Default Position on the French Riots: Blame the Fears of Victims

November 8th, 2005 12:25 PM

After early stories about French riots in which a reader's questions about Muslims could elicit the response "what's that?" the Washington Post's Molly Moore has started to find a way to write about them. Her major files today are France Beefs Up Respose To Riots, on A1, and an updated version online, French Cabinet Authorizes Curfews Amid 12 Days of Violence.

When earlier stories began bringing up the topic, it was to knock down the idea that there was a connection between the more extreme variety of Muslim identity and the riots. In today's story (I'm quoting from the dead-tree version), Moore approaches it from a different angle--fearful non-Muslim French:

Most of the rioters are the French-born children of immigrants from Arab and African countries. A large percentage are Muslim. Their parents' generation was invited to France as laborers who were expected to return home but didn't. The new generation is coming of age in the midst of France's worst economic slump in years and during a time when many in the country, which is culturally Christian but officially secular, are increasingly fearful of the growth of Islam inside its borders.

But there's very little to go on if you want to know why many in the country are fearful of Islam's growth other than, what, racism? We hear from people who critcize the majority French, such as Patrick Lozes, "a political activist and president of the Circle for the Promotion of Diversity in France:"

In a country that has prided itself on its egalitarian social system, Lozes said, "black people and Arab people are not really considered to be from this country. They are considered an inferior group."

And "immigration specialist" Christophe Bertossi says "the government is treating them as if they were criminals or terrorists." Fine. Are there any? Where are the quotes from social critics who fear criminal activity in the no-go zones that French leaders impotently say will not be allowed to exist? Is there any rational basis for fearing the growth of radical Islamist terror cells in these lawless suburbs? Are there any cultural practices that are incompatible with traditonal French culture specifcally or the West in general? Treatment of women? Jews? Gays and lesbians? It's a mystery.

The theme of the day appers to be blaming white French people. So why stop there:

At present, the country has an estimated 6 million Muslims, most of African descent. The fear of losing France's traditional white European identity fueled French voters' rejection of the proposed European Union constitution last summer and has heightened French opposition to admitting Muslim Turkey into the E.U.

"Fueled" is vague enough to cover everything from determining the outcome of the vote to shoving it, just barely, across the finish line, so I'd love to hear from experts about the consensus view about why it failed. Contemporaneous accounts point in other directions, however. cited polls showing economic factors led the way--fears about a harsher competitive environment and less of a social safety net. This Wikipedia entry also cites mainly economic factors--"On the left, many expressed the view that the Constitution would enforce a neoliberal economic model." Wikipedia also cites opposition from the right, but dislike of Turkey joining the EU is mentioned only after fears of loss of national sovereignty. The comment thread on a French blog, Loic Le Meur, focuses on economic factors, generalized fear of change, the ridiculous complexity of the constitution, and so on. It also has the added benefit of citing a Washington Post story by David Ignatius from May 30. The lede:

France's stunning rejection Sunday of a new European constitution was, most of all, a noisy protest against the disruptive, leveling force of economic globalization. You could see that in television images of the "no" voters as the result was announced -- burly arms raised in the air, fists cocked -- as if by rejecting a set of technical amendments to European rules they could hold back a threatening future....

It was a no that resonated on many levels: a rejection of the document and the wider Europe it came to symbolize, a rejection of a market-driven way of life that's taken for granted in America, and above all a rejection of President Jacques Chirac, who tried to trick and cajole France into embracing the realities of the global economy, rather than forthrightly explaining them.

Not a word about Islam or Turkey or the fear of losing France's traditional white European identity. If those factors fueled the constitution's rejection, it must have been more of an ember than the flames engulfing more than 1,400 cars in Paris, and gymnasiums, and police stations, and apparently in one case a disabled traditional white European.

Cross-posted in PostWatch