"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Friday, November 04, 2005

French Riots—A Wakeup Call

One could have been forgiven, at first, for thinking that the riots in the suburbs of Paris—which have blazed for more than a week but seem to have died down recently—were the work of bored French teenagers. News reports downplayed—cynics will substitute the word suppressed—the fact that the rioters were Muslims. The riots arose as a result of the deaths of two youths being chased by police on Oct. 27; the boys were electrocuted while hiding in an electric power substation.

The riots were severe. Today's AP report notes,

In the troubled region of Seine-Saint-Denis northeast of the capital, arson attacks destroyed 187 vehicles and five buildings, including three sprawling warehouses, said the region's top government official, Prefect Jean-Francois Cordet.

However, Cordet said in a statement that police reported seeing fewer large groups of youths rioting and, "contrary to the previous nights, there were fewer direct clashes with the forces of order."

A commuter train line that links Paris to Charles de Gaulle airport northeast of the capital was still running a scaled-back service Friday after two trains were targeted Wednesday night. The SNCF train authority said one in five trains was running and conductors of night trains were demanding onboard security.

Youths fired buckshot at riot police vehicles in Neuilly-sur-Marne, further east, and a group of 30 to 40 harassed police near a synagogue in Stains where a city bus was torched and a school classroom partially burned, said Cordet.

A bus depot was set on fire to the west of Paris in the town of Trappes, incinerating 27 buses, authorities said.

The unrest was scaled-back from the sometimes ferocious rioting of previous nights. In overnight clashes Wednesday, rioters in three towns fired live bullets at police and firefighters, none of whom were injured.

The AP story ends with a brief reference to what is behind the riots:

The rioting has grown into a broader challenge for the French state. It has laid bare discontent simmering in suburbs that are heavily populated by poor African Muslim immigrants and their French-born children, many trapped by poverty, crime and poor education.

France's Muslim population, an estimated 5 million, is Western Europe's largest. But rather than being embraced as equal citizens, immigrants and children often complain of police harassment and job discrimination.

The discontent to which the article refers had been "laid bare" long ago, but alas both the French and the rest of the Western governments have been firm about ignoring it. Muslim immigrants in France and the rest of Europe have shown little interest in integrating with their host cultures, as is well known. However, those who have citizenship in their host countries (either by birth or naturalization) have a real grievance against any persons or institutions that have shown prejudice toward them, and fair treatment and equal opportunities for all citizens are necessary elements of a decent society. It has been especially stupid and contemptible for the French and other European governments to have failed to educate these children well and at least attempt to inculcate in them the principles behind their nations' social order. That is one of the sad consequences of the doctrine of multiculturalism.

It is is important to note, however, that European Muslims have been adamant about having it both ways: receiving the better economic opportunities the West offers, while rejecting the culture that fosters those opportunities. As a result, they have received neither. An even bigger factor in the discontent, however, is the current condition of European governments. The European welfare states severely limit economic opportunities, especially for those lowest on the social ladder, and they pay people to be idle. And we all know who loves to employ idle hands. In addition, sympathy for the underprivileged (and a decline in the philosophical belief in freedom of the will) has made European court systems highly reluctant to punish criminals—which means, leaving aside debates about deterrence, that unnumbered dangerous miscreants remain on the streets to terrorize the general population. As the psychologist Theodore Dalrymple noted three years ago in a brilliant and terrifying article in City Journal (Autumn 2002),

The laxisme of the French criminal justice system is now notorious. Judges often make remarks indicating their sympathy for the criminals they are trying (based upon the usual generalizations about how society, not the criminal, is to blame); and the day before I witnessed the scene on the Boulevard Saint-Germain, 8,000 police had marched to protest the release from prison on bail of an infamous career armed robber and suspected murderer before his trial for yet another armed robbery, in the course of which he shot someone in the head. Out on bail before this trial, he then burgled a house. Surprised by the police, he and his accomplices shot two of them dead and seriously wounded a third. He was also under strong suspicion of having committed a quadruple murder a few days previously, in which a couple who owned a restaurant, and two of their employees, were shot dead in front of the owners’ nine-year-old daughter.

As a result of these factors, Europe's Muslim communities have become seething cauldrons of resentment and hate, and criminality is rampant. That is by no means even the slightest exaggeration. Dalyrymple writes,

The official figures for this upsurge, doctored as they no doubt are, are sufficiently alarming. Reported crime in France has risen from 600,000 annually in 1959 to 4 million today, while the population has grown by less than 20 percent (and many think today’s crime number is an underestimate by at least a half). In 2000, one crime was reported for every sixth inhabitant of Paris, and the rate has increased by at least 10 percent a year for the last five years. Reported cases of arson in France have increased 2,500 percent in seven years, from 1,168 in 1993 to 29,192 in 2000; robbery with violence rose by 15.8 percent between 1999 and 2000, and 44.5 percent since 1996 (itself no golden age).

