While Europe slept
The current riots in France are another indication that Europe is having difficulty dealing with a long-neglected problem: its huge and largely unassimilated Moslem immigrant population (originally of immigrants but now including their European-born children), bulging in its belly like the meal of a boa constrictor afflicted with terrible indigestion.
Some time ago I read this sobering and chilling article by Theodore Dalrymple entitled "Barbarians at the Gates of Paris," describing some of the conditions that have led to this mess. It was written in the fall of 2002 and is very long, but here are some excerpts:
But what is the problem to which these housing projects, known as cités, are the solution, conceived by serene and lucid minds like Le Corbusier’s? It is the problem of providing an Habitation de Loyer Modéré—a House at Moderate Rent, shortened to HLM—for the workers, largely immigrant, whom the factories needed during France’s great industrial expansion from the 1950s to the 1970s, when the unemployment rate was 2 percent and cheap labor was much in demand. By the late eighties, however, the demand had evaporated, but the people whose labor had satisfied it had not; and together with their descendants and a constant influx of new hopefuls, they made the provision of cheap housing more necessary than ever...
A kind of anti-society has grown up in them—a population that derives the meaning of its life from the hatred it bears for the other, “official,” society in France. This alienation, this gulf of mistrust—greater than any I have encountered anywhere else in the world, including in the black townships of South Africa during the apartheid years—is written on the faces of the young men, most of them permanently unemployed, who hang out in the pocked and potholed open spaces between their logements. When you approach to speak to them, their immobile faces betray not a flicker of recognition of your shared humanity; they make no gesture to smooth social intercourse. If you are not one of them, you are against them...
When agents of official France come to the cités, the residents attack them. The police are hated: one young Malian, who comfortingly believed that he was unemployable in France because of the color of his skin, described how the police invariably arrived like a raiding party, with batons swinging—ready to beat whoever came within reach, irrespective of who he was or of his innocence of any crime, before retreating to safety to their commissariat....
Antagonism toward the police might appear understandable, but the conduct of the young inhabitants of the cités toward the firemen who come to rescue them from the fires that they have themselves started gives a dismaying glimpse into the depth of their hatred for mainstream society. They greet the admirable firemen (whose motto is Sauver ou périr, save or perish) with Molotov cocktails and hails of stones when they arrive on their mission of mercy, so that armored vehicles frequently have to protect the fire engines.
Benevolence inflames the anger of the young men of the cités as much as repression, because their rage is inseparable from their being. Ambulance men who take away a young man injured in an incident routinely find themselves surrounded by the man’s “friends,” and jostled, jeered at, and threatened: behavior that, according to one doctor I met, continues right into the hospital, even as the friends demand that their associate should be treated at once, before others...
Whether France was wise to have permitted the mass immigration of people culturally very different from its own population to solve a temporary labor shortage and to assuage its own abstract liberal conscience is disputable: there are now an estimated 8 or 9 million people of North and West African origin in France, twice the number in 1975—and at least 5 million of them are Muslims. Demographic projections (though projections are not predictions) suggest that their descendants will number 35 million before this century is out, more than a third of the likely total population of France.
Indisputably, however, France has handled the resultant situation in the worst possible way. Unless it assimilates these millions successfully, its future will be grim. But it has separated and isolated immigrants and their descendants geographically into dehumanizing ghettos; it has pursued economic policies to promote unemployment and create dependence among them, with all the inevitable psychological consequences; it has flattered the repellent and worthless culture that they have developed; and it has withdrawn the protection of the law from them, allowing them to create their own lawless order...
...imagine yourself a youth in Les Tarterets or Les Musiciens, intellectually alert but not well educated, believing yourself to be despised because of your origins by the larger society that you were born into, permanently condemned to unemployment by the system that contemptuously feeds and clothes you, and surrounded by a contemptible nihilistic culture of despair, violence, and crime. Is it not possible that you would seek a doctrine that would simultaneously explain your predicament, justify your wrath, point the way toward your revenge, and guarantee your salvation, especially if you were imprisoned? Would you not seek a “worthwhile” direction for the energy, hatred, and violence seething within you, a direction that would enable you to do evil in the name of ultimate good? It would require only a relatively few of like mind to cause havoc. Islamist proselytism flourishes in the prisons of France (where 60 percent of the inmates are of immigrant origin), as it does in British prisons; and it takes only a handful of Zacharias Moussaouis to start a conflagration.
That last paragraph can be read as though it is offering an excuse for this turn to violence and to violent Islamic supremism. If that's the case, I certainly don't support such an excuse. But I do think Dalrymple's article represents a good description of the phenomenon, an explanation that makes a great deal of sense.
It seems to be no coincidence that the current French riots are said to have been set off by an incident in which two youths suspected of a crime were accidentally electrocuted and died while being chased by the police. Whether the police were in fact chasing them is still an open question, apparently, but in a sense it almost doesn't matter. The belief that they were, and the antagonism towards the police in general, is very clear, as well as the impotence of those police in dealing with crime and/or unrest in these immigrant strongholds.
If you read to the botton of this article, you will discover that part of the underlying reason for the riots at this point in time is a reaction to a recent attempt at a general police crackdown on crime in these neighborhoods by the new interior minister, Sarkozy:
Sarkozy, who returned as the interior minister in late May, began a new crime offensive this month, ordering specially trained police to tackle 25 problem neighborhoods in cities throughout France.
Opposition politicians say he has made things worse.
Laurent Fabius, a former Socialist prime minister and also a potential presidential candidate in 2007, mocked Sarkozy's frequent visits to areas such as Clichy.
"When he announces that he's going to visit such and such a commune or suburb every week, that's not how we resolve those problems," Fabius told Europe 1 radio.
"We need to act at the same time on prevention, repression, education, housing, jobs ... and not play the cowboy."
As one might expect, there is deep disagreement between those who believe only in prevention and think they have a kindler, gentler answer--the leftists and Socialists--and those who believe that the situation has gone on long enough and a firm and immediate crackdown is necessary. The latter group, of course, is labeled with that popular European epithet for what they see as the oh-so-simplistic law and order approach, American-style: "cowboy."
I don't have a solution, but common sense dictates it would have to involve approaches that are both long-term and immediate. A situation so long ignored is going to be all that much more difficult, if not impossible, to treat. As the Dalrymple article says, "Benevolence inflames the anger of the young men of the cités as much as repression, because their rage is inseparable from their being." If this is true--and I believe it definitely is--it does not bode well for the future.
This article by Francis Fukuyama, appearing in today's Wall Street Journal, contains a description of some short-term and long-term approaches. It's a beginning, anyway:
New policies to reduce the separateness of the Muslim community, like laws discouraging the importation of brides from the Middle East, have been put in place in the Netherlands. The Dutch and British police have been given new powers to monitor, detain and expel inflammatory clerics. But the much more difficult problem remains of fashioning a national identity that will connect citizens of all religions and ethnicities in a common democratic culture, as the American creed has served to unite new immigrants to the United States.
Since van Gogh's murder, the Dutch have embarked on a vigorous and often impolitic debate on what it means to be Dutch, with some demanding of immigrants not just an ability to speak Dutch, but a detailed knowledge of Dutch history and culture that many Dutch people do not have themselves. But national identity has to be a source of inclusion, not exclusion; nor can it be based, contrary to the assertion of the gay Dutch politician Pym Fortuyn who was assassinated in 2003, on endless tolerance and valuelessness. The Dutch have at least broken through the stifling barrier of political correctness that has prevented most other European countries from even beginning a discussion of the interconnected issues of identity, culture and immigration. But getting the national identity question right is a delicate and elusive task.