Wednesday, November 9, 2005

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The rioters really are French

A lot has been written about the ongoing riots in France, but the best things I've seen have come from Megan McArdle and Daniel Davies.

From Miss Jane Galt:

Is it because Arabs/Muslims are a roiling repository of violent, seething hatred, ever threatening to bubble over onto unsuspecting victims in their path? Because the French are so damn mean?

Let me suggest another possibility: Muslim youth are rioting in France because breaking windows and setting cars on fire is fun.

But Davies wins the prize here, pointing out the one way in which this is all so... French:

These young men have got a political grievance, and they're expressing it by setting fire to things and smashing them up. What could be more stereotypically, characteristically French than that? Presumably they're setting fire to cars because they don't have any sheep and the nearest McDonalds is miles away. "French society is threatened by anarchy and lawlessness". I mean really. Everyone would do well to remember that this is France we're talking about, not Sweden or perhaps Canada.

Indeed. The only difference between these riots and prior action like this by, say, Air France employees is that by this point in the game the French government would have already capitulated.

posted by Dan on 11.09.05 at 11:11 AM


There is much truth in this simple (but not simplistic) analysis. In the theater of the absurd to which political protests have descended in France, the current riots can be seen as "same play, different performers." However, the contrast between what Arab-French rioters are doing and what, say, acolytes of Bove have done in recent years is roughly that between an actual Civil War battle and a reenactment by middle-aged enthusiasts. What does the French state, which has grown used to the faux passions of its bored middle-classes do when confronted by the real McCoy? So far, precious little.

I suspect that is because, were they to take the gloves off, there would be no way to claim a "special relationship" with the Arab world, nor would France have any authority to cluck-cluck over American mistakes in Iraq or (God forbid) Israeli "crimes" against Palestinians. In short, France is facing a meltdown not only on the domestic front, but also a potentially devastating check to its entire foreign policy as well.

In the meantime, Villepin fiddles. The question is, Dominique, WWND (What would Napolean do)?

posted by: Kelli on 11.09.05 at 11:11 AM [permalink]

Clever post, but even if the rioters weren't acting stereotypically French, if they're French citizens, born in France (which many presumably are) then what else are they?

posted by: Phoebe on 11.09.05 at 11:11 AM [permalink]

I'm sorry, Dan, I enjoy your blog, but this post is pathetic and way below you.

Sometimes I think that anyone who gets tenured by an American university (congrats, by the way) is automatically equipped with politically correct blinders.

Dan's case is interesting. He's just a tat outside of the mainstream. A social liberal, but a fiscal conservative. Enough to send a 'frisson' of horror down the spines of his colleagues and of himself. Some even refer to Dan as a conservative.

Yet when it comes to the real meat, Dan isn't home.

Let's look at this French case.

Does France have a tradition of political rioting? You betya.

Has the current rioting been formulated around a political movement with clearly formulated political demands (Bastille 1789, Paris commune 1848, students '68)? Answer: no.

Furthermore, the previous political riots in France have been about INCLUSION into the French state or the power structures of the French state. The present riots are about EXCLUSION from the French state and French society. The rioters want to maintain their de facto status as sovereign entities independent and outside of the French state. I suppose a good conservative case could be made on the rioters' behalf by pointing out that the French government has effectively allowed them this for so long that they have a claim of expectation! At any rate, Sarkozy in particular has announced that he wants the immigrant muslim enclaves to revert to the control of the French state. Naturally, the immigrant muslims are not amused.

The key factors here are race and religion - factors that have been noticeably absent in France's tradition of political rioting (and let's not go all the way back to the Fronde, will you). The key factors in the present rioting are not social-economic depravation, as the left wants to tell you. Sure, social-economic depravation plays a role, but as a CONSEQUENCE of racial and religious exclusionism, both on the part of the rioters and on the part of the native French (both are happy to exclude each other); not as a cause.

For a better understanding of things you could start by reading Melanie Phillips on the riots:
Then again, half the conservative blogosphere, which Dan reads, has links to relevant pages.

So, Dan, now that you're tenured: you can take the blinders off. Say something that scares the daylights out of your colleagues. Something... eh, true? Realistic?

