Monday, November 07, 2005

France's Problem in a Nutshell

Belgravia Dispatch has appropriate commentary

I take no pleasure in commenting on France's current problem. Frankly, I see it neither as simply a matter of Islam or socio-economics, but both with Islam acting more as an aggregator than an agitator. Unfortunately, as the riots progress, as they have done in every country and in every large scale riot, the original reasons and nature are subverted to the most organized and powerful groups within the riot, taking on the appearance of these organizations' grievances instead of resolving the original base of the problem. It generally means that this will not be the first or the last riot in France.

This morning as I read the news about the 11th day of rioting and the many commentaries from the left insisting it is socio-economics and the right insisting it was Islam, I was reminded of the picture above and many like it that were painted in the pre-revolution and post restoration period when France was struggling with it's own question of slavery and abolition. I thought about the fact that France abolished slavery in the revolutionary period (1794), but re-instated it 1802 under the Napoleonic law before bein abolished again in 1848, just a few short years before the United States did the same.

One difference is that the French still had colonies and the colonial concept of the people being poor, uneducated savages that France was deigning to give its culture, social structure, language and education to continued to thrive well into the 20th century. Underneath all of France's espousal of liberte, fraternite and egalite, there is still that tinge of colonial racism, or, something that our own President has called the discrimination of low expectations.

Not to say that racism does not exist in the United States. It does, at least, on the individual level and some institutional structures seem stuck on the maternal teet instead of giving certain populations the wings to fly. However, the key factor in abaiting racial tension in the US is not simply laws that actively punish discrimination or provide additional help on the climb up the economic ladder. The truth of the matter is that with each successive waive of immigrants to this country, the immigrants or minorities who came before are generally pushed up the economic ladder, partly due to their strength and community but also because, sadly, each new group of immigrants is subjected to the racism or class discrimination and those minorities or immigrants that came before do not appear as problematic or difficult as the new. Secondly, there is nothing that can join two separate groups faster than an enemy to be hated by both. Typically, in immigration history, the next group is always a threat to the already limited jobs of the prior minority and the wealthy (middle class up) consider them dangerous potential criminals, immoral, uneducated and unable to contribute meaningfully to society.

Sort of the "enemy of my enemy is my friend" concept in immigration and minority politics. In short, the old immigrant/minority population becomes part of "us" and the new "them".

Third, economics of immigration effects this by first recognizing the previous minority as established and worth more as a risk than the next waive of immigration and then by the the new immigrant minority taking lower paying jobs that, if the economy is structured appropriately, causes the previous minority or immigrants to be pushed into the middle class. This includes new minorities moving into neighborhoods previously held by the previous minority and that minority moving out to suburbs or other neighborhoods. Also a form of forced integration by economics.

This is the "tectonic theory" of immigration and minority politics. It requires both liberal culture and liberal economics. If the economic and social structure of the country does not support this tectonic plate theory of immigrant/minority socio-economics, then what you get is France (the "volcano theory").

Of course, this "tectonic theory" is not always slow and peaceful. The movement of socio-economic plates will always cause quakes in society. The US has had (and may still have) it's own quakes over this socio-economic shift from the riots in New York (largely Irish) against the draft during the Civil War, to the Civil War and all the way to the Civil Rights movement in the fifties and the race riots of the sixties and early seventies (don't forget the LA riots in the 90's). What is important about these periods in American history is that it has forced us to recognize that we did and do have a problem with racism.

The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem.

France has never done so and in fact has insisted that it respects the rights of all people. Probably true to the larger extent in the government and laws, but does not address the socio-economic issues or cause individuals to think beyond their paternalistic attitude towards immigrants: sympathetic, but limited, continuing to see them as the "poor child" whom they will dress, feed and educate, but never seeing them as adults with their own ambitions and place within a great "melting pot" of French culture.

France is France and French are French after all and the rest are just interesting cultures living within the borders.

Of course, one would be remiss if we only looked at the problem with La Grande Dam France and laid all the blame at her door.

