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Jewish World Review
Nov. 17, 2005
/ 15 Mar-Cheshvan, 5766
Vive la Difference!
Francophiles may unclench. After weeks of national unrest, Jacques Chirac finally got tough on the car-broilers: He proposed job training for 50,000 of the unemployed malcontents. That'll teach 'em.
Of course, job training is one thing; actual jobs are another. Given the French economic performance regularly described as anemic, which might be apt if the body had any blood left the chance of 50,000 jobs materializing for the rioters is rather slim. But you can see the point. "My father in Algiers," the rioter may think, "he was unable to find work as a taxi driver. But here in France, I am unable to find work as a medical technician. I dream that my children will grow up unable to find work as doctors."
If cities across the United States went up in flames for two weeks, Dominique de Villepin would blame it on hamburgers, cowboy movies, global warming and Mickey Mouse. But why hasn't it happened here? Two reasons.
One is less social planning. The U.S. realizes now that high-rise housing projects for the poor are ghastly failures. Oh, the idea was nice; level the pestilential slums, build gigantic brick bins with ventilation holes, and poverty will be solved. Unfortunately, stacking people 20 stories high in cement hives doesn't seem to build close-knit communities. Add the twin stains of racism and the dole, and you have bleak, feral dysfunction factories. The U.S. is tearing them down; the French build more.
But it's more than the size of our projects. The American projects do not birth a fortnight of national firebombings. The American identity is protean, and the underclass does not feel the sort of utter existential alienation that characterizes the Arab experience in Gaul.
Which leads to cause No. 2: the M Word.
The riots are not entirely a Muslim groove. The protesters do not wish to institute Shariah. Many of the louts are frank criminals, and it's unlikely they torch Citroens for the right to have their hands lopped off by the local religious council. Some shout "Allahu Akbar," but for many it's like yelling the name of the home team during a soccer bout.
The devoutness of the agitators, however, is irrelevant; revolutions usually put the worst sort of tyrants in power once the rabble has cleared the way. (See also "French Revolution.") If the end result of the riots is more autonomy, the suburbs of Paris will be a foreign country, a shard of irredentist Islam in the heart of Europe. If they have portraits of Napoleon on the wall, it'll be to show the correct way to hide the hand that triggers the bomb belt.
So the rioters will not be bought off with job training. They know they have a brie-spined enemy, filled with doubt. Chirac, after all, spoke of a national "crisis of meaning, a crisis of identity." Hardly a call to the barricades, especially when ordinary Frenchmen are thinking about a crisis of flaming cars. He also used the deadly word "malaise" to describe the French mood, and if history is any judge this means Ronald Reagan should be elected president in a landslide. That the Gipper is unavailable is too bad for Europe.
Its modern vision a post-national multiethnic welfare state linked by nothing but the language in which people curse one another is fatally flawed. The rioters can't be dispelled with Brussels-based regulations specifying the number of cars one can burn per night. But the ruling class will accept no alternatives, brook no heresies.
The revolutions of '68 brought to power the romantic leftists who despised the old order, its sense of tradition, its bourgeois values, its confident (if unexamined) cultural coherence. They built a new order based on dorm-room bong-fest ideas, and now they face the future unmanned. They can't even revert to the hypernationalist models of the '30s Jean-Marie Le Pen drew only 300 people at a recent rally. Fascism is too much work these days, even for the old pros.
Oh, we'll always have Paris. But don't think some angry lads aren't looking from their ghettos at the Eiffel Tower, and thinking what an excellent minaret it would make.
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JWR contributor James Lileks is a columnist for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Comment by clicking here.
© 2005, James Lileks