Clive Davis has a good two-part round-up of the commentary on the rioting in France that rejects references to an “intifada,” and that suggests the riots have little to do with religion or politics, and much to do with turf issues and lack of economic opportunity. Some of this commentary claims superiority over what’s appearing on blogs on the ground that it’s based on first-hand knowledge of France. However, I wonder whether the commentators and their sources live in lower middle class or poor French neighborhoods, send their kids to schools with a substantial Muslim population, or ride the buses of Paris like my wife’s relatives do.
We are told by the Paris correspondent for the leftist Independent newspaper that the rioters have no sense of political or religious identity and no political demands. I wonder how this correspondent knows so much about rioters’ deep identities. The young Muslim who attacked my wife’s cousin on a Paris bus seemed to have a religious-political identity (or at least an anti-semitic one). The same is true, judging from the reports I receive, of the kids who often attack the children of the same cousin.
That the rioters make no political demands is neither surprising nor reassuring. As I suggested last night, the fact that these people stand outside of normal French politics is part of what’s most frightening. The young rioters, we are assured by those in the know, merely want to protect their turf without being harassed by the police. What this really means is that they want to commit crime and terrorize their neighborhoods without encountering the police. But this essentially secessionist goal is not an apolitical agenda. The desire to create lawless Muslim enclaves within France is precisely what makes these riots less like the riots in this country that occurred along side of the mainstream civil rights struggle, and more like an intifada. Our civil rights movement pushed for, and the riots probably helped bring about, a vastly increased African-American presence in the police forces of our cities. In Paris, by contrast, the issue is the right to be unpoliced.
Moreover, the fact that the rioters themselves are young and arguably apolitical in some sense doesn’t mean that there is no Islamofascist element or content. The foot soldiers in this kinds of insurrections are almost always young and politically unsophisticated. It may still be the case that, behind the young foot soldiers, stand more conventionally political elements with an Islamofascist agenda or bent. What, for example, are we to make of the discovery of a bomb manufacturing facility in Evry, south of Paris?
Some of the analysis Davis links to suggests that the rioting is mostly the expression of economic grievances. The rioters, it is noted, are the offspring of immigrants who came to France to work, but cannot themselves find jobs, and are “condemned” to live off of welfare. Even if this were true, it’s not very comforting, since the French economy shows no sign of ever being able to provide widespread opportunities for this unskilled, uneducated, and alienated group. It’s seldom wise to overlook economic explanations of the kind being provided here, but they are often beside the point. The issue isn’t really whether economic woes are contributing to the discontent; the issue is whether the discontent has taken on a distinctly anti-French and/or Islamofascist character.
I do agree with Theodore Dalyrmple that “apocalypses have a habit of not happening.” Thus, one certainly should be skeptical about suggestions that France is headed for civil war (much less the caliphate). But is it apocalyptic to predict that France may be headed for a future that isn’t very French or that Paris soon will not be very Parisian?