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Crisis of French society - and the left

by tyronen Thu Nov 3rd, 2005 at 03:04:10 PM EST

There have now been seven days of riots in the Paris banlieues.  Seven.

The Los Angeles riots of 1992 lasted less than four days.  The 1965 Watts riots were six days.  The UK's Brixton riots of 1981 were three days.

Things like this are not supposed to happen in Europe.  The USA is the harsh, laissez-faire society with a permanent underclass; Europe's more generous social programs are supposed to prevent inequality and hatreds from taking root.  But obviously this equation has failed.  France has an underclass, despite decades of étatisme.

It is easy for leftists to point the blame at France's centre-right government, to posturing between Sarkozy and de Villepin.  That doesn't explain why the riots broke out.  Nor does it explain how to either stop them in the short term or ease the long-term fissures that led to them.


This BBC series highlights disturbing facts.  From segregation:

When Nadir Dendoune was growing up in the 1980s, his home town of L'Ile Saint-Denis, north of Paris, was a fairly diverse place.  "We were all poor, but there were French people, East Europeans, as well as blacks and Arabs,"...

Two decades on, the complexion of the place has changed.  "On my class photos more than half the kids were white," he says. "On today's pictures only one or two are."

to job discrimination:

They may be French on paper - but they know that Ali and Rachid are much less likely to get ahead than Alain or Richard.

Racial discrimination is banned in France. But a quick look at the people working in any shop or office suggests the practice is widespread.

The impression is confirmed by official statistics.

Unemployment among people of French origin is 9.2%. Among those of foreign origin, the figure is 14% - even after adjusting for educational qualifications.

In many ways, France has no lessons for the 'Anglo-Saxons':

Manuel Valls, an MP and mayor of Evry, a town south of Paris where half the population have foreign roots, says France "cannot lecture Britain or the US" on immigration issues.

His country, he points out, has no black or Arab TV presenters, and all MPs from mainland France are white.

Why have North Africans been segregated out to public housing estates with poor schools and no jobs?  Why is unemployment so staggeringly high?  How can riots continue unabated in Europe's largest city for seven straight days?

What does the French left have to say about this?  The old canard - that Europe makes up for its higher unemployment with its well-developed safety net - is no longer tenable in the face of the national disgrace taking place in the suburbs.

Display:
The designation as "riots" is still misleading. As the statistics I have provided on the updated front page thread (http://www.eurotrib.com/story/2005/11/2/13116/4143) show, there is actually little more violence than usual. It could mean that's even worse, as it means that these neighboroods live with a lot of violence in normal times that nobody cares about, but it's also due to the fact that Sarkozy made a big splash over the week end and it has put the spotlight again on the banlieues.

The short of it is indeed that they have been neglected, and possibly these incidents will help to actually do something about it - although with this government I would not hold my breath.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Nov 3rd, 2005 at 03:38:43 PM EST
1,356 car fires in a SINGLE département??

The fact that France has casually accepted this as a fact of life seems to me a damning indictment of the entire society, from top to bottom.

by tyronen on Thu Nov 3rd, 2005 at 03:48:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It started, strangely enough, as a New Year's Eve game in Strasbourg (and it involved, at first, mostly stolen German cars), and it's become a lot more widespread in recent years. How much is linked to trafficking and how much is just casual violence is hard to tell. It's easy, it's spectacular, and it's happening a lot.

but you're right, it's not a sign of a fully healthy society.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Nov 3rd, 2005 at 04:30:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And the César to the best understatement of the day goes to...
it's not a sign of a fully healthy society.


A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Nov 3rd, 2005 at 04:40:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
yeap, but it's not either the sign of impending doom and catastrophe that seems to be the new story du jour.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Nov 3rd, 2005 at 05:06:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Crisis of French society: yes, you're absolutely right, and the facts highlighted by the BBC series are painting a disturbingly true picture of French society today.

But "Failure of the left"???? Right wing parties coalitions have been in power in France for at least thirty five out of the last fifty years.

But hey, why let the facts get in the way of a good story line; the most important point is: "blame it on these damn lefties". Good one, buddy.

by Bernard on Thu Nov 3rd, 2005 at 05:33:53 PM EST
Good one!

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Thu Nov 3rd, 2005 at 05:42:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
...how the left proposes to solve these problems.
by tyronen on Thu Nov 3rd, 2005 at 06:49:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
One partial fix might be to reintroduce and adequately fund the neighbourhood police that Sarkozy gutted so that a modicum of trust develops between these communities and the police. Th problem is that social interactions are not reversible. After 3 years of zero-tolerance crackdown the Neighbourhood Police is not likely to work like it used to (if it used to).

But really, I have been hearing about the trobles in the banlieu since I started learning French almost 15 years ago, so I don't think there's an easy fix.

The first step must be an honest assessment of what's wornd with the banlieu so that a policy can be designed to try and fix what's broken. The French Eurotribbers are now trying to provide us with a picture of what they think is wrong.

Saying "it's just because they're muslim" and throwing police at them is not going to be a solution as it may (and only may) address the symptoms but not the disease.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Nov 3rd, 2005 at 07:04:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Unfortunately it is not easy to be integrated in our white western society (looks at the blacks in US) :

Could you tell me where arabs/africans are well integrated, UK ? US ? India ? Australia ? Malyasia ? holland ? spain ? italy ? norway ? sueden ?

I remember very well the quantity of specialists (leftist mainly) who told us in the 80's that this population will fully be a part of the society like it was the case for italians/polish.. and around 1989, went back to the reality and they started to change their music.

