As I write this, rioting in France has spread beyond Paris and may yet cause widespread and lasting damage. I’ve seen the projects around Nancy
, France’s third largest city, and I can tell you that they have the same hopeless, dehumanizing character, which I will (perhaps unfairly) describe as a social landfill, as the Parisian projects where this began. In pundit circles these are fat times for people selling an eternal struggle between the enlightened West and Islamic darkness, a la LGF. That line seems to have some takers among the French themselves, or at least the not-very-popular French president Prime Minister Villepin, but I’d argue that taking that attitude is not just wrong but dangerously wrong. Let’s go back to Tim F’s First Law:
In the context of a debate, calling another’s motivations ‘evil’ should be considered synonymous with, ‘I don’t understand and am too lazy to find out.’
Going by my law, people like Villepin who use simplistic pejoratives to describe their antagonists fail to understand them and, by failing to understand them, practically guarantee that they’ll lose. If a substantial minority of the French population decides that society and its laws offer them no hope of addressing their grievances, they will look elsewhere for a solution. That’s how short-term riots can descend into a neverending guerilla war, an Algeria fought within France itself.
The key, in my view, is that these riots are happening not because the rioters are muslim, but because they’re French.
Try this: ask a French citizen what makes them proudest about the French. Odds are you’ll hear about the citizens’ willingness to stand up to tyranny. The Marseillaise, like our own anthem, celebrates citizens arming themselves in the name of freedom and democracy. Some might say they internalized the message a bit too far; good luck visiting Paris without running into a strike by the municipal street sweepers, or the baggage handlers or the taxi drivers or the guys who deliver fresh dough for baguettes.
Let’s go back to the famous student strike of 1968.
In May 1968 a general insurrection broke out across France. It quickly began to reach near-revolutionary proportions before being discouraged by the French Communist Party, and finally suppressed by the government who accused the Communists of plotting against the Republic. Some philosophers and historians have argued that the rebellion was the single most important revolutionary event of the 20th century because it wasn’t participated in by a lone demographic, such as workers or racial minorities, but was rather a purely popular uprising, superseding ethnic, cultural, age and class boundaries
It began as a series of student strikes that broke out at a number of universities and high schools in Paris, following confrontations with university administrators and the police. The de Gaulle administration’s attempts to quash those strikes by further police action only inflamed the situation further, leading to street battles with the police in the Latin Quarter, followed by a general strike by students and strikes throughout France by ten million French workers, roughly two-thirds of the French workforce. The protests reached the point that De Gaulle created a military operations headquarters to deal with the unrest, dissolved the National Assembly and called for new parliamentary elections for 23 June 1968.
By late summer de Gaulle had found a way to disarm the next leftist uprising. As far back as the year 1185, the cobblestone pavement in the Latin Quarter had proved an effective weapon –at that time against royalists. In 1830 cobblestones were used again, and again in the re- volution of 1848, and then by the [Paris] Commune in 1871 when they first sang ‘The Internationale.’ The students who hurled them in 1968 had learned their history. One of the…posters of 1968 showed a paving stone and was captioned ‘UNDER 21 YEARS OLD, HERE IS YOUR BALLOT.’
But this was to happen no more. In August de Gaulle ordered the cobblestone streets of the Latin Quarter paved over in asphalt.
The strikes were so effective that later, in the mid-1990s, students merely had to suggest that they might strike again before the government capitulated to their demands for smaller class sizes and higher teacher pay.
Pay attention to this part, because it affects us. I said in another thread that I wouldn’t speculate on the “root motivations” behind the September 11 terrorists, but that’s only part true. I won’t claim to know for sure, but in passing on one of the more compelling explanations that I’ve heard I want to illustrate what’s happening in France, and the hard steps that Europe has to take to resolve it.
Briefly, the 9/11 hijackers fell into two basic categories. Hired muscle, who came largely from the middle east directly, and the brains/coordinators. The second group consisted of western-educated and culturally literate natives of Saudi Arabia and other arab states who had spent considerable time in Belgium and other European countries before coming to America for the purposes of the attack. Atta did not arrive in Belgium embittered and radical. In fact his relatively well-off family sent him west with the idea of enriching his hometown with the cultural and business savvy that he would learn ‘over there.’ Yet somehow by the time he left Atta was ready to do inhuman things to other people whom he no longer even saw as people. Why? A second question would be, why haven’t any anti-American Islamic terrorists originated in America?
Radicalized Islam infests western Europe. There’s your immediate cause, but why is that? Muslims have just as much freedom-of-speech here as there, if not more. We have weaker government surveillance than most of Europe, or at least we did before 2001. The key difference is cultural. When you arrive in America, you’re an American practically before the ink on your visa is dry. There’s no such thing as an ethnic ‘American.’ In Europe people have a deep sense of ethnicity; they can tell where you’re from by every detail of your appearance, and your manner of speech indicates your social class. Here nobody cares who your parents are or what they did, while that is far from true in Europe. These are not necessarily better or worse things, merely different, but they have an enormous impact on the immigrant experience.
In Belgium Mohammed Atta found that no matter how much culture he absorbed he would always be defined, fundamentally, by his ethnicity. Arabs born in western Europe often found the same thing. Offended by what they perceived as second-class treatment, the psychological door opened just wide enough for the radical imams to make their easy answers, their good-and-evil hate rhetoric, a convincing sell.
This gets back to the French rioters. These are not the new immigrants, who came to France in the 60’s, the 70’s and the 80’s largely glad for the opportunity to leave misery at home and work for second-class wages. If I haven’t convinced you already, that attitude is far from French. These are the children of the immigrants [Update – link], French citizens, who still feel as though their country considers them ‘alien,’ who rightly or wrongly claim that their address and their last name anchor them to the lowest levels of employment
France can always listen to its
President Prime Minister and demonize the protestors. Louis XVI tried that. I’d recommend that France look instead to leaders like Charles de Gaulle, who faced similar revolutionary threats and resolved them without losing his head.
Governmental dyslexia repaired.
A superb analysis by someone who’s there. If kos diaries burn your eyeballs, tough.
Seriously, go read.