November 8, 2005

More on France

Posted in Politics at 3:57 pm by antonello

Today Salon reprinted an article by the staff of Der Spiegel.

The Molotov cocktails, the stone throwers and the fanaticism are all reminiscent of the student riots of 1968. But this time the rioters are not the avant-garde, their leaders not leftist intellectuals like Jean-Paul Sartre or Daniel Cohn-Bendit.

What is shaking the public order in Europe’s cities today is seething desperation that has erupted in directionless violence. The rioters’ targets can just as easily be the government in Paris as other members of the underclass, as was recently the case in Birmingham. And the terrorist attacks in Madrid and London are also fresh in people’s minds.

This parallel is troubling. Why the need to distinguish this violence from ’68 or other violence in France’s history? France has had a very long history of violence from the working class in order to inculcate political action, usually due to a lack of representation. France’s political order is not set up to deal with a very large disenfranchised mostly immigrant population. Further why is it necessary to combine a comparison with terrorism? Der Spiegel attempts to clairify

The events in Birmingham and the Paris suburbs are unrelated to terrorism. The riots are not about jihad, Iran or Palestine. But they have given rise to concerns that this urban violence could easily become a breeding ground for terrorist organizations like al-Qaida and other extremist groups.

Indeed this riots are not about jihad; more accurately they are about a lack of political and economic opportunity in communities. Urban violence could spawn terrorism, much like many feared industrial conditions would spawn Marxism in the 19th century. The most successful liberal democracies anticipated this threat and undertook a concerted effort to give disenfrachised workers an alternative to Marxism; (granted so did many illiberal undemocracies – I’m looking at you Mussolini! – but we’ll leave this for another day)

This New York Times article by Craig Smith detailed the antipathy that France has shown towards affirmative action programs as a means of creating viable, potent channels of political power for North African communities. Perhaps it’s time to reconsider. To put it crudely, if you can’t beat them down, allow them to join you; people in power don’t like sharing, but when they do, it has a strange way of subduing violence.

Der Spiegel creates a dichotomy between old, white Europe versus new teeming, seething New Europe. To lump all of Western Europe’s difficulties with immigration is reductive and unhelpful;immigrant and Muslim communities are not monolithic . What about other non-Muslim immigrants? Where are the Roma? The migration of Eastern Europeans to the West since the expansion of the EU?

PS – I think it should go without saying that regardless of the press coverage, the French government has been absolutely appalling in its reaction to the violence.

PPS – Some more interesting blog analyses via Max Sawicky: Belgravia Dispatch and Transatlantic Assembly

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