Sunday, November 06, 2005

Paris riots

I haven't had anything to say about the rioting in Paris. The right wing is enflamed, arguing that this is all about the Muslims, an Islamic rebellion in the heart of the land which gave us "Freedom fries."

I don't buy it. I haven't followed it with great care because from the first, I saw it as a story about internal French politics and policy.

As I've read about it, especially in the English-language European press, I'm more and more convinced that my initial take was right. It's not a Muslim uprising, it's an economic struggle.

Consider the iconic image of the rioting, the burning cars. Jerome a Paris writes:

Burning cars are nothing new - there was an average of 100 per day in France throughout the year, and it never made the news beyond statistical reports and an quick image once in a while when there was another incident to talk about.

What's real is that social budgets for these cités (those that allow the associations to run sport activities, literacy classes and the like) have been cut in the past 3 years, because, as always, this is the easiest thing to do politically.

What is real is that local police forces have been reduced (in Clichy, where it all started, the police has 15 officers vs 35 in the past) and replaced by national police who do not know the neighborhood and are pretty aggressive in their behavior - and especially in their overuse of ID controls which target only people of color.

What is real is that France made a choice 30 years ago to preserve the jobs of those already integrated, and made it difficult to join that core. Thus unemployment, or unstable employment (temping, short term contracts, internships) touches only those that are not yet in the system - the young and the immigrants, or those that are kicked out - the older and less educated blue collar workers in dying industries. So in neighborhoods where you have a lot of young immigrants, the problems are exacerbated.

And finally, what is real is that everybody is aware that nothing serious will be done before the 2007 presidential election.
The third point is interesting because it connects to the state of immigration in America. As conservatives ponder denying citizenship to people born on American soil, it's worth considering how that will alter society.

The "immigrants" in the riots are second and third generation members of French society. Social policy and social stigma isolated them, made it easy to box them out. France allows citizens of former colonies easy access and possibly citizenship. But without leaving ways of integrating them into society, those people became second class citizens. If that sounds familiar, it's the same force that motivated race riots in Newark, Watts, Detroit and elsewhere in 1960s' America.

Treating this as a jihad or an intifada obscures the real issues for no benefit to us as observers or to those who have to apply lessons learned from these events.

"Sons of the Desert" by The King of France from the album The King of France (2005, 1:22).