November 11, 2005
France and the Riots - The (Partial) Myth of the 'Arab' 'intefada'
I briefly, in lieu of more extended commentary, draw attention to this article from the conservative Le Figaro regarding the makeup, per the police, of rioters at present: Davantage de Noirs chez les émeutiers:
Au-delà des rivalités entre ces différentes vagues d'immigration qui se rejettent la responsabilité de la dégradation de leurs quartiers, policiers et travailleurs sociaux ont maintes fois signalé, sans jamais pouvoir la chiffrer, l'augmentation de la délinquance des jeunes issus de l'immigration africaine.Au cours des dernières nuits d'émeutes, «il y avait plus de Noirs que de Maghrébins», confirment les policiers de la Seine-Saint-Denis.
For those who do not read French, the quote indicates that leaving aside rivalries between different waves of immigration, each of which reject responsibility for the degradation of their neighborhoods, police and social workers have frequenly noted that, without being able to give figures, the augmentation of deliquency among youth from the African immigrant community. In recent nights of rioting, 'There were more Blacks than Maghrebines' confirmed police from Seine-Saint-Denis.
I have noted consistently the mirage and delusional quality of the bigotted assertions in the Anglo blog world about the Arab-Muslim character of the riots (assertions that continue even now), when anyone with a decent familiarity with the 'immigrant' (albeit native born 'immigrants' but this being France, native born darkies are, well 'immigrants.') districts knows the
However, casting a racial in the sense of racist angle (rightly) would not fly, I find it interesting the same fact free or fact impaired bigotry works perfectly well when directed towards the perceived "Arabs" (or Muslims, for all that again, a significant percentage of the sub-Saharan Africans are not at all Muslim by any definition, although France's arch aversion to collecting this kind of data means it is hard to characterise, the French operating on the "hear no evil see no evil" basis with respect to their own bigotry even as they feel free to bang on about discrimination and the like in the US and Great Britain).
Now, in noting this, I would note that it does not give me pleasure to note the strong and even predominant African component in the rioting - rather simply it underlies the roots of this rioting in the deeply discriminatory and self-decieving hypocrisy of modern French society that pretends theoretical commitment to abstractions excuses gross prejudice in daily life. But then it is a French characteristic to love to stay with the airy theories and leave aside the ugly issues of actual practice.
I also draw attention to this fine article in The New York Times that, against its habit so far on this issue, gets quite a lot right, including the issue of people born French, growing up French yet, even when successful, feeling that the average Frenchman sees them as... well 'immigrants' who don't really belong. The article also wisely ties many of the issues to the unhealed wounds of the Algerian war and the long silence and lies the French have told themselves in this connexion (I note as an aside the almost amusing but also sad comedy of much French writing about their 'Liberation' in WWII that focuses on the European French component, nicely forgetting that until late 1944 or so, most Free French forces and efforts were in fact sub-Saharan African or Maghrebine origin. How little thanks they get, the poor brown bastards, Muslim or not, who gave France the ability to pretend she liberated herself).
The article What Makes Someone French?
A telling quote from a prominent French businessman, who also telling as I recall, characterised a few years ago the racial climate of France as reminiscent of the polite racism of the United States in the 1960s outside of the Jim Crow territories.
Most second-generation Muslim immigrants are generally no more observant than young French Catholics. But the legacy of discrimination creates the conditions for young people who feel neither French nor North African to seek an identity in Islam - often anti-Western, political Islam.
"I've known discrimination all of my life," Mr. Sabeg said, adding that the prejudices only grew stronger the more prominent he became. In 1991, he led a group of investors in taking over CS Communication and Systémes, a publicly listed company that he now runs. When he applied to the government to become a defense contractor, a ministry official told him, "You're called Sabeg, that's a problem for us," meaning that he was of Algerian descent.
Rumors soon began circulating that he was an Algerian spy. It took him three years to win his first contract from the Defense Ministry. He never found out who was behind the rumors. "It's like a snake, you see the tail as it disappears, but never the head," Mr. Sabeg said, adding that the rumors continue.
These types of issues, which I have heard from Franco-Maghrebine businessmen for years, are poison. A deadly poison, but few "native French" will admit the problem.
Now, I wonder, how long before Andrew Sullivan and his like admit their nasty streak of bigotry in jumping on the utterly unfounded mirage of an "Islamist" intefada by 'French Arabs' - it remains all the more the pity that Sullivan et al missed the real story of French hypocrisy and the negative returns of the interventionist hypocrisy of the French dirigiste state, and the opportunity to highlight the benefits of a liberal state (again for the reading impaired, of course I mean liberal in the classic sense).