In immigration socio-economic structures, it is quite common for immigrants from similar countries and cultures to stick together. It provides a sense of comfort to see the same faces, speak the same language, have the same morals, religion and even clothing. As long as this is a transitional phase before striking out into, or accepting more of the culture they arrive into, it isn't dangerous. The danger lies in the immigrant/minority community's rejection of their host nation's identity and culture. It's clear, with the number of people who have immigrated to France as political assylum seekers that there may well be resentment among these groups for being forced from the countries that they believe to be their own, forcing them to leave their families and their identity. That resentment is transfered to the host nation. They don't want to be French because they did not come to France to be French, but to escape their current problems. They may even plan on returning to their home nation.

It's quite different when people come for the "opportunities" the host nation may offer. When it is an opportunity to thrive, the immigrant/minority may feel more disposed to gratitude and opens their arms to their new nation, wanting to become a part of it. In the United States, we've had many discussions about the "hyphenated" American: Irish-American; Italian-American, Afro-American; Native-American; etc, etc, etc. What is significant about these hyphenated titles isn't the first part, but the second: American. It indicates that, while they may still consider their ethno-religious identity to be important, the concept of being American is equally important.

How often do you hear the term "French-African"? Frankly, I've heard this term applied more often to people who are descendents of an African nation, once colonized by France, where the French language is used. Niether do you hear terms like "Turko-German" unless it is in reference to a treaty signed with the once existent Ottoman empire.

There is something to be said for rejecting multi-culturalism when the concept implies separate and segregated communities that largely retain their own identities. To those who espouse such concepts, it is couched in terms that insist they are attempting not to foist their own culture on another in order to maintain that culture and reject what they believe is racism. Unfortunately, it also means that they don't have to accept that culture as part of their own; a kind of soft segregation that allows the host culture to experience it peripherally without ever having to accept it into their own and the same goes for the immigrant population.

If an immigrant population refuses to integrate into the host culture, but continues to see itself as part of social, political and national identity of its originating country, then, regardless of the host country's attempts at socio-economic integration, these communities will always remain separate, never moving up the socio-economic tectonic plate.

For the French to be able to move past this problem, I see several solutions that will need to be undertaken:

1) Liberal economics - Unemployment will not be cured by government subsidies, hand outs or control of the work week. Also, as my grandmother once said, idle hands make work for the devil. People are less concerned about their political and ethnic identity when they can see themselves as part of an upwardly moving economic class.

2) Destroy the tenements - not by tossing people out and bull dozing them per se, but by working towards the "ownership society" which subsidizes buying homes for the poor. A great amount of tension can be mitigated by helping people not live on top of one another. If they must subsidize rental housing, make it individual homes or duplexes instead of tenement high rises.

This last may be an issue of space, but it reflects the recent concept of "land for peace" espoused by an editorial opinion that has some merit, but should include insuring that these communities are more spread out within the general population.

3) Recognize that you have a problem with racial politics - saying it doesn't exist doesn't make it so. If you do not have a national dialogue about it when there is no culture on the face of this earth that does not suffer from or is not permeated with some sort of racial politics, then you are in denial. You cannot legislate out of existence a cultural phenomenom that has been taking place since the first caveman saw another caveman with a different color of hair, whose forehead didn't slope as much. Every culture knows and recognizes differences, even within its own. Laws are a good start, but pretending your own culture does not have it is an illusion at best and dangerous delusion at worst.

These are three extremely simplified ideas that could turn the face of France's immigrant problem. Issues such as education will also have to be addressed (I'm sure I haven't touched on a tenth of them here), but the important thing to do is not get caught out by politics or go stagnate. Voting rights for immigrants is probably less important than economic and social improvement. The government should be seen to do something about the problems, besides call out the riot police and the immigrant population should be prepared to get what they asked for and integrate into France.

Update: Brussels Journal from Austin Bay
Update2: French Commenters on Austin Bay
Update3: Three Bloggers Arrested in France via No Pasaran
Basically, the title says it all. It's in french, but best as I can tell, the justice department in Paris notice that the three bloggers were reporting their activities over the weekend (rioting) and:

"Les sites incitaient à participer aux mouvements généraux de violences urbaines et à attaquer des policiers et des commissariats",

In short, they were urging people to go out, join the riots and attack the police and government buildings (commissariats?). No information on the bloggers' names, sites, or other history.

Probably the reason France wants control of the internet.

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