January 01, 2006

Remember the French Riots?

It's often the nature of the blogosphere that we get all in a tizzy over some major issue of the day (Brownie & Katrina! Eurabian Intifada on the Seine! Fitzmas Came Early!) only to (overly?) quickly move on to the Next Big Thing (yes, there are some notable exceptions, like Maguire's monomaniacal coverage of l'affaire Plame, or Steve Clemon's Bolton-palooza, among others). I'm as guilty of it as the next guy, of course, but the thought occurred to me that I had never done a follow-on re: the French riots after my initial post of November last year. I recently noticed that John Vinocur (probably my favorite NYT/IHT columnist after David Brooks) does an able job of checking in on the story now a couple months down the road. He's behind the Times Select wall, of course, but here are some excerpts:

Burn, baby, burn was a cry of grief or vengeance from America's years of black rage, but it was also the incontrovertible truth of the riots that Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin recently insisted to CNN were really a blander, less shameful variety of social disturbance. Death and serious injury were avoided here for the most part. Still, toting up the score, the Interior Ministry indicates something far different than this cleansed version:

Ten thousand cars destroyed and more than 200 public buildings set afire. Damages estimated by insurers at between E80 million and E150 million. More than 3,200 arrests. More than 400 rioters sentenced to prison.

And now, after a period of quiet, here's an unsettling realization for 2006. It's that entirely apart from the official New Year's precautions, the weeks since the riots have not brought the sense of a nation coming together on some kind of common ground.

Rather the opposite. It is a time of new accusations and new verbal excess. It is one of rioters playing victim, or being manipulated by ideologues into the status of history's aggrieved, without responsibilities or obligations to France.

Most obviously, it is a time when the real, linked villains behind the riots - unemployment, and a reflexive insistence by most of the political caste that a quota system for advancement won't help - get pushed out of the discussion in favor of easier polemics. Bringing affirmative action to society here or profoundly changing the stagnant French economic system have the look of ideas that threaten the entrenched left/right status quo too much to make serious headway as the essence of the debate.

Instead of what has to be remade for France to function in confidence again, the headline issues, discussed with special viciousness, have run to the historical effects of French colonialism in North Africa, black Africa and the Caribbean and whether France owes its heirs systematic repentance.

Or to the position of a few writers, now accused as "neoreactionaries," who have dared ask about the role in the country's unrest of resistance to integration among some Muslim immigrants. Or further, to a characterization, vocal on the left and among a group of showbiz and sports celebrities with distant roots in housing project misery - and murmured insistently on the anti-modernist right - that makes Nicolas Sarkozy, the interior minister and 2007 presidential candidate, the one-size-fits-all guilty party for the troubles.

"Permanent daily lynching has become the national sport," Franz Oliver Giesbert, editor of the center-right newsweekly Le Point, wrote in its current issue. "Our society demonizes."

I can attest to much bitching and moaning and yes demonizing about the awful Sarko when I pass through France several times a year. It's almost as if, but for meanie Sarko's use of the word "racaille", all would have been swell in the Parisian banlieu (yes, it's true the usage was unfortunate, but c'mon!). This is particularly true of a segment of the population that bandy about as self-styled progressives, wishing to breeze along in some post-historical dolce vita vibe where the world appears like some big Benetton ad and all is hunky-dory but for those who who are trying to force globalization (quelle horreur!) or primitive Ango-Saxon capitalism (barbarians at the gate!) down their throats. It's all rather sad, finally, but I guess the silver lining in all this is that, with Chirac's massive diminishment (is it 1% of the population now that wants to see him run for a third term?), perhaps some serious policy-making and reform will be able to emerge from the dueling between de Villepin and Sarkozy. We'll try to do a better job of checking in, now and again, on how that particular story moves along in advance of the '07 presidentials...

Posted by Gregory at January 1, 2006 09:23 PM | TrackBack (0)

(probably my favorite NYT/IHT columnist after David Brooks)

please say this was a little joke. PLEASE!

