France: stuck on stupid
The ashes of French cities are still smoldering, as the nation tries to get back to "normal" after last month's riots. France will probably never be the same again.
The trouble began on the night of October 27th, when two teenagers of North African descent took refuge from the police inside a power station. Whether the police were actually persuing them or not, is still unknown. Nonetheless, the two boys lost their lives when 20,000 volts of electricity rocked their bodies. That evening, angry rioters took to the streets in suburban Paris, clashing with police, burning vehicles, and generally spreading mayhem.
And they didn't stop for twenty consecutive nights. The rioting spread, first into the city of Paris proper, then to other parts of France. In all, rioting affected 274 communities, including France's fifteen largest urban areas. Rioters burned 8,973 vehicles, injured 126 police officers, torched a daycare center in Carpentras, a school in Belfort, and a Catholic church in Romans-sur-Isere. Jean-Jacques Le Chenadec, a retired Renault auto worker, was murdered on November 7, the night that the riots peaked.
By the night of November 17, French authorities declared that order had been restored, saying that the previous night's 98 torched vehicles corresponded to the usual average. When only 98 vehicles burn, this a return to normalcy.
Right now, I'm studying in Freiburg, Germany, a small city just a few minutes from the French border. The riots intrigued me. I was interested to know how the European press, public, and intelligensia would respond. This sort of thing was not supposed to happen in Europe, particularly not in France, the home of "liberté, égalité, fraternité". When Hurricane Kathrina hit Louisiana, the European press covered it ad naseum, and most of the Europeans I talked to told me that the Katrina revealed everything that was wrong with America: lack of governmental assistance, racism, inequality, poverty, and the general brutishness of the American people. That sort of thing doesn't happen in enlightened Europe, I was told. Europeans are generally not racist, they don't have the massive gulf between rich and poor that we do, their social "saftey net" doesn't allow people to fall through the cracks, and Europeans are just all-around more civilized.
As former French President François Mitterrand remarked during the 1992 LA riots, "There can be no comparison between us and what happens elsewhere," he assured his countrymen, "for France is the country where the level of social protection is the highest in the world." That's right, it can't happen in France. They take care of their people, unlike the savage American capitalism that exploits minorities, the poor, and the working class.
Then France exploded. I wanted to know how it would be portrayed: would they downplay it, or would they apply the same logic to the French riots that they did to Hurricane Katrina?
Well, a little bit of both. Although the riots did receive press attention, I believe that they would have attracted a lot more if they had occured in the US, rather than in Europe. But it wasn't entrirely ignored. Recently, I attended a panel discussion at the University of Freiburg on the subject of the French riots. I sat for two hours while stuffy professors gave the same remedies and explanations that I figured they would. According to them, the French riots are a result of great social injustice, police harrassment, and racism (funny, I thought those were confined to the United States). Their solution to the problem was two-prong: first, the French government needs to "invest" more in these neighborhoods. And secondly, they need a system of "postitve discrimination" to get jobs for ethnic minorities.
This is exactly the wrong solution and represents the close-mindedness of the liberal mind. Their first presumption is that if people are rioting, they must have a legitimate grievance. In fact, when riots occur, it is obviously the rioters themselves who are the victims. In order to prevent such occurences in the future, the government needs to determine their grievances, and then bend over backwards to give them whatever they want.
Using this logic, the panel members came to the conclusion that the French need to "invest" more money in their poor neighborhoods. It sounded like they were suggesting that the French need more hand-outs. Don't the French have enough of those? France is border-line socialist, and their anti-growth economic and social policies have made the French economy go stagnant, registering almost no growth over the last ten years. Economic growth reached a whopping 0.1% in the second quarter of 2005, and will probably not reach 2% for the year.
Sorry, but France has already enancted all of the policies that were supposed to prevent this sort of thing. As President Mitterand said, "France is the country where the level of social protection is the highest in the world". It's the "social protection" that's killing them. French workers can collect unemployment benefits of 57% to 75% of their pay for up to three years. The French have startling high payroll taxes, worker "protections" that discourage hiring and growth, and they subsidize or price-control everything from baguette to daycare.
And what about this business of "postive discrimination"? Discrimination is never positive, Herr Professor. Yes, jobs are hard to come by in France, especially if you are a non-white Muslim. Unemployment is rather high in France, hitting 9.1% in June 2005, the most recent stastic I could find. Even though this level of unemployment would be intolerable by American standards, the French have grown used to it. Actually, unemployment has been much higher in the not so distant past, reaching 12.8% in 1997. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know why there are so many Frenchmen out of work either--you can thank the semi-socialist "worker's paradise" that the French have created for themselves. Or at least it would be a "worker's paradise", if anyone were actually working.
Yes, the unemployment rate of non-whites is staggering, but that is not to say that there are no white Frenchmen out of work. Indeed there are, and they are as frustrated and disgruntled as anyone else. Now imagine that they're out of work, and they are given second class treatment whenever they apply for a job. Soon, white Frenchmen named Jean-Luc will come to blame non-white Frenchmen named Muhammed for receiving special treatment. And they will be justified in thinking such a thing. To steal a cliche from the liberals, this would be used as a "recruiting tool" for radical hate groups and Jean-Marie Le Pen's extremist political party, Front National. No, discriminating against one group, indeed the largest group, is not a recipe for racial healing or understanding, especially at a time when there is fierce competition for work.
I can imagine being born in France around the end of the Second World War, back when France was a pretty homogeneous country. Over the the course of my lifetime, I would have witnessed a demographic revolution in my country. Chances are, I would not have liked it, either. At first, I would have been called a racist pig because I was under the false impression that the immigrants are different, and that their introduction into my society would invariably alter my culture. I would have been told that "people are just people", and that we're all the same inside. After millions of immigrants came to my country, and after their effect on my society was undeniable, I would still be called a racist pig because I was intolerant of people who are different. Then, after I watched my country explode in the Autumn of 2005, I would I would be called a racist again, because my country wasn't adapting well enough to the new multicultural reality. That's right, it's the responsibilty of the native French to adapt to the immigrant newcomers, not the other way around. As a Frenchman, I would already be forking over half of my paycheck to the government, but that would not be enough. I would be told that my government wasn't "investing enough" in poor neighborhoods, and that I should accept discrimination in the workplace. In fact, I should have supported both of these policies years ago, and the reason my country is burning down is because I failed to do so.
Well, you can keep your multiculturalism. I'd be just as happy living in the old France, back before I had to give immigrants special treament out of fear that they might torch my car.
I was hoping that the French riots would be a wakeup call to our European friends. And maybe some Europeans learned something from the riots, but it appears that others are stuck on stupid: they want more of the poison that's killing them. The last thing that the French (or the Germans, the Belgians, the Dutch) need is more socialism and more multiculturalism. I'll be praying for France and her neighbors.