It is easy to assume that the riots currently making an ash heap of France -- because they are instigated by predominately Muslim young men -- have something to do with Islamic militancy. They don't. Certainly there are similarities between the nihilism of the North African rioters and Islamic jihadists, like a hatred for the French. But then most Americans hate the French too.
As noted elsewhere the rioters are second-and third generation immigrants who, for a variety of reasons, have failed to assimilate into French culture. France's North African immigrants arrived during its post-war industrialization when cheap labor was essential. They were (and remain) settled in ex-urban wastelands in the same kind of Le Corbusier "projects" that were a haven for criminals and drug dealers in America's inner cities. Then, once the French factories closed and the jobs went overseas, the immigrants were given enough welfare to ensure that they would be forever dependent on an uncaring and inhuman French bureaucracy.
It is important to note that the rioters are not poor. Compared to the natives in their countries of origin they are doing rather well. But as for taking significant steps up the socio-economic ladder, their prospects are slim. Who, after all, is going to hire an unskilled worker from the projects if, due to extreme labor protection laws, he is all but impossible to get rid of, regardless of performance? Anyway, don't expect the denizens of the French cites (the un-air-conditioned nightmares encircling the City of Light) to be any more grateful than an American welfare recipient is grateful. Rather expect them to be embittered and resentful.
It comes as no surprise then that such cites are tinderboxes waiting for the slightest spark to ignite a nationwide conflagration. The embers were there for anyone who cared to see. Three years ago an English visitor to the Paris cites noted the ubiquitous "burned out and eviscerated carcasses of cars everywhere. Fire is now fashionable in the cities: in Les Tarterets, residents had torched and looted every store…The underground parking lot, charred and blackened by smoke like a vault in an urban hell, is permanently close." And abounding everywhere is the anti-police graffiti, and the sullen, menacing youth with their blank expressions.
Today's riots ostensibly started when two young French North African males tried to avoid arrest for breaking and entering and were accidentally electrocuted in their hiding place. Okay, so how does this "accident" explain today's rioting? For starters after years of government inaction and cowardice -- a decade in which French North Africans gangs have had a free hand -- France is finally trying to do something about the crime wave terrorizing the country. One unintended consequence of the recent crackdown, coming on the heels of Jacques Chirac's re-election on a law and order ticket, is the stuffing of French jails with young North African men who make easy targets for Islamic militant proselytizers. Another thing for the French to worry about: young French North African males make up the largest prison population in France.
The French cites are mirrored in the U.S., not in the recent Hispanic and Asian immigrant populations, but in the African American community, which during the same period migrated north to America's industrial cities. And like the North Africans, they remain housed in ghettos, trapped in a web of welfare dependence, drugs, and nihilism, and in the most extreme cases are warned against assimilating or "acting white." And like the U.S. government, the French have continued to feed the fire of resentment by treating the immigrants like emasculated dependents.
No one has summed up the reasons for today's riots better than Theodore Dalrymple in a 2002 essay "The Barbarians at the Gates of Paris":
"Unless it assimilates these millions successfully, [France's] 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 example of Asian immigrant culture shows the way out of this cycle of despair. If Asians do so well here and elsewhere it is doubtless because of their emphasis on education, values, assimilation into the dominant culture, and an avoidance of the dumb decisions, like teenage pregnancies and drug use, that dooms so many young African Americans.
Americans should take note. France's riots are the logical consequence of awful urban, multiculturalist, and socio-economic policies. Rather than bringing people together multiculturalism keeps people apart. Rather than freeing people economically, welfare causes resentment. Add to the mix wrongheaded labor and affirmative action policies and you've got a ticking fragmentation bomb. Perhaps I am getting a bit carried away; nonetheless the next time I hear a liberal educator stress the importance of multilingual and multicultural education I will remember Paris burning.
Christopher Orlet is a frequent contributor and runs the Existential Journalist website.
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