Good luck.

posted by: Sarko on 11.09.05 at 11:11 AM [permalink]


Similar muslim immigrant rioting has been going on in Denmark in the last weeks. I guess that's also just part of that French tradition of political riots, no?

posted by: sarko on 11.09.05 at 11:11 AM [permalink]

Oops. Paris commune 1871.

posted by: Sarko on 11.09.05 at 11:11 AM [permalink]

Sarko writes: "Has the current rioting been formulated around a political movement with clearly formulated political demands? Answer: no."

Yet follows with:

"The present riots are about EXCLUSION from the French state and French society."

Which is it? If there are no clearly formulated political demands, then how can they have so clearly demanded exclusion from the French state and society?

You should check your right-wing talking points for mutual exclusivity before using them.

"you could start by reading Melanie Phillips"

Or not, as she's one of the MMR morons

posted by: Jon H on 11.09.05 at 11:11 AM [permalink]

France - if you don't like it, leave

posted by: Lord on 11.09.05 at 11:11 AM [permalink]

Here is Jim Dunnigan's take on it today:

In France, It's Not Jihad, and Never Has Been

"November 9, 2005: In France, Islamic clerics issued a Fatwa (religious ruling) condemning the street violence of young Moslems over the last two weeks. Fortunately, or unfortunately, most of the thugs on the streets are not very religious. The violence is more ethnic and economic than religious, with a major criminal element (the gangs, like the IRA, know they will thrive if the police can be driven from their neighborhoods).

There's a generation gap, as well, between the wild child element in the street, and the mainline Islamic leadership, who remembers the hard life in the old country. While overall unemployment in France is ten percent, it is much higher in immigrant communities. Thatís because French law makes it very difficult to fire anyone, which means employers are very reluctant to hire anyone. This makes jobs precious, and rare, commodities. The migrant families donít have the connections and clout to compete with native French families when it comes to getting jobs for their young. Thus, a disproportionate number of young men from Middle Eastern and African countries are unemployed.

Actually, a lot of these Moslem men have succeeded, many going to college or getting tech school educations. They have jobs. But these are not the guys out in the street every night burning and stealing. Many of those fellows have taken to a life of crime. Most of the criminal gangs in many cities are run by Moslems. This means being a Moslem has become synonymous with belonging to organized crime. Drug gangs are very common, with young Moslems being out front selling and distributing the illegal substances.

Thereís another serious problem, and that is the French approach to property crimes. The cops are inclined to concentrate on crimes against people (assault, murder, rape), and look the other way when it comes to property crimes. The courts, or at least many judges, are lenient when it comes to Moslems and property crimes. Itís sort of group guilt among the French upper crust. They brought the Moslems in half a century ago, to do the dirty work. But now many of those manual jobs have been automated, and the Moslems donít want to go back to the Middle East or Africa. Why should they? France provides generous social benefits to the permanently unemployed. Compared to the old country, France (even with the local drug gangs), is a much safer place to live.

Thus, the street violence is partly a lark, because the kids know the cops are not going to use lethal force, and anyone who gets caught will, at worst, do maybe a year in the slammer (for burning cars looting stores). The drug gangs encourage the violence as a way to intimidate the cops. When the violence dies down, the gang bosses can threaten the local cops with a revival, if the cops do not back off (when it comes to the drug trade).

There are some Islamic radicals running around in all this, but they are a minority. The Moslem kids like to talk about respect and payback, but very few see this as a religious war. Itís become a sport, with various groups competing to cause the most destruction. Text messaging, Internet bulletin boards and email made it possible for the rioters to stay in touch and compare notes. The media coverage also encouraged the violence, giving the kids some positive (for them) feedback.

But now, nearly two weeks of street violence have thoroughly embarrassed the government so much that curfews and more arrests have taken some of the joy out of these Autumn antics. But itís not jihad, and never has been."

posted by: Tom Holsinger on 11.09.05 at 11:11 AM [permalink]

The comment of the day was from AFOE yesterday: the solution to the rioting in France is to unionize the rioters. Then they'll only riot 32 hours a week.

posted by: Dave Schuler on 11.09.05 at 11:11 AM [permalink]

Jon H writes:

"Sarko writes: 'Has the current rioting been formulated around a political movement with clearly formulated political demands? Answer: no.'

Yet follows with:

'The present riots are about EXCLUSION from the French state and French society.'

Which is it? If there are no clearly formulated political demands, then how can they have so clearly demanded exclusion from the French state and society?"

That criticism has a superficial plausibility. I'm sure it would do well in a high school debating society. It's a classic switch of the terms of debate.

