There is much heat generated from the fires in Paris. And not just that from burning cars, mind you. Any student of history can look at the Parisian civil unrest and see reflections of a thousand incidents of urban rioting by an alienated immigrant or minority underclass. However, for the polemically inclined, the fires are themselves kindling for an entrenchment of the attitudes that led to such profound alienation in the first place.

However, I think that there is indeed authentic analysis of the Parisian rioting to be found elsewhere. This Washington Post article is a good start:

While French politicians say the violence now circling and even entering the capital of France and spreading to towns across the country is the work of organized criminal gangs, the residents of Le Blanc-Mesnil know better. Many of the rioters grew up playing soccer on Rezzoug's field. They are the children of baggage handlers at nearby Charles de Gaulle International Airport and cleaners at the local schools.

"It's not a political revolution or a Muslim revolution," said Rezzoug. "There's a lot of rage. Through this burning, they're saying, 'I exist, I'm here.' "

Such a dramatic demand for recognition underscores the chasm between the fastest growing segment of France's population and the staid political hierarchy that has been inept at responding to societal shifts. The youths rampaging through France's poorest neighborhoods are the French-born children of African and Arab immigrants, the most neglected of the country's citizens. A large percentage are members of the Muslim community that accounts for about 10 percent of France's 60 million people.

One of Rezzoug's "kids" -- the countless youths who use the sports facilities he oversees -- is a husky, French-born 18-year-old whose parents moved here from Ivory Coast. At 3 p.m. on Saturday, he'd just awakened and ventured back onto the streets after a night of setting cars ablaze.

"We want to change the government," he said, a black baseball cap pulled low over large, chocolate-brown eyes and an ebony face. "There's no way of getting their attention. The only way to communicate is by burning."

There is plenty of first-hand anecdotal evidence that lends some nuance to the situation on the ground. For example, Jérôme at the European Tribune provides some perspective, pointing out that this is not some apocalyptic "End of France" scenario, but rather a symptom of an underlying sickness and mistakes by the French government (for example: both police budgets and social activity programs have been cut heavily). Also, see Tim at Balloon Juice, whose wife is French and just returned from Paris. He makes the key point that these rioters rage not because they are muslim, but because they are french.

See Also Greg at Belgravia Dispatch, who offers his own lengthy and reasoned analysis of the political ramifications and likely outcomes. Greg is no apologist for muslim terror, but in his assessment there is a failure of society, not faith, at work here. I fully agree with his prescription that every rioter - no matter how young - must be prosecuted under maximum extent of the law. But "fixing" what is wrong with France is not as easy as banning more headscarves. It will require hard decisions about the economy and a repudiation of the stifling business environment which strangle opportunity and deny economic entry and participation to the under class. As Greg puts it,

It's time to shine a strong light right there at home, put aside the defensive, diversionary pseudo-narratives and deceptions, and get to the hard work of putting the nation on a better course (particularly the dismal employment picture). If not, openings to more radical avenues will likely result--whether of a rightist or leftist variety (more likely the former, I'd say).

Dave Schuler also has similar comments with a very helpful rundown of what we do know and what we don't know. There is a thoughtful discussion at Tacitus that is also worth reading.

But what of those who insist that Islam must be relevant in some way? Well, as far as cause, they are simply wrong. But their dogmatic insistence obscures the very real threat that these riots provide as an opportunity for Islamists to capitalize upon. Francis Fukuyama sounds the alarm for European home-grown Islamism in a much more restrained and productive fashion that the "Eurabia" rantings of Bat Ye'or. The antidote is more freedom, not less; more opportunity, not less. As Theodore Dalyrymple wrote in his now classic essay about the French immigrant ghettoes:

...among the third of the population of the cités that is of North African Muslim descent, there is an option that the French, and not only the French, fear. For imagine yourself a youth in Les Tarterets or Les Musiciens, intellectually alert but not well educated, believing yourself to be despised because of your origins by the larger society that you were born into, permanently condemned to unemployment by the system that contemptuously feeds and clothes you, and surrounded by a contemptible nihilistic culture of despair, violence, and crime. Is it not possible that you would seek a doctrine that would simultaneously explain your predicament, justify your wrath, point the way toward your revenge, and guarantee your salvation...? Would you not seek a "worthwhile" direction for the energy, hatred, and violence seething within you, a direction that would enable you to do evil in the name of ultimate good? It would require only a relatively few of like mind to cause havoc.

Prescient, but hardly eerily so, of Rezzoug's "kids" quoted above, eh? France has every right to require its citizens to be French. But every Frenchman - regardless of origin or creed - must be given a genuine share of Liberté, Egalité, and Fraternité.

No comments: