French Riots

I’ve gotten a couple of emails asking what, exactly, is going on in France, so here’s a quick summary (and I recommend, if you’re interested, checking out the BBC nightly news, if you get it, since the American news shows haven’t been giving it a hell of a lot of attention). The rioting is now in its 11th day, and was precipitated by the deaths of two youths who ran into a power station; locals say they were being chased by police, a claim the police deny. That incident, however, was not the sole impetus for the rioting, which has at this point resulted in the burning of over 1,400 vehicles and numerous buildings in over 300 French towns, and is now starting to spread to Belgium and Germany.

This is a simplification, but basically, Chirac is a conservative (you can tell he’s a conservative since he waited a week before even commenting on the riots, ho ho), and his administration treats immigrants like shit, especially Muslim immigrants, which is a huge demographic in France (and, in fact, the biggest in Europe). So there is an Islamic angle to this story, but it’s not what many of the rightwingers would have us believe. It’s an immigration and equality issue, not a religious issue. The immigrants struggling for societal inclusion are Muslims, and part of the problem is Muslim-specific legislation (such as Muslim dress in schools), but the bigger conflict surrounds prejudice, poverty, unemployment, and the resulting despair and frustration that accompanies such circumstances.

In terms of historical reference, it’s more useful to think Watts Riots or the 12th Street Riot in Detroit than 9/11 or the London bombings. This isn’t al-Qaida; it’s lots of very unhappy, long mistreated people reacting violently to a precipitating event that quite likely began with a confrontation with police. That’s not intended to serve as a justification for what’s happening, but just an explanation to put it in some kind of realistic perspective.

UPDATE: Holly sends along this article from the Jerusalem Post, which notes that anti-Semitism is not playing a role in the violence in France, which differs from some other recent dust-ups.

The Heretik has lots more here.

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