Dealing with the reality is not an easy thing to do but there is no choice, they have to find there place in the society, i do not see lot of solution at this problem, perhaps a very strong positive action would be the less worth.

ps : If you do not want to see your car burned, just but a marocco flag on it.

by fredouil (fredouil@gmailgmailgmail.com) on Thu Nov 3rd, 2005 at 06:36:20 PM EST
our white western society

The western society I live in is not particularly white. But I don't have the blessing of living in Klansland Australia.

by citizen k (sansracine yahoo.fr) on Thu Nov 3rd, 2005 at 11:23:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Unemployment for African Americans was around 9-10% in recent years (http://www.jointcenter.org/2004election/CBC-health-briefs/Economic+Brief.pdf). If we strictly look at unemployment figures as a sign of how well the society is integrated, the situation in America is actually far worse. Statistically, African American unemployment is twice as high as White unemployment compared to France, where the unemployment among people of French origin is only 55% lower than that of the immigrant population. This is all wrong information though. We're comparing apples and oranges here. America still has not integrated its ethnic minorities well here after 200+ years of living side by side. Surely you do not expect France and other European countries to find an overnight fix for this mounting problem that grew out of control in recent years?
I am not suggesting the current government in France is doing the best it can, probably the opposite. But I think we are always too quick to jump the gun. Let me ask you this, how many riots have we seen in Germany and the Netherlands? They have even higher Muslim populations and just as general of welfare states.  

Mikhail from SF
by Tsarrio (dj_tsar@yahoo.com) on Thu Nov 3rd, 2005 at 08:09:40 PM EST
Just to show that the LocustWatch Statistical Debunking Service(TM) does not have an anti-American bias:
If we strictly look at unemployment figures as a sign of how well the society is integrated, the situation in America is actually far worse. Statistically, African American unemployment is twice as high as White unemployment compared to France, where the unemployment among people of French origin is only 55% lower than that of the immigrant population.
Let's take this one one bit at a time...
  • US: ratio of Black to White unemployment rates: "twice" or 2:1.
  • France: ratio of immigrant to French unemployment rates: 100:45 or 2.2:1.
Ahem.

See? This is what happens when people don't pay attention to their seventh-grade math lessons on fractions. (Now you know why my pre-calculus freshmen students hated my guts).

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Nov 4th, 2005 at 03:55:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
states that America's unemployment rate for blacks as a ratio to white's is actually worse than France's ratio of immigrqants to French origin.  But their actual number show America is actually about 10% better on that ratio.  Correct?
by wchurchill on Fri Nov 4th, 2005 at 12:59:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Correct, except that he got the 55% figure backwards, so the US figures are actually worse than the French figure just like he argued. See my other comment above.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Nov 4th, 2005 at 07:30:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Uhm. I think you have it a little bit wrong:

US Ratio is 10% : 5% or 2:1 as you correctly pointed out.
French Ratio (if we look at the original post) 14% : 9.2% or actually 1.52:1, which is a much better situation than what you paint in your post.
Not to mention the fact that Jerome's post from below shows an even smaller difference between unemployment rates for immigrants and locals.
I appreciate your statistical vigor, but I got my ratios down pretty well, thanks :)

Mikhail from SF

by Tsarrio (dj_tsar@yahoo.com) on Fri Nov 4th, 2005 at 01:17:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, actually, 9.2% is 65% of 14%, so the correct statements are:
  • French unemployment is 35% lower than immigrant unemployment
  • immigrant unemployment is 52% higher than french unemployment
You did say French unemployment is 55% lower than immigrnat unemployment, which is backwards.

In the case of the US,

  • White unemployment is 50% lower than black unemployment
  • black unemployment is 100% higher than white unemployment.

Sorry to nitpick.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Nov 4th, 2005 at 07:28:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Or to make it even simpler, look at the right hand side of Jerome's graph at the bottom. Does it look like the unemployment bar for immigrants in France is twice as big as the natives'? :)

Mikhail from SF
by Tsarrio (dj_tsar@yahoo.com) on Fri Nov 4th, 2005 at 01:22:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I did not realize you were referring to the figures of 9.2% and 14$ quoted in the diary.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Nov 4th, 2005 at 07:49:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Except that the graph below is about "indépendants" i.e. self-employed, bot about unemployed. There are no numbers about unemployment in that graph.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sat Nov 5th, 2005 at 03:12:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
1.  There are 5 million Muslims in France or 8% of the population, according to the estimates

(a)  Of course, the official statistics do not exist, and a concept of the Freedom of Information Act, apparently does not exist in France, or if it does, it does not reach to the official numbers of the immigrants or Muslims.

(b) in reality, it could be even higher.

2.  Imagine what happens when the Muslims become
(a) 20% of the population
(b) 25% of the population
(c) 30% of the population.

  1.  If Turkey (Muslim country with 70 million people)  were part of the EU, with its population freely moving to France, would the young patriotic Turks join the Muslim Intifada in Paris?

  2.  Why doesn't France offer land-for-peace solution to the "peaceful Muslim demonstrators and activists?"  Give them land and have them become self-governing, just like Palestinians.

  3.  During the Great Depression in the USA, with very high unemployment, there were no drive by shootings, burning police stations, cars, schools, or shooting at the police.  

(a) Maybe people do things because of their values?
(b) If economics (low income, unemployments) decides human behavior (riot, shoot, rape, kill, burn, destroy), then Karl Marx is still alive.
by ilg37c on Thu Nov 3rd, 2005 at 08:25:53 PM EST
You are a troll, and Karl Marx's economics is still alive even if his political philosophy isn't.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Nov 4th, 2005 at 03:57:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
During the Great Depression in the USA, with very high unemployment, there were no drive by shootings, burning police stations, cars, schools, or shooting at the police.