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Keep in mind that Sullivan still defends The Bell Curve ...
Posted by: praktike at November 11, 2005 10:14 AM
Yes, that is true. Sullivan is an unreconstructed if polite and not rabid racist deep down.
Posted by: lounsbury at November 11, 2005 10:21 AM
In defense of the French, sort of, I have had some intimiate (yes literal) knowledge of a Gauloise (Gallic) French woman who immigrated to the US and was shocked by the racism of the American south, and felt there was none of the discomfort about fraternization (social or closer) between races. (She did concede that racism against "les ratons" (NOT her word but one she knew and despised for its bigotry) the Arabs, was strong.) She was from the less metropolitan center of the country and an old nobility family. Also her knowledge tended toward Martiniquens, not francophone Africans.
I suspect, judging by the early time she moved here, that racism was more intense in the US south and less so in France then. She was also shocked by a recent French comic movie about a Martinique girl who is pregnant EITHER by a Parisian Jewish kid or a Parisian Sengalese-ancestry guy (I think) as the racial and other bigoted attitudes (Gallic and intercommunal) expressed in the movie's otherwise more comic sitcom-type adventures seemed very alien to her.
Posted by: matthew hogan at November 11, 2005 10:33 AM
Also -- I am noting that among the American right, there is a vague, paradoxical bleeding-heart sympathy for the protestors occasionally coming out, e.g. on FOX, the sole reason appears to be that it simply gives an opportunity to bash the French for things they criticize us Americans for -- racism, anti-Islamic prejudice, welfare-resistant (relatively speaking) integration.
Posted by: matthew hogan at November 11, 2005 10:37 AM
Well, with respect to French racism, the virulent, string people up from trees kind that can be found in the United States is indeed shocking.
However, if your informant think that the attitudes displayed in the movie (I know the film, title escapes me right now but I've seen it) are in any way new, she's deluded. One need only look to 'classics' of colonial era literature like Pierre Loti's works to see effectively the same attitudes.
Certainly racial mixing was never as shocking to French society as American, but the invisible barriers to the Africans and Maghrebines are nothing new. Nor is it new, the queer affection of the French for the Antillais over the Africans - who even in the colonial period served in the French bureaucracy and as colonial (new colonies not old) administrators even. The 'Free French' got their boost in 1940 from the Antillean origin Governor of Central Africa (not the country, the region) going over to de Gaulle. They also got their troops from such sources.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at November 11, 2005 12:54 PM
"Most second-generation Muslim immigrants are generally no more observant than young French Catholics"
Is this true in your experiences? Are nominal Muslims as prevalent as nominal Catholics?
Posted by: Baal Shem Ra at November 11, 2005 01:32 PM
Well, hard to say. I would say the underlying meaning is right, that young Muslims in France are not terribly observant relative to their parents, but it is hard to generalise.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at November 11, 2005 01:58 PM
The French indeed have suffered from self-delusion on the issue of minorities, and the often exclusionist feeling I got from many, even as a white tourist who speaks French, can't help. The fact that they don't document the ethnic composition of the population is the perfect example of this self-delusion. Pretty much any other country and you get a clear breakdown of the numbers.
As in many countries with visible minorities, the problem doesn't become an issue until the visible minorities become large enough. Racial tensions on the US have been high because the country had a very large visible minority early on, and so the racism became entrenched and institutionalized. It's human nature to be more tolerant when confronted when fewer "different" people, and become fearful and suspicious when the minority grows. Then the discrimination affects enough people that a reaction can prove to be a large disturbance. Of course in the US this was compounded by slavery, the ultimate discrimination. But my point is that in France I think the ethnic minorities reached a critical mass in the last few decades, and the discrimination finally became intolerable or frustrating enough to enough people that a large civil disturbance resulted. I'm guessing the discrimination may even have worsened as the visible minorities grew.
Of course by not paying enough official attention to the growing minorities, the situation crept up on them and blew up in their face. Few governments want to even think about such problems anyways.
Posted by: zurn at November 12, 2005 05:12 PM
As for young Muslims in France being non-observant, my info is too old - I lived there in the late 80s - but it was true then. Also there were a lot of non-observant older people. Or people who were idiosyncratic about their observance. Like the Algerian man who would fast Ramadan and drink wine at night. My then-boyfriend-now-husband-practicing-Muslim-Egyptian said to him that he did not understand this and the guy responded, "The days are for God and the nights are for me." I wondered if this story was apocryphal (hubbie's stories somehow get changed over time) but think it is quite cute none the less.
Posted by: Anna in Cairo at November 15, 2005 04:49 AM