don't have to deal with an alienated domestic population that is to some extent aligned with global jihad. All we have to do is straighten out Iraq.

Posted by heavyhandedpolitics at 6:08 PM CST
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