Uh, have you read the "People's History of the United States", by Howard Zinn? There was violence in the 30's, and throughout American history of the poor against the rich, we just don't hear about it too often (and I definitely didn^t read about it school growing up...though we all knew about what happened to the Indians, despite no one telling us...).

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia

by whataboutbob on Fri Nov 4th, 2005 at 12:54:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What were you thinking, WaB?  our friendly local troll reads only Ayn Rand and other comforting speculative fiction :-)

There was a great deal of public violence in the US from the teens through the thirties.  Gangland violence in the cities, moonshiners and bootleggers shooting it out with cops all over the place, white mobs lynching Blacks and burning their houses and shops, Pinkertons and other hired thugs kneecapping union organisers and newspaper reporters and editors, etc.

Of course when hired thugs -- all White -- kill union organisers or lynch and terrorise uppity Blacks, even when instructed or encouraged or directly paid to do so, it's "an aberration" and has no predictive or characterising power re the behaviour or nature of Whites in general.  Whereas when a gang or mob is dark of complexion, everything they do is mysteriously indicative of some essentialist flaw in the character of the entire demographic.  Yaaaaaawn.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Fri Nov 4th, 2005 at 08:46:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I agree with your description and am glad you pointed out the violence of the past.  One small question, however, about this:

Of course when hired thugs -- all White -- kill union organisers or lynch and terrorise uppity Blacks, even when instructed or encouraged or directly paid to do so, it's "an aberration" and has no predictive or characterising power re the behaviour or nature of Whites in general.  Whereas when a gang or mob is dark of complexion, everything they do is mysteriously indicative of some essentialist flaw in the character of the entire demographic.

Are you saying that's how some people look at it now?  Or back then as well?  Because it's my understanding that racism exists even when there are no people of different colors.  It can be against the Scots or the Irish or because of the area you were raised or your accent or, if all else fails, your bloodlines and breeding.  Back when the events you're describing were taking place, violent or criminal behavior was seen as indicative of larger flaws in white groups as well.

Human behavior doesn't really change.  Us vs. Them rhetoric and behavior always follows similar patterns.  Dehumanizing and demonizing of groups takes place regardless of skin color.  If there are no discernable differences, people will invent them.

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes

by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Nov 4th, 2005 at 09:10:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Good call Izzy, there are still many English who have a bona fide racist disdain for the Irish, even though both groups are White.

I was thinking more of contemporary persons looking back on history and comparing with contemporary events -- or even current/recent events.  For example the OK city bombing doesn't lead White people to believe that all White people are religious nutcases slavering to blow up buildings, but it is very easy for (some) White people to leap to that conclusion about Those Other (dark skinned, wrong religion, wrong language, foreign, etc) People...  a riot in Watts or So Central and plenty of whitefolks in the US click their tongues and say (wtte) "well those people are just like that."  

But yes, it's universal...

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Sat Nov 5th, 2005 at 10:46:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I was thinking more of contemporary persons looking back on history and comparing with contemporary events

You're exactly right.  And I always wonder why it's so hard for people to accept that we're all basically the same?


Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes

by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Nov 6th, 2005 at 01:37:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Sadly, it is one of the reasons that decided me to emigrate to Australia. I do not want to take the risk of a low intensity civil war when it come to grow my chidren (planned ;-) ).
The future in Queensland is much more safe and Australian are much more selective when they chose their immigrants (very skilled, educated, dynamic and by consequencies integrate smoothly in the society)
by fredouil (fredouil@gmailgmailgmail.com) on Thu Nov 3rd, 2005 at 08:54:38 PM EST
by citizen k (sansracine yahoo.fr) on Thu Nov 3rd, 2005 at 11:03:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
the problem is mainly reduced to one state : North Territory (aboriginals : lot of alchool and guns).

rest of Australia especialy Queensland is very safe.

by fredouil (fredouil@gmailgmailgmail.com) on Fri Nov 4th, 2005 at 12:27:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think there is much too chew on here. Whether or not these riots are in fact riots is beside the point. Indeed, in some ways its worse if this kind of thing is actually normally happening.

This is my take, and I think this will be controvertial, but I want it to be that way. Its not a question of the welfare state. Clearly the problem is deeper and more structural than that, and I think it goes to the very heart of the French notion of republicanism. IMO, the republican ideal is a very "modern" (in the technical sense) concept (indeed, perhaps a hyper-modern construct) in a post-modern world where the kind of unifying narrative and assumption of the fundamental similarity of people is no longer viable. Strangely, this is exactly how the neo-cons think too, and it is why they think you can invade a country and "remake" a culture, indeed a region, in an American image. Indeed, there is much about the French republican model that the American right would like - ie "color blind," all individuals are basically the same, they must conform to some kind of model of "Frenchness," etc. Its not for nothing that neo-cons are often called "Jacobins," as too are those who favor a centralized state-model in France.

I think the proof is in the pudding here. The French republican ideal is simply incapable of dealing with a multi-ethnic society, and as such, I think it has to be rethought to provide a more flexible, decentralized polity. (and I don't mean in terms of economics, I'm going deeper here) Actually, although Sarkozy is an opportunist and a thug, he actually has some ideas along these lines. From an outsider's perspective, Sarkozy actually talks some sense - in terms of his willingness to challenge "laicite" fundamentalism (which to American center-leftist, seems to be a ridiculously dogmatic policy) and to suggest affirmative action programs for Arabs and Africans.