Where does the increase in crime come from? The geographical answer: from the public housing projects that encircle and increasingly besiege every French city or town of any size, Paris especially. In these housing projects lives an immigrant population numbering several million, from North and West Africa mostly, along with their French-born descendants and a smattering of the least successful members of the French working class. From these projects, the excellence of the French public transport system ensures that the most fashionable arrondissements are within easy reach of the most inveterate thief and vandal.

Dalrymple describes the mentality prevalent among young people in these housing projects:

A kind of anti-society has grown up in them—a population that derives the meaning of its life from the hatred it bears for the other, “official,” society in France. This alienation, this gulf of mistrust—greater than any I have encountered anywhere else in the world, including in the black townships of South Africa during the apartheid years—is written on the faces of the young men, most of them permanently unemployed, who hang out in the pocked and potholed open spaces between their logements. When you approach to speak to them, their immobile faces betray not a flicker of recognition of your shared humanity; they make no gesture to smooth social intercourse. If you are not one of them, you are against them. . . .

Antagonism toward the police might appear understandable, but the conduct of the young inhabitants of the cités toward the firemen who come to rescue them from the fires that they have themselves started gives a dismaying glimpse into the depth of their hatred for mainstream society. They greet the admirable firemen (whose motto is Sauver ou périr, save or perish) with Molotov cocktails and hails of stones when they arrive on their mission of mercy, so that armored vehicles frequently have to protect the fire engines.

Benevolence inflames the anger of the young men of the cités as much as repression, because their rage is inseparable from their being. Ambulance men who take away a young man injured in an incident routinely find themselves surrounded by the man’s “friends,” and jostled, jeered at, and threatened: behavior that, according to one doctor I met, continues right into the hospital, even as the friends demand that their associate should be treated at once, before others.

Dalrymple notes that the problems are likely to become worse, not better, unless the French change their ways of thinking entirely:

Whether France was wise to have permitted the mass immigration of people culturally very different from its own population to solve a temporary labor shortage and to assuage its own abstract liberal conscience is disputable: there are now an estimated 8 or 9 million people of North and West African origin in France, twice the number in 1975—and at least 5 million of them are Muslims. Demographic projections (though projections are not predictions) suggest that their descendants will number 35 million before this century is out, more than a third of the likely total population of France.

Indisputably, however, France has handled the resultant situation in the worst possible way. Unless it assimilates these millions successfully, its future will be grim. But it has separated and isolated immigrants and their descendants geographically into dehumanizing ghettos; it has pursued economic policies to promote unemployment and create dependence among them, with all the inevitable psychological consequences; it has flattered the repellent and worthless culture that they have developed; and it has withdrawn the protection of the law from them, allowing them to create their own lawless order.

Perhaps the riots will serve as a wakeup call to France and other Western governments, finally convincing them that the creation of alien, oppressed subcultures within their national borders is a recipe for social catastrophe.

But perhaps not. Given their actions so far, the Western governments seem to be extremely slow learners in this regard.

5 comments:

Tlaloc said...

The muslims in France are no different than the blacks (or more accurately the hispanics) in america. Disadvantaged minority too often consigned to ghettos with no real opportunity, living a second or third world existence in the heart of a first world country.

This has nothing to do with Islam, it has everything to do with the accepted economic disparities in France (and America).

Jay D. Homnick said...

This situation could never have occurred in Miami - because there is no freaking electricity in the freaking substations!

Hunter Baker said...

Dalrymple is supremely enlightening. You should read him, T. He's a former prison doctor, so he knows a little bit about what he speaks.

James Elliott said...

Muslim immigrants in France and the rest of Europe have shown little interest in integrating with their host cultures, as is well known.

This is not exactly accurate. Since the early 1900s the Maghrebins, as immigrants of North African (largely from Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco) descent are known in France, have been ostracized from French culture at large, a holdover of Francophone racism and France's colonial ambitions. Two huge subsections of French literature, Afrique litteraire and especially litterature Maghrebin revolve around this subject. When I get home I'll dig through my old college texts, as it's been several years since I had to read them in the original. Please see Jean Dejeux and Mahmoud Abdul Moula for more academic information. Salah Baye is an excellent source of literature around the Maghreb feeling of isolation and disconnect.

Must leave for a meeting. More later. This is a very interesting topic, thank you S.T.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I had the very same Dalrymple essay in my raw material hopper, Mr. Karnick. Cheers.

The question, as usual, is philosophical, not materialistic. One more promising discussion choked off at its root. I hope someday you'll feel my pain at Jerry Springer bringing his act to The Algonquin Round Table, with a live studio audience.

(Not a bad point about litterature Maghrebine, Mr. Elliott, but not the central one. Tocqueville and Montesquieu wrote of the American experience as outside observers, and are now part of the American, not French, canons.

There is merit in distaff POVs, but one either joins the culture and influences it, or holds himself apart. Frederick Douglass is wholly American. Maya Angelou consigns herself to minority status.)