Tuesday, November 08, 2005

A View From Paris

An excellent piece by Michel Gurfinkiel in the New York Sun considers a) why the French government waited so long to get a grip on the riots; b) whether they are racially inspired, and c) what the consequences will be.

His answers are a) politics and ignorance; b) racial; and c) the French will turn against the un-assimilated.

Here's an abridged version (my subheads).

Why The Delay?

The first question one must ask is why the French government, admittedly one of the strongest and most centralized in the world, and certainly in Europe, did not consider imposing some measure of martial law in the violence-ridden areas much earlier.

One reason for the government's procrastination has been that in a crisis scenario, much depends on the president, Jacques Chirac, and he suffered a minor stroke several weeks ago. Another reason is that both Mr. Chirac and his heir apparent, Mr. Villepin, were not entirely unhappy about the rioting, at least in its first stage, since it was a blow to their political rival within the conservative camp, the minister of the interior, Nicolas Sarkozy.

The temptation to sack Mr. Sarkozy - as a token of appeasement - may have loomed over them for several days at least. Moreover, Messrs. Chirac and Villepin have built their political identity on a Gaullist pro-Arab and pro-Islamic stand that became fully apparent three years ago, when France distanced itself from America in respect of Iraq.

They may expect to harvest a large "immigrant vote" in the coming presidential and parliamentary elections, in 2007, and be reluctant to jeopardize it by taking an aggressive law and order line now.

Still, more factors may have played as well. The government may have been genuinely surprised and intimidated. It is one thing to know in theory that France has undergone major ethnic changes over the past 30 years and another thing altogether to confront a mass ethnic insurgency.

It is estimated that 35% of all French inhabitants under 20, and 50% of all inhabitants in the major urban centers, belong to the ethnic minorities. Islam alone may claim respectively 30% and 45%. Since war is essentially the business of youths, the combatant ratio in any ethnic war may thus be one to one.

Poverty or Ethnic?

Which brings us to a second question: How ethnic is the present violence in France? Liberal commentators, both in France and abroad, tend to say that poverty and unemployment, rather than race or religion, are the driving force behind the riots.

The fact also remains, according to many witnesses, that the rioters torch only "white" cars, meaning white owned cars, and spare "Islamic" or "black" ones. One way to discriminate between them is to look for ethnic signs like a sticker with Koranic verses or a picture of the Kaaba in Mekka or a stylized map of Africa.

Long Term Impact?

A third and last question is what impact this unprecedented ordeal is likely to have on France and Europe? One would reasonably expect the French government to restore its grip over the country. What matters, however, is the long-term outcome.

My guess is that the crisis will not be so easily forgotten or washed away among the "non-ethnic" citizens, including those of alien stock who have fully integrated into the French society as it is.

Rejection of Islam and of North African, Black African, and Middle Eastern immigration may increase dramatically. And the prospect of Turkey acceding to the European Union may get even dimmer.

Rejection of new immigrants would be a good start, but they still have to deal with the 6 million Muslims already there.