As to the French left, I think you are being slightly unfair. As some above point out, the left has not really been in power much since WW II. And under Mitterand, there were some sensible moves to devolve power away from Paris and towards the regions. Likewise, as Jerome notes, when Jospin was PM, he made some common-sense policing reforms, devolving police responsibility to a local level, which Sarkozy has since repealed.

The French left's problem is that is deeply divided between social liberals (basically, people who pursue ideas like the American Democratic Party, although this analogy isn't great, or perhaps the British Liberal Democrats) and anti-capitalists, who reject capitalism out-and-out. While many of these folks are in the Communist Party and various Marxist-type offshoots, there are a fair contingent within the Socialist Party itself. Witness the split over the referendum. If I had to take a guess, I would say that the second contingent is much larger. Thus, it becomes very difficult for the French left to get into power, and is the main reason why Le Pen was able to get into the 2nd round in 2002 (because the left split so many different ways). IMO, the near future for the left is not auspicious, because so many within the "left" refuse to countenance compromise with capitalism. As such, I wouldn't be surprised to see Le Pen and Sarkozy get into the second round in '02. Basically, the left can't get a substantive and dramatic challenge to the status quo together because too many of its voters and adherents are too wedded to it - in other words, to being anti-capitalists in a world where anti-capitalism is bankrupt. (no pun intended) Or, at the very least, it has no realisitc opportunity of presenting a candidate who will win over the nation's voters as a whole.

Fundamentally, I think it is going to take Sarkozy winning in '07 before enough people wake up. Sarkozy's brilliance is that he presents himself as the man with no-nonsense solutions to what pretty much most folks in France recognize is something of a societal malaise. I think there are other folks who can/could offer such a strategy of "rupture" outside of the right, but the above circumstances make it very hard for such alternatives to emerge. Because non-right wing politicians simply don't have a constituency for a kind of politics that would attack traditional shibboleths.

by Ben P (wbp@u.washington.edu) on Thu Nov 3rd, 2005 at 10:50:43 PM EST
I think you are totally right about the French "Republican Principle" and its inability to accomodate true ethnic diversity. The left really needs to have a debate on what a multicultural society is, not what it should be based on some "enlightened" ideal of human behaviour.

Personally I am wedded to the enlightenment ideals of reason and progress, but I realize that's just not the way real people operate. All I can hope for is enlightened, rational and progressive analysis and policy, but the first step in enlightened, rational analysis is to take a long, hard look at reality.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Nov 4th, 2005 at 04:05:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]

the French "Republican Principle" and its inability to accomodate true ethnic diversity.

That "inability" thing is crap, and it is only coming from our current inability to look at thing beyond the next quarterly figures. Integration takes place over generations, and France is doing just as well as it did with Poles and Italians and others in previous generations. It's just that we now see Poles and Italians as fully integrated and don't remember the problems back then, and we see the more recent North African immigrants are only partly integrated and as a "problem".

Here's one graph, I fully intend to come back with more:

This shows that while there are real differences between immigrants and natives, there are almost none between sons (in this graph, but this also applies to daughters) of immigrants and sons of natives.


In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Fri Nov 4th, 2005 at 04:29:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
What is the difference between "employés" and "ouvriers"?

And in any case, don't you really need a graph showing incomes, not occupations?  All this really shows is that immigrants' children are less likely than their parents to be "ouvriers".  I know of no data suggesting they earn the same as whites.

by tyronen on Fri Nov 4th, 2005 at 04:25:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Employé means tertiary sector, i.e. clerks or service sector workers, while ouvriers is secondary sector, working in a factory.

Also, since most companies pay on a salary grid in France, salary is closely linked to function and diploma for most people.


Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères

by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Fri Nov 4th, 2005 at 06:34:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There have now been seven days of riots in the Paris banlieues.  Seven.
The Los Angeles riots of 1992 lasted less than four days.  The 1965 Watts riots were six days.  The UK's Brixton riots of 1981 were three days.

This is a rather supeficial analogy. Especially in terms of 1960s America. There were hundreds of urban riots in the United States in the late 1960s. OK, so the Watts Riots only lasted 4 days. But thats kind of beside the point. Also, both Watts and LA in 1992 were far more destructive in terms of lives lost, property damage, injuries, etc..

Ben P

by Ben P (wbp@u.washington.edu) on Thu Nov 3rd, 2005 at 11:43:37 PM EST
The failure to integrate non white minorities is a crisis of the idealized values of the French Republic for it results in the generally statist French acting like the American libertarians would want. The comparison with the US is instructive - integration has worked much better not because of some sort of lack of racism in American society but because the government and the elites decided on a set of policies actively pushing integration.

Metropolitan France is roughly 10% non-white yet has zero non-white Assembly members. The US is about 30% non-white and one sixth of House members are non-white. That's not some the result of luck or enlightened white voters, it's policy. Back in the sixties the Voting Rights Act forced states to create district maps that would make it easier for non-whites to get elected. The Senate, where by definition you cannot have such policies, tends to have only a negligible number of non whites, particularly if you exclude Hawaii which is overwhelmingly non white. The US Army is chock full of senior non-white officers. Again it is a result of a policy to counter the insiduous effects of racism by forcing the Army leadership to achieve that goal. US elite universities tend to have roughly 15% black and hispanic student bodies because of affirmative action. US companies try to have at least a token number of senior non-white execs because they have been pressured to do so - and token numbers are a hell of a lot better than none. The list goes on. Urban police departments have gone from lily white to having a heavy non-white presence under pressure from the local minority communities.  The elites decisions have come partly out of a genuine sense of justice, but also because of well organized and active non-white pressure groups. Furthermore discrimination tends to be highlighted in countless academic studies, in good part by relying on government collected information about racial disparities.

