November 9, 2005
Thoughts on the rioting in France
[editor’s note: this post was “pasted” in — it appeared originally at the old Dawson’s Danube site, which is archived here.]
It’s interesting to go around “our” side of the blogosphere — where “we” is defined as those who generally support the current U.S. administration, particularly in foreign policy — and read the bloggers grappling over to what degree there is an islamist element to the French riots. Powerline’s Paul seems to believe that Islamist leaders may be directing disaffected foot soldiers. Captain Ed takes the suggestion further by noting evidence of planned Muslim attacks in France and other countries.
On the other side we have people like Stephen Schwartz and Ralph Peters, who insist that the socio-economic factors that have been cited as reasons for the rioting are not just a bunch of bleeding heart baloney. Schwartz writes about his personal experiences:
Observing the gap between the French and their neighbors of North African origin, I learned another disturbing truth: that the latter had a deep fear of the Parisian police. I had more ready cash than my comrades, and one Friday night invited them all to go with me to the wonderful urban district of Saint-Michel, with its glamorous cafés, bookshops, and lots of cute girls. Saleh and Cherif refused. They said they were not safe in Saint-Michel on weekend nights, even though both possessed legal status and were quite respectable in their dress and manners, notwithstanding their radical politics. They told me that even with their papers in order North Africans living in Paris could be picked up by the police without any pretext, beaten, and even killed.
Ralph Peters is very outspoken about the French “apartheid system”:
Utterly devoid of self-awareness, the French cherish their image of America as racist. (…) In France, the non-white poor never have a chance of any kind.
France has no Colin Powell or Condi Rice, no minority heading the equivalent of a Fortune 500 company, no vibrant minority political culture. When Americans who adore la vie en France go to Paris (the intelligentsia’s Orlando), they don’t visit the drug-and-crime-plagued slums. If tourists encounter a Moroccan or a Senegalese “Frenchman,” he’s cleaning up the sidewalks after the dogs of the bourgeoisie.
Peters ends with this: “Meanwhile, every American who believes in racial equality and human dignity should sympathize with the rioters, not with the effete bigots on the Seine.”
I’m not going to pretend to have any kind of insight into French society, so I have no idea who’s right and who’s wrong in this argument. The only thing that matters to me is the most important point of all, a point which many commentators on “our” side of the blogosphere — commentators on both sides of the Islamist-or-Socioeconomic argument — have stressed. The point is this: irrespective of whether Islamicism is the chicken or the egg in this situation, one thing is for darn sure, and that’s that the Islamists will make every effort they can to take advantage of this situation. The people in the western world who are on the “other side” — the side that despises the current administration and America in general — won’t admit it (or can’t see it), but Islamists are at war with the West. Allow me to repeat that word: war. W-A-R. Though we in the west often fail to take this seriously, the Islamists have no such problem. They know they are at war, they do not hesitate to admit it, and their seriousness about it means that they will make use of every battleground they can reach. If the French battleground is open to them thanks to chaos and insecurity, then they will use it. Period.
Now for more random thoughts — thinking out loud — about the situation in France:
- As someone who lives in a European city with a large Muslim minority, it’s interesting to compare Vienna with Paris. Paris has this phenomenon of ghetto-suburbs, which, if I’m not mistaken (and I could well be), is utterly absent here in Austria. Turkish people make up the largest segment of the Muslim minority and I think of them as living much more directly in the city than in any kind of suburbs around the city. I’m definitely no expert, by the way, since I never go to the suburbs here (I just have no reason to.)
- In thinking more about Peters and Schwartz (see above), I have to wonder this: if the allegations that the French are so chauvinistic are true, why are there so many Muslims living in France? Nidra Poller, in another article which, like Schwartz’s, appears at Tech Central Station, poses the question this way:
Of course the French have been known for shabby treatment of the people they colonized, including Africans, Arab-Muslim immigrants, and Black citizens of the overseas territories and departments. But this is only half the story. The colonies have been independent for fifty years. What have they done with their independence? If the French are so nasty, why are millions of Muslims pouring in from all sides, by all means, legal and illegal, forthright and stealthy, justified and unjustified? Why are some of those “immigrant” children and grandchildren sacking and burning schools instead of taking advantage of the education that is offered to them? [my emphasis]
- No matter who is right about the chicken-and-egg question of Islamicism versus Socio-economic factors at play in France, the questions about Islamicism, or even Islam in general and what role it plays or does not play among the rioting youths, is certainly a valid one that should be brought up. Yet, two nights ago, I saw the TV news on Germany’s SAT.1 and noticed that they made it through a full report on the French situation without ever once mentioning the dreaded M or I words.
- In a few different places today I’ve seen mention of the popularity of rap music among the rioting French youths. One of those places was an article at the website of the Austrian daily, Der Standard. That article mentions, among others, rappers IAM and NTM (these links point to english-language biographies at RFIMusique.) Time Magazine’s website includes an commentary by French (and muslim) rapper, Medine.
- My favorite quote amongst all of the blogosphere articles I perused today was this: “Instead of creating tomorrow’s jobs, Europe protects yesterday’s.” (Ralph Peters).