The French Inferno

Protesting the reelection of Nicolas Sarkozy. Paris, May 2007.

The US press does not hesitate to compare Paris to Baghdad and its suburbs to the Gaza Strip. Either the concern is sincere and we should be grateful, or the opportunity was too good to be missed to criticize the country of human rights always eager to give lessons. While there is probably a little bit of both, the second guess is most certainly the right one.

France is paying today for its arrogance. The Americans will never forget the less than flattering words used to qualify America and its society at the start of the war in Iraq and after Katrina. But the fact is that France has failed its forty-year-old immigration policy.

Jean-Michel Helvig in left-of-centre Liberation (11/07): “If it became apparent that the state could not ensure public order, individual solutions could spread. While Sarkozy has made things worse through his choice of words, it would be a vain victory to use him as scapegoat. What is becoming obvious with each day that passes is the incredible waste of a domestic security policy which is the hostage of electoral demagogy. What this country needs is continuity in its domestic security policy. Why is it impossible to have on a domestic level what we already have at the national level?”

An Affair of State

Francois-Xavier Pietri in the centrist La Tribune (11/07): “Suburban unrest has become an affair of state. By calling a cabinet meeting on security, President Chirac is taking over an affair that may turn out to be the most serious crisis of his presidency. During the past eleven days, PM Villepin has given the impression of always being one step behind, caught in his rivalry with Sarkozy, but also never offering concrete solutions. The political class is as always unable to deal with the social and economic reality of the suburbs. And this is what the foreign media has been picking up. When faced with these shadow warriors, each of our successive governments has indeed given up. What used to be contained in closed areas has now exploded, with possible collateral damage for France’s domestic policy as well as its image abroad.”

Choosing Between Modesty and Ambition

Left-of-centre Le Monde (11/07): “The explosion of suburban violence and its causes are so complex that all theories have a little bit of truth in them. The brutal intrusion of reality in the presidential pre-campaign with its more than twenty potential candidates is turning our political life into a vaudeville. If we want to avoid what happened in 2002 with Le Pen in the runoff, it is high time our politicians turn their backs on politics as a spectacle and begin to think about concrete solutions for France’s society. ”

Muslim neighbourhoods in the large European cities — London, Hamburg, Madrid, Rome, Amsterdam, Paris — serve today as incubators for fanaticism and terrorism, fertile ground for jihad and planning attacks against Israel. The old-time community leadership, which advocated assimilation, has lost its authority and been replaced by various kinds of extremist religious preachers…. Fanatic Islam, wrote theorist Prof. Francis Fukuyama in The Wall Street Journal this weekend, who tells the children of the immigrants who they are: honoured members of the nation of Islam, despite the fact that they live among the heretics.

Will the vision of a united democratic Europe succeed in incorporating the Islam of the immigrants and their children? It is highly doubtful. The existence of a militant Muslim minority was not taken into account in its planning. Prof. Fukuyama states: “European democracy, which is currently one of the main battlefields against Islamic terrorism, can, therefore, be expected to meet great trouble in the near future. But it is already in trouble: the terrorism in London, the terrorist cells in Amsterdam and the Intifada in the suburbs of Paris are only the beginning, not the end. ”

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan told Turkish journalists aboard his plane yesterday that the riots in France proved the importance of the ‘alliance of civilisations’. “We have told the European Union that Turkey is very important from the perspective of cooperation among civilisations, but we are having difficulty in explaining this to some of our friends,” Erdogan said.

Erdogan claimed that the headscarf ban in French public schools is one of the elements that incited the riots. The PM reaffirmed that if Turkey is not admitted to the EU, clashes among civilisations will continue and the EU will become a “Christian club.” Turkey’s opposition parties voiced strong reactions to the prime minister’s comments.

The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) said the remarks of Erdogan could be perceived as a call to Turks in Europe to join the protests. The True Path Party (DYP) described Erdogan ‘s statement as “dangerous”. The Democratic Left Party (DSP) lashed out at Erdogan, saying that the headscarf issue is the prime minister’s “main concern”.  An anonymous French official reportedly said that Erdogan was taking an “opportunist” approach to the unrest in France. Papers speculate that Turkish diplomats are uneasy about Erdogan’s remarks because they have given the impression that Turkey supports the rioters.

Hakan Celik commented in the tabloid Posta (11/8): “France has never treated its immigrants from Northern Africa as its own citizens. On the contrary, France forced them into ghettos. While the UK has managed to integrate foreigners successfully, France has continuously excluded them from public life. … Referring to the protesting immigrants as ‘looters,’ Interior Minister Sarkozy reflects this same racist approach. In the past, he has also been outspoken in his campaign to exclude Turkey from the EU. France’s power is in continuous decline because it cannot keep up with this century’s pace of change on political, social, and economic issues.”

Sami Kohen wrote in the mainstream daily Milliyet (11/9): “The blazing flames in Paris have helped the people of France and all over the world to see the serious illness within the French system. The main reason for the dangerous spread of these incidents lies in the integration model of the French Republic. In theory, France considers all its citizens equal and aims to eliminate the distinct identities of its immigrants. In practice, however, this policy discriminates against immigrants of African origin. For example, these immigrants do not have equal opportunity for employment.

So far, neither religion nor ideology appears to be a significant factor in these incidents. In other words, this is neither a ‘Muslim uprising’ nor a ‘French Intifada’. Representatives of the Muslims living in the ghettos are criticizing those involved in the violence. Turkish associations in France are giving similar messages. So at this point, there is no need to refer to these incidents as an indication of a ‘clash of civilisations’. Avoiding such incidents in the future depends on the establishment of order in the French suburbs and in other European countries. ”

Erdal Guven argued in the conservative Tercuman (11/9): “The events in France have gone beyond popular unrest and have turned into a civil war. The reason for the bloodshed in the streets concerns the denial of minority rights in France. Local administrations have been provided increased authorities, and now have the option of imposing a curfew. French politicians, interestingly enough, always know how to give lessons in democracy to everyone except themselves.

This is reflected in their discrimination among citizens of France. The fact is that France has become one of the most dangerous countries in the world. These events are now spreading to other countries in the EU. The recent street riots caused by ethnic groups in Germany and Belgium demonstrate that some other EU countries are also not granting equal rights to all of their citizens.

Adapted from State Department cables (2007). Photograph courtesy of Mikael Marguerie. Published under a Creative Commons license.