The French on the other hand refuse any affirmative action as an affront to the egalitarian race-blind ideals of the Republic. Attempts by racial minorities to organize themselves are stigmatized as 'communatarianism' - a mortal sin against Republican values. Same goes for ideas that maybe, just maybe, it would be useful for society to study discrimination in a rigorous manner are futile since collecting statistics differentiated by race is illegal. That of course also makes enforcement of anti-discrimination laws much harder. Only individual cases can be brought when you can't, for example, analyse statistics about allocation of housing or private sector hiring practices.

In effect the French have decided that society should solve the problem of racism with a blindfold and both hands tied behind its back, with just the mouth uttering platitudes about how racism must be eliminated, sounding like American libertarians who somehow argue that because in an ideal society racial categories wouldn't apply, we should act as if we lived in that utopia, rather than in the real world. Now I know that you guys don't like anything that smacks of being 'Anglo-Saxon', so just listen to the American right talking about how all this stuff is contrary to basic American values and that it is really some evil socialist import brought in by those wishy-washy Europeanized American lefties.

by MarekNYC on Fri Nov 4th, 2005 at 12:42:09 AM EST
 to comment on your last two paragraphs describing them.  but though I bristled a couple of times as I read your first two on America, after bristling, you are so right.  Really well said on the America side, and I'll wait for reaction that know the French side better than i.
by wchurchill on Fri Nov 4th, 2005 at 12:54:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Right on, Marek.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Nov 4th, 2005 at 04:08:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think that this whole thing is also a byproduct of France's war to the knife with Algeria, which is by the way, in North Africa.  I think the French are still fighting that war by laying it on thick with discrimination and racism.

Just an observation.  I'm willing to be educated here.


An untypical American.

by euroblksista (gab1954@gmail.com) on Fri Nov 4th, 2005 at 08:38:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
No snark intended, but didn't Algeria win that?

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Fri Nov 4th, 2005 at 01:01:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
A result of the Algerian war was that the whole generation that fought this war (there was a draft at the time) came back with a deep and bitter racism against the "arabs".

Which does not help with the sentiment of rejection the youth of the north of Paris face.

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères

by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Fri Nov 4th, 2005 at 01:39:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I doubt whether these children disrupting watched The Battle of Algiers before they hit the streets.  But this kind of thing is bound to be generationally linked.

First Vietnam and Ho kicked them to the curb at Dien Bien Phu, and then the Arabs gave them what for.

Which is why LePen has such pull among certain French.

I remember attending the Harlem Book Fair a couple of summers back, and being in the audience while an African expatriate writer described the situation in France for people of color (Arabs/Muslims, African and Caribbean citizens from the departements), but especially the Arab-Muslim French population.  He basically said that people were about to go off, and that it could be at any time.

Time has come today.  Do cooler and more rational, and less racist minds in France have anything else to offer these citizens other than platitudes and bullets?

They've got to deliver, and fast.

An untypical American.

by euroblksista (gab1954@gmail.com) on Sat Nov 5th, 2005 at 12:15:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Marek, you are spot on about your comment that French secularism is much closer to the US right and the neocon Jacobins.

Where I disagree is when you say that the French model has failed. I am still not convinced that it is true. All the INSEE studies show that the vast majority of immigrants and their (French children) integrate reasonably well and are no worse off than other French people of similar background.

It is short termism (our society's disease) to expect results in years and not in generations. I'll go and collect all the things that were said and written about Italians and Poles in France a few decades ago. it was the same stuff: "they are different" "they bring their religion with them and want to impose it on our country" "they don't want to integrate and stay together", etc....

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Fri Nov 4th, 2005 at 06:46:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
its a question of whether some adjustments are needed or not. I think that the republican ideal needs to be adjusted to incorporate changed circumstances, become a bit more flexible.

Ben P

by Ben P (wbp@u.washington.edu) on Fri Nov 4th, 2005 at 10:34:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Do you have any links to studies that try to break things down by race as opposed to immigrants?  I have seen few studies that break down stuff by race and religion. Those that I have seen were very narrow - a study on the treatment of kids with Muslim sounding names vs. white sounding ones in the Bordeaux region, one on interview offers by high end law firms in Paris, and a couple small ones on real estate discrimination. All showed very significant racial discrimination but again they are quite limited in their scope. Of course the French government doesn't collect stats on race and government employees, including academics, aren't allowed to do so beyond case study type stuff. That's what I mean by blindfolded.

As to Poles and Italians - the way I see it the problem of Arab and Black immigrants is both the standard one of immigrant groups and one of race. France has generally been quite successful at assimilating white immigrants, particularly Catholic ones. The only racial minority that France had before the postwar period was the Jews and there both assimilation and racism were at much higher levels than with today's racial minorities. Then came WWII which, to quote Celine's regretful quip, 'ruined antisemitism,' making the rather substantial postwar Jewish immigration a mostly non-racial issue.

To be fair America's success is only a relative one and doesn't really apply to the socio-economic bottom half. There the combination of still existing racism and America's poor government services have had dismal results.  But wr/t the top half I do not think that one can dismiss France's problems by saying that time will solve things. France's Arab immigration is no more recent than that of Hispanics in the US, and blacks lived under a ruthless apartheid regime until the sixties. But neither on a political nor on an economic level do you see the sort of representation at higher levels of society that exists in the US.