Posted by: lukasiak at January 1, 2006 10:25 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

no, i shan't retract!

after all, who would you rather i declare my fave? dissident kruggie or ditzy modo or one (or maybe two)-note herbert? no way.

friedman and kristof are closer competition (i haven't really taken to reading tierney yet) but i find brooks more interesting than either them more often than not.

i guess that leaves frank rich, whom i read every weekend. he's good, but too polemical, in my view.

so, yeah, brooks strikes me as the most engaging and sober of the lot...

Posted by: greg at January 1, 2006 10:34 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

If Sarko can manage to keep the unions reasonably sweet for the next year and a bit he will be pres without a doubt. The chattering classes may try to blame him but everyone else including some of the "immigrants" - albeit not those who live in the banlieues - think he was just doing as usual and stating the truth that everyone knows but which most pols wouldn't dream of mentioning.

If he pisses off the unions (and they deserve to be pissed off) things will be more interesting but he is practically clintonian in his ability to read the popular opinion so I expect that if he does piss off the unions it will be because he thinks more people will vote for him as a result and he'll probably be right.

Posted by: Francis at January 1, 2006 11:33 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

" (probably my favorite NYT/IHT columnist after David Brooks)

please say this was a little joke. PLEASE!"
Posted by: lukasiak

No, this is a valuable indication of Greg's rating of news sources.

Posted by: Barry at January 2, 2006 01:50 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

after all, who would you rather i declare my fave? dissident kruggie or ditzy modo or one (or maybe two)-note herbert? no way.

how about their 3rd string restaurant critic.... whoever it is has to be better than brooks. (I understand your ideologically based antipathy toward Krugman, MoDo, Herbert, etc... but their failure to meet your tastes doesn't mean that Brooks deserves that kind of praise!) :)

Posted by: lukasiak at January 2, 2006 03:48 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Sarko will be the next President of France. The media in France will try to portray him as wounded beyond repair by his "mishandling" of the riots, but in the end, he will be seen by a majority of French voters as the only serious choice to deal with a problem that has not gone away and will only intensify going forward.

Posted by: Scott at January 2, 2006 04:04 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

You bet it will intensify. The French were relieved that only 400 cars were torched on New Years Eve. Just another night of acceptable level mayhem. There is no possible solution in the swamp of affirmative action or the like, particularly in the larger context of French employment law. Perhaps the French should take a cue from Clinton's "The end of welfare as we know it." and require those who take from the state to give back to the state. That should tire them out after a day of work and reduce the quantum of idle time in which to get so bored that torching a few cars is the only way to brighten up the day - or do I mean night?

Sorry, but having spent lots of time basking in the glow of French complacency, and, by the way, loving the people, the food, the countryside, the cities and even the culture, I just can't see them solving this problem effectively as they will never get tough enough to teach the necessary lessons.


Posted by: Michael Pecherer at January 2, 2006 06:01 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The theory du jour in France last summer (or the one before??) (when they publish all thsoe long-winded essays in Le Figaro and Le Monde because the journalists and politicians that are their only readers have time to read them then) was that France was roughly were England was immediately prior to the lovely Dame Thatcher's 'intervention'. And that by consequence, someone similar (hint: Sarkozy) was needed in France.

Something I am sure that any casual observer of French industrial relations would wholeheartedly concur with.

The 'toughness' issue is a real one. They are effectively held to ransom by the post and train unions, and in the absence of an effective anti-sympathy striking law will always be. Otherwise, they will continue as ever: as soon as any reform to 'entitlements' is announced, even if (as they always do) explicitly excluding the post and trains, those unions (and the teachers) go on strike.

Apparently someone once told them about slippery slopes, and the idea stuck!

Michael is also right about the social security law - one of those 'entitlements' that are so hard to fix. THis is less important than breaking the union stranglehold, though.

Posted by: Patrick at January 4, 2006 08:41 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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