Saturday, November 05, 2005

Yet More Riots in Paris Suburbs

Watching the news from all over the world about the riots in the Paris suburbs has been a fascinating experience. My impression is that the reporting has been mostly (but not always, CNN and the BBC have done fairly well) superficial, if not misleading - rather out of ignorance rather than malignance. Deep analysis will take time and perspective anyway. For a (conservative) opinion leader like Andrew Sullivan to say that the riots “Islamic Underground Riots” shows great ignorance, but that’s no surprise, he based his conclusion of his reading of (Rupert Murdoch’s) the NY Post.

President Jacques Chirac and Premier de Villepin are especially sore because they had believed that their opposition to the toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003 would give France a heroic image in the Muslim community.

That illusion has now been shattered — and the Chirac administration, already passing through a deepening political crisis, appears to be clueless about how to cope with what the Parisian daily France Soir has called a "ticking time bomb."

It is now clear that a good portion of France's Muslims not only refuse to assimilate into "the superior French culture," but firmly believe that Islam offers the highest forms of life to which all mankind should aspire.

And from his reading the extact here above, Sullivan concludes

This is still a religious war: of fundamentalism versus secularism. And Chirac is discovering that no amount of appeasement can stave it off.

Despite Mr Sullivan’s simplified view those riots have nothing to do with religion. They have to do with the creation of ghettos which have drifted away from the rest of the nation. The neglect by the different governments throughout the years has allowed the slow but steady rise of a ghetto culture (with its own language, codes and values), a culture often based on violence and on a sense of belonging not to a nation but to a local territory.

Those ghettos have also their own underground economy based on drugs. In the recent years, notably after the breakdown of Eastern Europe, guns have also flooded there. At the same time the police have been less present on a daily basis, less able to build ties with local communities. That was Sarkozy’s own doing by the way. He has redeployed the police forces through the country with a philosophy that focuses on repression only.

At the same time, the French left and the moderate right have been in denial, clinging to the French “social model” (which obviously needs more adjustment to reality).

The coverage in the media throughout the world has not been very flattering, as should be expected. One good result though is that one can hope that the French leaders will keep a little bit more of a low profile and will stop giving everyone else good advice, or pushing their envelop as hard.

In the end those things, like Katrina for the U.S. are good for one thing, they are humbling experiences for nations and we, French and Americans certainly need to be humbled repeatedly.

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