Monday, November 07, 2005

More on the riots in France...

I’m trying to read as much as I can about the riots in France in order to understand as best I can what is going on. As an American who supports the war in Iraq and a secular Zionist Jew, I naturally have strong disagreements with French foreign policy regarding the Middle East—to put it mildly. Despite that, however, I want to examine the riots as dispassionately as possible without resorting to cheap shots or jingoistic arguments. I’m not here to “sock it to the French,” as it were, but to really try to understand.

So far, I’ve noticed a number of interesting media phenomenon.

For one, the mainstream media (not all the media, but the mainstream majority) really sat on their asses for the first few days of rioting. It was as if there was a desire to ignore the disturbances; but the riots grew and the media eventually had to report.

Why the reticence? It’s not uncommon for the media to report on relatively minor riots in the disputed territories in Israel, for example. Why not, then, report on a massive riot—even if lasting only a day or two—in France, where such things are less common, thus making such violence even more newsworthy?

Compounding this reticence to report on the full-scale riots comes the fact that routine, regular acts of anti-police violence have become epidemic in the suburbs of French cities for some time now. Everybody is familiar with the crime in America’s inner-cities. Why were the thousands of acts of anti-police violence in the French suburbs ignored by the media until now? I was aware of the tension in French society because I’m a weirdo and I pay attention to such things, but even I had no idea how truly bad the problem had become.

Then there is the demographic makeup of the rioters. Again, there appears to be a reticence to identify who the rioters are. Recent reports have been quicker to emphasis the identity of the rioters, but for the first few days one almost had to read between the lines to discover that the rioters were mostly composed of Arab Muslims.

The motives and reasons for the riots have been mostly couched in economic and racial terms. The rioters, we are generally told, are living in “poverty” and they suffer from “racism.” The conclusion one draws from such mainstream journalistic analyses is that because of oppressive racism the Arab Muslims can’t get jobs and therefore live in poverty—hence the riots. The implication is that perhaps the rioters are deserving of a certain level of sympathy and understanding, and the French state is merely reaping what it sowed? I’ve already read a number of comparisons between the riots in France and those in the race riots in the United States in the 1960’s. Such an analysis seems to indicates a desire to ignore or play down the Islamic component, which I will discuss shortly.

While I don’t doubt that there is racism in France, or that the rioters come from the lower rungs of society, I’m not convinced by the socio-economic argument—and I reject the comparison to the race riots and civil rights movement in the United States.


No doubt the rioters come from the lower rungs of society, but to say they live in poverty is preposterous. These second and third generation French Arabs have a far better standard of living than most Arabs living in the Arab world. We keep reading that the riots are being organized via cell phones and text messaging. Excuse me, but people living in poverty do not own cell phones. Further, the French welfare state, from my understanding, pretty much ensures that its citizens do not live in poverty or go hungry or homeless. With socialized healthcare, every rioter can see a doctor. Grinding poverty is not the reason.


I’m sure there is racism in France. There is racism everywhere. Lot’s of groups of people suffer racism and don’t resort to violent rioting for days on end, or in the case of the Arab Muslims in France, for over 11 days as of this writing (and getting more violent). This argument also ignores the fact that France is the most pro-Arab country in Europe—and has been for a long time. If France is so implacably racist against the Arabs, why is it so utterly pro-Arab in its foreign policy?

Comparing to American race issues

There are a number of profound differences between the Arab Muslim minority of France and the Black experience in America. For one, Africans were brought to America against their will as slaves. Arab Muslims came to France as economic immigrants; free men who were and are free to come or free to leave. Most of the French Arab Muslims came to France in the 1960’s and 70’s, whereas African-Americans have lived in America for over 400 years. Despite the legacy of slavery and discrimination, African-Americans are nevertheless deeply woven into the fabric of American society and culture. African-Americans fought (and still struggle) for integration in American society. There is very little evidence that Arab Muslims desire assimilation into French society. In fact, the opposite appears to be the case. Somewhat related, African-Americans by and large share the same values as the majority of Americans. Arab Muslims in France appear to have an extremely uneasy relationship with Western society, which leads to the next question.

Islam has bloody borders

Currently large segments of the Islamic world are at war with the West. But Muslims are also embroiled in conflicts in southern Thailand (Buddhist vs. Muslim); India and Pakistan (Hindu majority vs. Muslim); Israel vs. Arab (Jewish vs. Muslim); Southern Philippines (Catholic vs. Muslim); Caucuses (Russian Federation vs. Muslim); as well as other tensions around the world.

For decades we knew little about the simmering tensions among the Muslim minorities living in Europe. As a small minority, it appears they kept their heads down. Now, however, their populations are large. There are some 5 million Muslims in France, and an estimated 20 million throughout Europe. It’s almost as if a critical mass has been reached, and now the chain reaction has started. Reports this morning indicate that arson attacks have spread to other European cities, and the French expect things to get worse before they get better.

So the question begs to be asked: How much of this rioting is due to racism and poverty, and how much is due to the regrettable fact that in many places in the world, wherever there is a sizable Muslim population living in close proximity to a non-Muslim population, tension and violence are the results?


Blogger airforcewife said...

I'm still waiting for the Economist to run a cover with a picture of that handicapped woman on fire and the "disaffected youths" dancing around her, with the title, "FRANCE'S SHAME".

Oh, wait, that only happens for America.

I tried to analyze dispassionately, too, but after I made my lists and re-read them, I kept getting angrier and angrier. It seems such blatant bias - you'd think there'd be some cognitive dissonance somewhere at least.

6:51 AM  
Blogger semite1973 said...

I hear ya afw... I really hear ya.

7:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To find out the answer to your question, read the Qu'ran...a document which encourages and justifies violence in the cause of Mohammed.

1:00 PM  
Blogger semite1973 said...

Read the Quran... don't have the time right now, although I do have a nice copy given to me by an Egyptian member of the Muslim Student Association at UW-Milwaukee years and years ago...

7:29 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home

see web stats