Cheat-Seeking Missles

Monday, November 07, 2005

Fundamentals: The French Riots

It's a good time to look into the probable effects of the French riots, if for no other reason than that the French authorities are trying to convince us that the riots are calming down:

National police spokesman Patrick Hamon said there was a "considerable decrease" in the number of incidents overnight into Tuesday in the Paris region.

Nationwide vandals burned 814 cars overnight compared to 1,400 vehicles a night earlier, according to national police figures. A total of 143 people were arrested down from 395 the night before. (AP)

Wishful thinking. Even if the riots are dying down in the French suburbs, they are continuing to spread, now reaching 300 towns, and increasing in their intensity, sophistication and the damage they're causing.

It's gotten so bad that even The Guardian, the unabashedly Leftist London daily, is calling into question the entire pretext of the French social democratic model:
The government cannot admit it, but more and more voices in France are being raised to say that the country's worst urban unrest since the student uprising of 1968 reflects the failure of a whole model.

"The crisis is total," one leading sociologist, Michel Wievorka, said yesterday. "This is a structural problem that neither the right nor the left have dealt with for 25 years. France cannot cope with the shortcomings of its republican model. The whole system needs to be rethought." (h/t Jim)
The French modèle républicain d'intégration holds that all citizens of France are equal, even as the riots prove that some citizens are more equal than others.

How many are more equal? How many are less? We don't know because the French model does not allow the government to consider differences within the French population. There is no count of Arab-French or African-French vs. French-French, no comparative economic data, no comparative education data, no comparative sociological data.

This is why the French coverage of the riots has been so devoid of mentions of the ethnicity of the rioters. It is unfrench to call them anything but French.

But the rioters don't feel French. In fact, they don't even like French.

Here's an NYT picture of a man who was beaten with Jean-Jacques le Chenadec, the riots' first fatality. The woman on the right is Jean-Jacques' widow. Note their ethnicity. The rioters certainly did.

Just they noted the faith practiced at the churches they burned down Monday night -- Christian churches being burned by Muslim rioters.

Molded by their ideals, French leaders are having trouble dealing with their new reality. Jacques Chirac said Monday he deplored the "ghettoization of youths of African or North African origin" and recognized "the incapacity of French society to fully accept them," according to a visiting Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberg. She also said Cherac told her France "has not done everything possible for these youths, supported them so they feel understood, heard and respected." (source)

Cherac's comments aren't simply a hand-wringing Liberal response of the sort that followed the Watts riots in the US. They come from a long ingrained faith in the superiority of the French social democratic model, a faith that is so strong that it has survived multiple domestic and international failures.

As long as France believes that if only its revered model is applied to the immigrant ghettos all will be well, all won't be well. The model won't fit there because the French economy can't stretch that far, and after these riots, neither will the heart of the French-French majority.

The Guardian's article concludes:
"[The French] approach to integration, based on the concept that everyone is equal, is part of the problem," said one analyst, Christophe Bertossian. "The idea that we are equal is fiction. Ethnic minorities are being told they do not exist."

The integrationist approach worked for earlier waves of European immigrants .... But they were white and Catholic, and arrived when France needed labour. It has not worked for postwar immigrants from north and black Africa. ...

"The people who live [in the immigrant ghettos] live next door to France," said student Yasser Amri, a third-generation immigrant.... "The republic deals with citizens, not with individuals. But we're not citizens. We don't know what we are. Not Arab or west African, but not French either. We're unrecognised and unremembered. No wonder people rebel."
Here's the best scenario: The riots will shake the French into recognizing their difficulties and confronting them straight-on, without the silly, contrived politics and language of unity (i.e., "French youths continued to riot..."). Things will calm down and very slowly get better.

Here's the more likely scenario: French government will be paralyzed because it is made up largely of veterans of the student riots of the 1960s.

Some French-Arabs will give up on the system and become more self-reliant, beating the system.

But others will give up on the system and become a permanent rebel class far more dangerous than our aging civil rights and anti-war activists, because they will get their support from al Qaeda.

Note: William Rice at Dawns Early Light has a very good series on the riots going, supporting his position that the riots are an economic phenomenon. Check out these DEL posts: