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Monday, November 07, 2005  

News: Why Paris is burning

Now in their second week, the riots in France are no longer dismissible as an oddity. Sparked by the accidental deaths of two young teens who believed they were fleeing the police, the disorders have resulted in extensive damage to vehicles and property. Today, the New York Times reported a man was beaten to death after trying to put out a fire set by protesters. It is imperative that we consider why immigrant youths there are so angry. We must ask:

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore--
And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

The unrest in France has given us an answer to that question as Arab and African youths, children of mainly Muslim immigrants, act out their disdain for a society they believe discriminates against and rejects them.

I think major media has done an effective job of covering the unrest -- reporting what is happening, and also reporting why.

The Associated Press has been covering the continuing violence.

The unrest is forcing France to confront long-simmering anger in poor suburbs ringing the big cities which are mainly populated by immigrants and their French-born families, often from Muslim North Africa. They are marked by high unemployment, discrimination and despair - fertile terrain for crime of all sorts and Muslim extremists offering frustrated youths a way out.

Government officials have held a series of meetings with Muslim religious leaders, local officials and youths from poor suburbs to try to calm the violence.

The director of the Great Mosque of Paris, Dalil Boubakeur, one of the country's leading Muslim figures, met Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin on Saturday and urged the government to choose its words carefully and send a message of peace.

``In such difficult circumstances, every word counts,'' Boubakeur said.

. . .Most of the overnight arrests were near Paris. Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy warned that those convicted could face severe sentences for burning cars.

"Violence penalizes those who live in the toughest conditions,'' he said after a government crisis meeting.

Sarkozy also has inflamed passions by referring to troublemakers as ``scum.''

The Wall Street Journal has also offered balanced reportage (subscription required.)

The violence spread to other cities that have concentrations of Arab and African Muslim immigrants, including Strasbourg in eastern France and Cannes and Nice in the south. It also penetrated the previously untouched rich center of Paris, when two dozen cars were burned in the capital's historic Third Arrondissement and other areas. Authorities said Sunday that 1,295 cars were burned Saturday night around France, the highest toll since the riots began Oct. 27. Police made 186 arrests, bringing the total to more than 800 since the riots started. Dozens more public buildings were vandalized over the weekend. Bands of youths burned a nursery school, torched an ambulance and stoned medical workers coming to the aid of a sick person.

. . .Mr. [President Jacques] Chirac's team has so far failed to get a grip on the mobs -- and is being accused by many of making things worse. The unrest quickly spread from Clichy-sous-Bois to other Paris suburbs after Interior Minister and presidential hopeful Nicolas Sarkozy called the rioters "thugs" and "scum" in an appearance on television news.

Despite the harsh words he aimed at rioters, Mr. Sarkozy is one of France's few mainstream politicians who champion greater rights for immigrants. He recently stirred controversy in his own center-right ruling party by proposing to let immigrants vote in local elections. He also was one of the first French politicians to call for affirmative action to help immigrants gain a role alongside France's all-white elite.

In France, frank public discussion of the plight of minorities is made difficult by the state's republican ideology. In official French thinking, the only thing that matters is whether a resident is a French citizen or not. The French census doesn't tally people by creed or ethnic background.

In reality, minority groups suffer much greater rates of joblessness than the white majority, and France has no national political leaders of Arab or African origin. A few businesses and schools have only just begun experimenting, cautiously, with small affirmative action programs.

The Washington Post also realizes that events have causes.

While French politicians say the violence now circling and even entering the capital of France and spreading to towns across the country is the work of organized criminal gangs, the residents of Le Blanc-Mesnil know better. Many of the rioters grew up playing soccer on [Mohammed] Rezzoug's field. They are the children of baggage handlers at nearby Charles de Gaulle International Airport and cleaners at the local schools.

"It's not a political revolution or a Muslim revolution," said Rezzoug. "There's a lot of rage. Through this burning, they're saying, 'I exist, I'm here.' "

Such a dramatic demand for recognition underscores the chasm between the fastest growing segment of France's population and the staid political hierarchy that has been inept at responding to societal shifts. The youths rampaging through France's poorest neighborhoods are the French-born children of African and Arab immigrants, the most neglected of the country's citizens. A large percentage are members of the Muslim community that accounts for about 10 percent of France's 60 million people.

Unfortunately, the Right Wing dominated blogosphere is largely missing the point of the riots in France. As is typical of white conservatives, these bloggers view the situation through a lens distorted by religious bigotry and racism. Many of them blame the violence on the 'nature' of blacks and Muslims. Don Surber's entry is rather typical.

My take is this is inevitable, more like the French Revolution than the Watts Riots. The possibility of my being wrong is 40% or better. But between European socialism and its inability to assimilate its immigrants, Europe is pretty screwed. Add on top of it a continent that has been inventing PC "rights" instead of political solutions, and well, you have the tinder for a revolution.

For those of us who grew up in big cities in the 1960s, the situation is eerily familiar.

I am curious to see how the various nations of Europe handle this inevitable confrontation. I wonder at what point they will publicly admit what is now coming clear: Giving aid and comfort to Palestinian terrorists eventually comes home to roost; the wolf eventually devours all the lambs.

WaPo's Molly Moore has a frontline report that consists of one man basically denying this is a Muslim thing. It just happens to be that all the rioters are Muslime (sic). (Eyeroll.)

Surber is referring to the same article I cited above. Moore reported that the immigrants and their French children are treated as second-class citizens, disproportionately poor, unemployed and disenfranchised. According to Surber that is irrelevant. Indeed, you will find no mention of the conditions immigrants live in his remarks. All we need to know about the angry youths in Paris is their race and religion, he would have us believe. The bigotry and sloppy thinking of persons like him notwithstanding, neither race nor religion explain the unrest in France. The circumstances of the French born youths are key to understanding why they have resorted to violence -- why a raisin in the sun explodes.

Reasonably related

The poem ""Montage of a Dream Deferred" was written by Langston Hughes (1902-1967).

7:30 PM