PS One ethnic group that has not done well in reaching the top in the US are the Poles, and those who have are overwhelmingly drawn from the (well educated) minority that came in the last half century.

by MarekNYC on Sat Nov 5th, 2005 at 03:47:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, we don't know if France will integrate successfully the newest immigrants, but history suggests that we will, because we did integrate successive waves of immigrants, all of which were at the time described as not integrable and/or bringing impossible to solve problems.

People seem to forget that France has been a country of immigration - not only emigration like most of the rest of Europe - for centuries, and HAS integrated pretty much everybody.

My experience of living and working in central Paris, which is worth what it is worth (I work near the Grands Magasins, so it's a shopping and touristy district as well as a white collar business district, and you have lots of different jobs, not all of them high wage), is that you have innumerable people of Arab origins living and working in the same kind of jobs that other French people. One of our newest recruits in our team is a young guy of Algerian origins who went through HEC (the top business school) - and the next person to join our team will be a Bengali immigrant.

But nobody talks about the 80-90% (especially the women) that are successfully integrated and lead normal lifes, even if they live in a banlieue, most of which are pleasant areas.

Again, I am not denying the problems, but also trying to put them in perspective. If you buy the "France is in decline, its society is fucked up, it needs to reform" spiel, which I don't (at least not in the terms put in the business and/or English speaking press), then it's easy to see these riots as an overriding problem.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sat Nov 5th, 2005 at 05:31:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't know France and French Society well enough to have an informed opinion, so I'll happily defer to all of you.

My local rag LA DEPECHE in the South of France barely mentions the "riots" and no one in my village seems to care about it. It'a bit as if it happened in China.  Paris isn't the nombril du monde, eh?

In fact I learned of them (no French TV in this house) through the US media on the net.

A few points though based on personal experience.

I lived in LA during the Rodney King riots. And I feel like Crocodile Dundee telling the French: you call this a riot? HA! THAT'S (pulling out an enormous knife) a riot!

You had to be in LA I suppose, but honestly that comparison in laughable. When the Champs-Elysees are deserted except for patrolling soldiers, wake me up, OK?

Two, I was in France in 1968, in Fontainebleau (Dad was in the service; went to the international lycée there); I was 14. Now that's what I call riots. The country closed down for what? a month? I missed two weeks of my favorite comics, maybe three.  De Gaulle fled to Baden-Baden if I recall correctly.

Maybe the French just like blowing up things now and again; that would show that the gens bronzés are assimilating the native customs, no?

Ah ca ira ca ira....

by Lupin on Fri Nov 4th, 2005 at 03:41:33 AM EST
I agree.

The french disturbances are not yet riots, they don't engage in open clashes with the police. They don't even come close to the activities I was involved in when we defied the police in Dortmund, Frankfurt, Bonn and Rome and occupied the town hall, tore out (historic!) cobbles stones from the streets, built barricades, smashed shop windows and invaded the food sections to grab bottles and cans to be used as objects to throw at the police. We went through the classic mano a mano exercise, garnered with clouds of tear gas, police sirens, burning trash containers, flying stones, shattering glass, quaky bullhorn commands, the attack and retreat tactics to 'hold the ground', grizzly water cannons, soaked parkas, burning eyes, police arrests and (the joy) of liberating comrades from police vans, the monotonous tak-tak-tak sound of the rotors of helicopters above the square - all the chaos and emotions of a serious street fight.

Nothing of that happens now in France. Again: The kids don't engage in frontal clashes with the police.

And what makes it different to the riots in the US and what happened two weeks ago in the UK:

  • There is no looting.
  • There are no shop owners with guns and rifles defending their property.
  • The police does not shoot at the kids.
  • The kids don't carry guns.
  • The kids don't target shop owners of a different ethnicity.

All I see is that the kids have become very media savvy. They know that the most rational way, the manner which causes less harm, is to torch cars. they make for nice, compelling pictures. They are fanals to underline their political message. Which is: Sakorzy has passed a line and he has to go; the government has to enter into a dialogue with the community leaders and offer concrete plans and resources to deal with the degradation of the banlieus and the unemployment of its inhabitants. There is a good chance that they will succeed in this. And mind you: Concrete street action creates strong and long lasting bonds between the folks who are engaged in it. It is where leaders are born. Danny Cohn - Bendit and Joschka Fischer are examples of this. It's where they acquired their 'street credibility'.

As the song says: A working class heroe is something to be.

And it makes for good stories to tell your kids.

"The USA appears destined by fate to plague America with misery in the name of liberty." Simon Bolivar, Caracas, 1819

by Ritter on Fri Nov 4th, 2005 at 06:08:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
...Ritter, you remind me of this Spanish song (sung by one of my old acquaintances before he dropped out of Physics to make it big in the music industry...)

Daddy, tell me again

Daddy, tell me again that beautiful story
of gendarmes and fascists, and students with long bangs
and sweet urban guerrilla in bell-bottom trousers,
and Rolling's songs, and girls in miniskirts.

Daddy, tell me again all the fun you had
spoiling old age for rusted dictators,
and how you sang Al Vent and occupied the Sorbonne
during that French May in the days of wine and roses.

Daddy, tell me again that beautiful story
of that crazy guerrillero they killed in Bolivia,
and whose rifle nobody dared to pick up again,
and how since that day everything seems uglier.

Daddy, tell me again that after so many barricades
and after so many risen fists and so much spilt blood,
at the end of the game you were not able to do anything,
and under the cobblestones there was no beach sand.

It was a hard defeat: all that was dreamt of
rotted in the corners, was covered with cobwebs,
and nobody sang Al Vent any more, there are no more crazies, not more pariahs,
but it needs to rain as the square is still filthy.

