Thursday, November 03, 2005

Shall we keep them?

For those who've spent the past week catching up with old friends and shrugging ineffectually at ever-growing piles of forms to fill out and dirty laundry, the time has come for a news brief: There are riots in the French suburbs.

Why should we care? We at WWPD are neither French nor suburban. Yet we have grown tired of reminding conservatives that yes, women enjoy sex, and the time has come to discuss other subjects of equal if not greater importance than Leon Kass's estimation of the female libido. What's happening in France has some huge implications, and is definitely worth paying attention to.

The riots look, on television, at least, very, well, American. Minorities living on the outskirts of a city are in conflict with police, cars are burning, everything is a mess. Anger is not demonstrated by a fierce debate on a literary television show, or by a snide word or two in a patisserie, but by good, old fashioned flaming cars. It seems France has an American-type problem on its hands. Will it choose an American-type solution?

This is the real problem, so often ignored, that Europe still can't get past the idea that there's such a thing as a "real" Dutchman, Frenchman, German, and so forth. America is unique in that it does not have this problem. While "all-American" conjures up a certain image, ideally Americans do not allow themselves to believe, on either a political or social level, that some Americans are more American than others. Does France's problem excuse individual criminal acts? No, but it does get to the truth of the motivation more than looking at radical Islam as a free-floating force against which Western democracies are helpless.

Despite its shunning of hyphenated identity and insistence that all of its citizens are equally--and nothing but--French, France has a problem: whenever a minority group in country is involved in a conflict--one its members started, of which its members are victims, or a combination--the possibility of that group up and leaving is immediately brought up. When there was a surge in anti-Semitism a couple years ago, Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon suggested French Jews move to Israel. France protested, but the fact that Sharon's words seemed fairly reasonable, as though French Jews are somehow more mobile than other French citizens, is itself worrisome. Now, while French Muslims are rioting, much of the discussion is over whether France should have even let "these people" in in the first place, or whether "they" ought to be tossed back out again. (via Dylan).

While the French government itself has not endorsed the idea that minority populations are less than permanent societal fixtures, it needs to act--both through declarations and through policy actions--in such a way that this is no longer the reality of the situation. When poor, black Americans were left homeless after Hurricane Katrina, there was no outpouring of suggestions that this demographic--those directly affected and others--leave the country. America debates the status of illegal immigrants, not always coming to the most just conclusions, but American citizens of all backgrounds are treated as here to stay.

A liberal nation simply cannot see itself as containing various populations--often composed of the nation's own citizens--which can be encouraged to leave the country whenever things aren't going so well. If a group of ethnically French individuals lost it for one reason or another, they'd be arrested, but no one would suggest their entire town be shipped off somewhere, even if the town's members might be, deep down, supportive of the criminals. Similarly, a liberal nation cannot accept that when a minority group is discriminated against, it can always emigrate. A liberal nation must permit emigration, but does France really want to be a source of refugees?

I'm not sure what sort of policies France could enact that would make its Jews and Muslims feel--and be perceived of as--more fully French. The much-criticized ban on religious headcoverings clearly had such a goal in mind, but symbolic policies need to be supported by low-profile, economic, and structural ones. I last encountered economics in Mr. Lewak's classroom in 11th grade, so I'm not the one to go to for specifics, but the idealist in me does think that good laws could largely counteract cultural tendencies that convince people worldwide that, in France, there are French people, Muslims, Jews, and so on.


codone said...

Women like sex?

Anonymous said...

I think many French would agree that the single biggest post-war mistake they made was allowing mass muslim immigration.

Anonymous said...

The riots don't look American to me. They look Palestinian.

Arabs themselves are calling it the Paris intifada.

Jochen said...

It strikes me as, well, a very American view to regard these riots as, well, looking American. From a European view, they look pretty European, if not specifically French (few other European countries have experienced such riots, which might tell something about France). My understanding of American urban politics might be wrong, but at least I haven't read that 9,000 police cars were destroyed in the U.S. in the last year during smaller riots, which usually don't come into the media. (That's the number I read for France.)

I would not contest your point that deporting these people, or keeping them out from the very beginning, is a solution; but to my knowledge, few serious people in Europe suggested that rioters should be deported. (Though, if you want to know what kinds of problems Europe is facing concerning illegal immigration, look at Ceuta and Melilla.) However, to simply equate the European situation with the American one is somewhat biased, as Europe has, until very recently, not defined itself as a continent of immigration, unlike the U.S. That makes integration much more difficult, particularly facing the economic difficulties Europe is struggling with.

Finally, the U.S. is not facing, as far as I know, the problem of communities isoling themselves, against all attempts for integration, and rejecting "Western" culture and norms. This is, indeed, a European-wide problem, that should, however, not be conflated with the social problems you see now in France.


PS: I enjoyed reading your blogg, after not having read it for quite a while. Sorry for the long comment.

Saheli said...

"not always coming to the most just conclusions, but American citizens of all backgrounds are treated as here to stay."

Well, Not usually.

Phoebe said...

"It strikes me as, well, a very American view to regard these riots as, well, looking American."

I don't claim to be speaking from anything other than the point of view of an American who saw riots in L.A. and NYC on television and who saw a visual resemblance. That doesn't exclude a visual resemblance to any number of other conflicts in other countries. It's not a bias--I'm not saying the situations in the US and France or elsewhere in Europe are parallel. But I would say that if Europe is not used to immigration, it might want to take some cues as to how to deal with immigration from the US. That's not to say copy the US, policy by policy.

Qalandar said...