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Monday, November 07, 2005

Horror in France

By Richard Tenorio

Three words explain why France is being ripped apart by violence and the United States isn’t.
Action versus ignorance.
Gangs of urban youth are torching hospitals, schools, and cars in France. They bludgeoned 61-year-old Jean-Jacques Le Chenadec into a coma and let him die. The riots have lasted more than a week – 12 days, as of yesterday – and show no sign of stopping.
It’s time for French president Jacques Chirac and prime minister Dominique de Villepin to stand up and take responsibility. But not only them. Everyone who has a hand in French governmental policy should hold themselves accountable for a Muslim resentment that has festered for decades, and is only now growing into a conflagration.
To understand France’s crisis, it is first necessary to ask: Who are these young men throwing gasoline bombs and rocks at police, and why are they so upset?
These rioters are the second or third generation of Muslim immigrants to France. Their parents or grandparents come from North African nations that France once governed, directly or indirectly. One of the two youths whose deaths caused the riots was of Mauritanian descent. The other’s family came from Tunisia.
Instead of trying to integrate Muslims into the larger society, the French government let them isolate themselves in crime-ridden ghettoes. How horrible are the ghettoes? In 2003, Samira Bellil, a French Muslim woman, published a book, Dans l’enfer des tournantes (“In Gang Rape Hell”). In its pages, Bellil described being gang-raped multiple times within mainly Muslim housing projects or cites.
Poverty by itself doesn’t cause crime. But when poverty is isolated from the larger society, it becomes toxic. And the French have proven unwilling hosts. They have ordered Muslim schoolgirls not to wear the hijab, or ceremonial headgear, and they have discriminated against hiring Muslims in the workplace. This hostility isn’t recent. In 1961, Paris police killed between 32 to 200 Algerian immigrant protestors. They threw them into the Seine River and murdered them inside a police station. The French government did not acknowledge this until 1998. The city of Paris waited three more years.
Contrast this mistreatment with American policy toward immigrants. Yes, we have our Pat Buchanans and our migrant-worker laws, and historically the US has been unkind to immigrants. Today, however, instead of ignoring the immigrant issue, we have taken action and become a hospitable nation. Affirmative-action policies are achieving the purpose intended by President John F. Kennedy: ensuring that groups formerly discriminated against will get fair and equal treatment when applying for jobs. Because of this, immigrant families here have a chance to escape the ghetto within a generation or two.
France owes its citizens, immigrant and non-immigrant alike, a harder, better effort to integrate its society. Otherwise the rapes and riots will continue. And the chilling words of a European Muslim in a similarly troubled country will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. “Second- and third-generation Muslims are without the don't-rock-the-boat attitude that restricted our forefathers,” 27-year-old Dilpazier Aslam wrote in The Guardian almost a week after the London subway bombings. “We're much sassier with our opinions, not caring if the boat rocks or not.” The Guardian fired Aslam after discovering his membership in a racist, sexist and homophobic Islamic group. Yet four months later, his words are proving more and more resonant.


At 10:25 PM, Anonymous Alfonso Mangione said...

Good post. I do think the French, and the Europeans on the whole, have failed to integrate Muslims into their societies, and I think this lack of integration causes more problems than the Israel-Palestine conflict or the war in Iraq. Mohammed Atta, after all, was radicalized not in Egypt or in the U.S., but in Hamburg.

Still, I don't agree with your statement that affirmative action is the solution. Rather, France needs to aspire to a more meriticratic ideal. One reason America has succeeded as an idea and as a nation is because our national identity revolves around what you do, rather than where you came from or who you are. It's an elastic enough ideal to absorb anyone from across the globe. Obviously the reality will always lag behind the ideal, but Europe still hasn't even come up with a workable ideal.

At 7:36 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rich--you do a good job of presenting the liberal view of the situation in France--i.e., society is to blame for the unrest, and we should reward the rioters for their violent acts by imposing a system of state-sanctioned discrimination in the form of affirmative action.

Don't forget that France's overall unemployment rate is more than double what it is in America, largely because of excessive labor laws and runaway social spending.

The French government pursues a policy of appeasment abroad, so it's no surprise that when firm action is required to stop rioters from burning their country down, the politicians and intellectuals instead bicker among themselves.



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