That May is far away, far away is that Saint-Denis,
how far Jean-Paul Sartre is, that Paris is very far,
however sometimes I think that in the end it was all the same:
blows keep striking those who speak too much.

And the same dead remain rotten by cruelty.
Now they are dying in Bosnia, those who used to die in Vietnam.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Nov 4th, 2005 at 07:22:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Interesting point.

It is true, as I note above, that the amount of damage - to property and in terms of human carnage - is much less than one saw in riots like 1992 LA.

by Ben P (wbp@u.washington.edu) on Fri Nov 4th, 2005 at 11:51:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
LA is nowhere near as guarded as the Paris problematiques. A better comparison is to Johannesburg where the daily life in the white suburbs was not affected by open war in Soweto.  

On the other hand, France is not gun happy like California. Firing pellet pistols at the cops doesn't have the same result as firing 45s and Mac-10s.

by citizen k (sansracine yahoo.fr) on Fri Nov 4th, 2005 at 09:13:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I almost said the same thing in an earlier comment, but didn't want to sound like I was saying mine was bigger ;))

I was a kid in the 50s and 60s, there were very bad riots then.

That said...if some kind of dialogue doesn't happen, it could get worse before it gets better.

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia

by whataboutbob on Fri Nov 4th, 2005 at 01:04:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
We desperately need more riots in the US.

I think when a society is in crisis, riots (especially if they don't kill people as the French riots so far seem to have done) are a good thing.

Hell. what was the French Revolution?

The LA riots led to a much needed reform of the LAPD and other stuff.

I'm appalled that African-Americans didn't riot en masse after Katrina, everwhere. I would have set a car or two on fire myself if I was 18 and lived in DC.

The French rioters (for this is what they are, not Muslims or foreigners) of today are as alive as those of 1968. Not necessarily a bad thing.

The Americans seem dead, spiritually crushed. Read the frontpage post on Kos on Bush's latest blow aggainst the poor.

It is not the French riots which are the news, it is the ABSENCE of American riots, like the dog who didn't bark in the night.

by Lupin on Sat Nov 5th, 2005 at 05:39:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
This is an interesting comment! Perhaps Americans don't often riot because they see their political system working as they think it should.

Perhaps part of the problem in France is having essentially zero minority representation in government? I don't know the statistics.

Regardless of what you think about American policies, we do have a pretty good record of finding minorities to fill important positions. For example, one does not need to look very hard to notice the highest ranking cabinet post, and fourth in line to be "the most powerful person in the world," is a black woman. And there are obviously a number of Hispanics in government. Ralph Nader, an important (although never elected!) politician, had Lebanese parents.

It seems to me that rioting is sort of a last ditch attempt to make a statement, and the lack of recent violence in America may reflect the availability of other methods to voice one's opinion.

by asdf on Sat Nov 5th, 2005 at 12:16:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
As Jerome rightly pointed out there are no minorities in France and therefore they cannot be represented in parliament or elsewhere. The kids' 'riots' are not intended to give them special rights or a minority status. They are meant to get Jarkozy out of power and to tear down those rabbit cages which for too long were considered cheap houses for working people. The torching of cars is only the first step towards the controlled destruction of the tower blocks with sticks of dynamite. The kids show a remarkable amount of potential of collective upward social mobility and they have the personal willpower to make it happen.

"The USA appears destined by fate to plague America with misery in the name of liberty." Simon Bolivar, Caracas, 1819
by Ritter on Sat Nov 5th, 2005 at 02:44:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Incidently, dailKos represents the very leftmost wing (or populist wing, really; no socialists or greens need apply) of American politics. What you see there is completely non-representative of general opinion.
by asdf on Sat Nov 5th, 2005 at 12:19:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
DKos is the left most MAINSTREAM politics site that is important. (actually it is probably the most important political blog in the world, and I don't think I exagerrate). If you take the front page posters, there opinions are really those of the left half of the Democratic Party, and are representative of views of maybe 20 to 30% of the population. True, socialists and greens are marginalized in the American political system, but this does not mean they don't exist. Indeed, I think politicians representing positions to the left of the Democratic Party could probably receive 5 to 10% of the national vote in a system of proportional representation. And, of course, some of those 5 to 10% post at Kos. But Kos's reach is ideologically much larger than this. Indeed, I read the site several times a day, and I'd guess I'm to the right of most of the people who post there, (although less so compared to say, Kos and Armando).

Ben P

by Ben P (wbp@u.washington.edu) on Sat Nov 5th, 2005 at 02:00:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
On dKos and here, you are part of these supposedly "far left" communities.
So I'll say: "yeah right". Think about it: how welcome do you think I would be on a right wing site?

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sat Nov 5th, 2005 at 03:53:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm pretty far left, in American terms. But I don't buy into the hysteria that pervades dailyKos.
by asdf on Sun Nov 6th, 2005 at 12:04:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You didn't really answer my question... but maybe you think I don't really fit on dkos?!

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sun Nov 6th, 2005 at 08:10:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
This probably isn't the place to discuss dailyKos, but you're asking and you're in charge here!

The problem with dailyKos is that there are a couple of dozen sensible front page posters who are overwhelmed by tens of thousands of idiots. The site gets huge amounts of traffic and is obviously one of the principal political sites on the web. Unfortunately, the idiots have taken over and as a result, DK is in my opinion now a force that damages the liberal agenda in America.

Basically, it's a mob. "Get out the pitchforks and stick them in Joe Lieberman!" "Burn Rove at the stake!" "Hillary must die!" "THIS crisis will FINALLY be the END of BUSH and his NAZIS!" It's idiotic.

