How France Built the Hate
by Stephen Schwartz
RIOTING in Paris by Arab and black African youths, many of them French-born, has shocked the world, as the disturbances spread and the authorities have appeared helpless. Could similar unrest occur in other European countries with large Muslim populations?
Perhaps. But most of the violence has centered in the region of Seine-Saint-Denis, an area I've known well since first staying there in the early '80s. And it seems to me that much of the problem is particular to France.
First, civil disorders are a popular national tradition — the country still takes its revolutionary history seriously. Radical labor strikes are not uncommon, and the rhetoric of socialist protest, with red flags and barricade anthems, is still part of the French cultural landscape in a way no longer true of other European countries. So for disgruntled young people to vent their anger by attacking French police is not unexpected.
In addition, France has special problems with its immigrant population. Unlike Britain (where radicals dominate Islam) or Spain, the Netherlands and Denmark (where small groups of Saudi-financed Islamists operate), France faces a predicament that has more to do with Arab and African nationality and race than with faith.
France is not an upwardly mobile society when it comes to immigrants. It doesn't reward education or entrepreneurship by encouraging fair integration of Arabs or black Africans.
Yes, in the past, a thin, elite layer from the colonies were drawn to settle in France, even if they remained Muslim or were people of color. The French even boasted of their alleged egalitarianism in dealing with visiting black intellectuals like the American James Baldwin or Frantz Fanon (born on Martinique), who were accepted and praised in Parisian literary circles.
But assimilation in France means something very different from assimilation in America. Those who permanently pledge their allegiance to France must pay a much higher price: surrender of one's own identity, and full acceptance of "Frenchness" — meaning exclusive use of the French language, radical secularism, and, typically, abandonment of most attachments to the immigrant's former home.
France also has a Jewish population near 1 million — the world's third-largest, after America and Israel — of which some 70 percent formerly lived in North Africa. Neither Muslim nor Jewish immigrants are particularly comfortable, today, with the effect of French social norms on their cultures. Both are outraged by the new French ban on head coverings in public schools — the Muslim hijab for girls, the Jewish kippah for boys.
France embodies freedom from religion, not religious liberty.
Then, too, France quietly, de facto, abandoned even this vision of assimilation before the close of the 1970s.
After 1962, when France lost the Algerian war of independence, thousands of Arabs who feared being branded collaborators with Gallic imperialism came across the Mediterranean. They were followed by economic migrants, then by refugees from the second Algerian war (pitting the socialist government against ultraradical Islamists, with 150,000 Muslims killed). France now has up to 6 million Muslims, or a tenth of the population — the biggest Islamic minority in Europe outside Russia.
But the vast bulk of these immigrants have been crowded into separate ghettoes (in the Paris suburbs and elsewhere), where they remain permanently in the underclass.
Two other factors in this unfortunate situation are seldom reported abroad.
First, French law enforcement is known for abuse of ordinary folk, and the Paris police in particular have a fearsome reputation.
Second, the suburbs where rioting has exploded, in Seine-Saint-Denis, belong to the so-called "red belt" long ruled by the French Communist Party. In the 1980s, when the Communists began losing the votes of working-class whites to the anti-immigrant National Front of Jean-Marie Le Pen, the Stalinists reacted by trying to outdo the Front in bashing Arabs and Africans.
I vividly recall a then-shocking event at the end of 1980, when Paul Mercieca, the Communist mayor of Vitry-sur-Seine (another flash-point of the current violence) bulldozed a building inhabited by 300 immigrants from West Africa.
Thus, France does not have clean hands on these issues . . . or on others. Its record of capitulation to the Nazis, followed by cooperation during the Holocaust in getting rid of Jews, was abominable, and these chapters in its history have not been adequately accounted for.
At the end of the Second World War, while the United States was preparing to grant complete independence to the Philippines, a colony for which we had expended much blood and treasure, and Britain was abandoning its empire, French soldiers representing a government with Communist members were shooting Algerians en masse. The Algerians had made the mistake of thinking the victory of democracy over fascism would mean freedom for them.
Modern French history, in short, represents a succession of blunders, atrocities, betrayals and lies.
The bill for centuries of arrogance, heedlessness, belief in innate French superiority, compulsory assimilation and tyrannical central government has come due. It will not be small.
Multicultural programs, fair housing laws, welfare schemes, even investment can only be too little, too late. Unfortunately, it is now almost impossible to imagine a just and equitable solution to the problem of France's Arab and Black African immigrants.
The rest of the world can only pray that the violence will end, that Islamist agitation will be silenced, and that the French will reflect on their mistakes. But there can be little hope that such prayers will be answered soon.