I never said that the rioters have specifically DEMANDED anything, as Jon H suggests. The rioters ACT in a certain way, namely as if they are the law of their land. It is this action that I have characterized as exclusionist, not some putative demand.

France's political riots have traditionallly been about taking control of the French government or getting listened to by the French government. They have not been about separation from the French government. These riots are precisely about that. The rioters do not want to take part in the French government or submit to the French government once it has listened to them. They want to exist BESIDE the French government (and some would undoubtedly want to replace the French government if they had the numbers). That's why some people speak of these riots as the beginning of a civil war. A war is different from a political riot precisely in its exclusionism. The American civil war was not a political riot; it was a civil war because of the South's exclusionist pretensions. Similarly, Hitler was not rioting against the French government when he invaded France; he was engaged in warfare.

As to Melanie Phillips being one of the "MMR morons": I have no idea what that stands for. I do know, however, that ad hominem attacks show one to be rather weak. You could start by pointing out where Phillips is wrong and THEN conclude she's a moron. Note that in my previous post I justified my characterization of Dan's post as "pathetic" by subsequent argument.

If more people had read Phillips, as well as Theodore Dalrymple and others like them, perhaps these riots would not have happened.

posted by: Sarko on 11.09.05 at 11:11 AM [permalink]

Sarko, you're still full of crap.

"These riots are precisely about that. "

That implies a " clearly formulated political demands" which you claim the rioters do not have.

The riots cannot be precisely about *anything* without 'clearly formulated political demands'.

How can something be precise, without being clearly formulated? It's a contradiction in terms.

posted by: Jon h on 11.09.05 at 11:11 AM [permalink]

Jon h,

When two rabbits are copulating it's precisely about continuation of the species. Yet no two rabbits have ever formulated those activities in these terms. Biologists have, however.

Your fellow leftists never had much trouble with this kind of reasoning. Marx was perfectly capable of saying that politics is precisely about class relations, even if many people participating in it never formulated their activities in those terms (until Marx, of course).

And so on.

posted by: Sarko on 11.09.05 at 11:11 AM [permalink]


It is debateable at best that the rioters are exclusionist. I can just as easily imagine them feeling frustrated precisely because they perceive themselves as unrepresented within the system that governs them. And I'd need some clear evidence to think they were exclusionist before I started believing too many theories based on that premise. Amongst other things, I need clear evidence that this is an upheaval caused by religion and not by existing socio-economic disequalities of precisely the kind that normally spark popular unrest.
The notion that this could be a precursor to a civil war is wandering into the realm of the absurd. I suppose some people believe in space aliens too.
As to MMR, I haven't the faintest idea who they are. But I will say there is too much dishonesty on the internet to take everything seriously. When people detect genuine intellectual bankruptcy, they are within their rights to give it a brusque dismissal.

posted by: peter on 11.09.05 at 11:11 AM [permalink]

It's just a youth bulge in a disempowered subset of a society. Nothing new here, you can predict these like clockwork a decade or so ahead just by looking at demographics.

posted by: perianwyr on 11.09.05 at 11:11 AM [permalink]


Cites for your remarkable claims, please?

posted by: Randy McDonald on 11.09.05 at 11:11 AM [permalink]

Well, let me bite at the suggestions of Peter and Randy McDonald. But not too much. You can do your own research. And provide some arguments and facts.

Places to start are Theodore Dalrymple and Melanie Phillips, as I suggested above. There's also a round-up at www.artsandlettersdaily (column on the right). Thomas Sowell has a good piece up on the riots as well. Courtesy of me here's a link to a TechCentral article by Nidra Poller:

Movies of interest:
FILM: Chaos
DIRECTOR: Coline Serreau

La Haine (1995)

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some riots to manage... as well as a presidential campaign.

posted by: Sarko on 11.09.05 at 11:11 AM [permalink]


A minor cavil on a personal pet peeve but what the hell you do seem to be something of a know it all,

They're called BLINKERS not blinders.

posted by: 2810 on 11.09.05 at 11:11 AM [permalink]

@ 2810

I love you already.

That's why I'm a European. And you're not. You lucky bastard!

posted by: Sarko on 11.09.05 at 11:11 AM [permalink]


Yeah, I can do my own research. And that's why I'll ignore your cites. You don't strike me as having enough judgment to be taken seriously.

posted by: peter on 11.09.05 at 11:11 AM [permalink]

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