The result is that productive, long-standing liberal policies like Gerrymandered voting districts to insure minority representation, get unthinkingly painted with the same tarbrush as the Iraq war. Note the complete lack of participation by elected officials? That's because when one of them sticks his head into the room for a minute to see what's going on, the beer bottles come crashing down on his head. Barack Obama being a recent example: He puts in a very well thought out, sensible position statement and the mob throws it back at him for not being extreme enough. No elected official will put up with such nonsense.

It's not a productive environment, it's a place where the mob is whipped into a fury against the establishment. All it does is make it harder for reasonable people--including officials who have actually been elected to office--to make a practical effort to make progress on liberal issues. Kos has gathered a mob, it's out of control, and it is a divisive force in the liberal community and the Democratic party.

I pop in there once in a while when the debate is about a technical topic that I'm interested in, like hybrid cars or wind power, but the widespread "Burn the Vichy Dems at the stake" sentiment leaves me cold.

Kos needs about a hundred full-time moderators and a clean sweep of the nutcases.

by asdf on Sun Nov 6th, 2005 at 12:15:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Kids from bourgeois families backgrounds often have  their life determining group bonding experience in a  student fraternity. Bush is an example of this.

Working class kids otoh often come - of -age, forge their bonds at the assembly lines of autoplants, in coal mines and steel mills, on football fields, in pubs and in street gangs. Gerhard Schröder, Danny Cohn Bendit and Joschka Fischer are examples of the latter. They all share a militant front fighter narrative.

The folks mentioned above are largely envied by poor chaps like i.e. Merz, the beloved darling of the CDU/CSU youngsters. Merz really, really suffers from his boring, unadventurous past, from his lack of 'street credibility'. In his desperation he even tried to make up some stories. Here are two of them:

  • Merz claimed that at 17 - 18 he was member of a 'rocker' gang and that he had terrorized his fellow village people with the loud noice of his motorbike which had no muffler.

  • Merz also claimed that as a student at Bonn university he had once thrown a garbage bin through the window of a left wing pub where SPD MPs usually got together to have a pint of beer.

Both stories were found to be lies. Merz never was a rocker, there was no rocker gang in his village, he never rode a motor bike. All he ever had was a moped. Reporters also asked the owner of the pub (Ständige Vertretung) in Bonn if it had ever happened that a garbage bin had been thrown thru' the window. You guess it. It never happened.

One day I will tell you the story of that pennyless  taxi driver and how he sneaked in with his 'Putzkolonne' to have some free drinks at a Weinprobe (degustation of wines) at the Cafe Südstern right next to the Frankfurt slaughterhouses.

"The USA appears destined by fate to plague America with misery in the name of liberty." Simon Bolivar, Caracas, 1819

by Ritter on Fri Nov 4th, 2005 at 08:28:27 AM EST
What I don't understand about Metz' invented stories is how he expected them to appeal to his base in the young CDU/CSU.

I'd better not invent a revolutionary past. Then again, I don't intend to run for office :-P

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Nov 4th, 2005 at 08:46:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Young CDU/CSU folks watch the same music clips as others. They worship the same icons. Especially in a country like Germany, which has a vibrant youth culture (look at Berlin, Hamburg, Frankfurt etc.) kids are attracted by the same fashion attributes. Now, wearing a bikers leather jacket can be 'cool' when Fischer does it, it will look ridiculous when Merz does it (although he would love it). I have always pitied my conservative friends for their cultural restraints. And they knew it. If you think about it almost all fashion styles have been invented by youngsters who are on 'our side'. The rockers, mods, hippies, punks, rappers were all working class. This gives us actually a lot of societal, cultural interpretation power. In the past I worked for the Socialist Group in the EP somewhat cultivating this particular domain. Remember the French group SOS Racism and Red Wedge (Billy Bragg) in the UK? Well, I worked with them promoting some joint European cultural activities. It led to the formulation of the technical and operational blue print which formed the corner stone for 'Band Aid'. Another boost to left wing pop culture. The chairman of SOS Racism is now a MEP and Bono (U2) became appointed UN good will ambassador because of it. What we couldn't foresee then (due to young age?) was that Bono would defect the cause and accept invitations to Blair's No 10 and Bush's Whitehouse.

"The USA appears destined by fate to plague America with misery in the name of liberty." Simon Bolivar, Caracas, 1819
by Ritter on Fri Nov 4th, 2005 at 11:48:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
My question is whether this is a French problem or a broader problem across Europe. In addition to the current riots in France (and apparently an ongoing problem with car burnings), there are also obviously problems with recent violence in Ireland, the Basque region, Serbia, Spain (miner's strike), Denmark (Arhus)... Not to mention widespread and serious football hooliganism (30 arrested in Slovakia a few weeks ago).
by asdf on Sat Nov 5th, 2005 at 01:13:13 AM EST
Yes and no. Perhaps the question is whether it is a worldwide problem.

On the one hand, these riots are very similar to the kinds of riots that have been seen in the US and Britain, and it some ways they are actually less destructive - in terms of deaths, injuries, and extent of property damage.

On the other hand, there are components that are more uniquely French  - ie the whole "third world comes to Europe" thing, that has been a problem in the Netherlands, Germany, and Britain as well.

by Ben P (wbp@u.washington.edu) on Sat Nov 5th, 2005 at 02:46:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
And Belgium? Some 4 years ago, there were incidents in synagogues and Muslim funerals.

European history of imigrations is not positively rich...

by das monde on Sat Nov 5th, 2005 at 03:46:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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