Sunday, November 06, 2005

Unquiet Nights In Clichy

With my poor French and my agonizingly-slow dial-up
connection, it has been difficult to keep up with the un-
folding violence in Paris and other French cities. The BBC
news page has reliable reports, as does the International
Herald Tribune. Also, here is an interesting perspective
from Jerome at the European Tribune blog. What I’m
taking from these sources is that, while the situation in
the poor French suburbs is obviously quite serious, we
should be careful what significance we take from these
events. Of course, the violence will give the rightists
around here and opportunity to bash two of their favorite
bete noires, the French and Muslims. They will likely unite
in proclaiming these episodes as proof that Islam is evil,
the French are spineless, and the only way is the U.S.A.
way. As usual, they should not be listened to. They don’t
know what they’re talking about.

For one, I don’t see much reason to blame these riots on
Islam. Many or perhaps most of the people going wild in
the streets come from Muslim families, to be sure, but
they strike me as hooligans first. Their religion has very
little, if anything, to do with it. The people who are watch-
ing their cars get set on fire and the families afraid to go
out at night are Muslim too. Angry, unemployed kids are
getting their pathological kicks, and to blow this up into a
grave face-off between civilizations is a dumb mistake.
Clearly, the French need to address the problems of un-
employment and alienation among their immigrant
communities, yet they’d be wise to avoid the feverish
paranoia and apocalyptic wet dreaming the far-right

Violence of this sortamong impoverished and isolated
communities is far from unknown in the United States.
Our society, so far, has survived them all. One needs to
take a nuanced view of these things, I think. Of course, the
people destroying property and attacking the cops need
to be arrested and locked up for awhile. Of course, order
needs to be restored. However, it is best to try and under-
stand why these events happen. Once this is understood,
people in authority should work to prevent them from
happening again. If it takes stricter laws, so be it. If it
takes more education programs and better job oppor-
tunities, then that must be done also. Demonization,
moral approbation, and fear won’t do anything but deep-
en the divides in society.