Back in the 1990s, the French sneered at America for the Los Angeles riots. As the Chicago Sun-Times reported in 1992: “the consensus of French pundits is that something on the scale of the Los Angeles riots could not happen here, mainly because France is a more humane, less racist place with a much stronger commitment to social welfare programs.” President Mitterrand, the Washington Post reported in 1992, blamed the riots on the “conservative society” that Presidents Reagan and Bush had created and said France is different because it “is the country where the level of social protection is the highest in the world.”
How the times have changed. Muslims in Paris’s suburbs are out shooting at police and firefighters, burning cars and buildings, and throwing rocks at commuter trains. Even children are out on the streets – it was reported that a 10-year-old was arrested. The trigger for the riots was the electrocution of two teenagers last Thursday, which the rioters say came following a police chase, a charge the police deny. But even if the charge by the rioters is true, that the police are culpable in the deaths of the two youths, the fact that such an incident would spark a riot is a sign of something deeper at work – no doubt France’s failure to integrate its immigrant Muslim community.
It turns out that France’s Muslim community lives in areas rampant with crime, poverty, and unemployment, much the fault of France’s prized welfare system. There are those of us who spent part of the 1980s in Europe, supporting the idea, among others from the Reagan era, that immigration was a virtue for a country and that the racial or religious background of the immigrants did not matter. We maintain that view. But immigration into a country with a dirigiste economy is a recipe for trouble, which is why supporters of immigration into France have long warned of the need for liberalization.
Part of France’s problem is that it has defaulted on those measures. The lack of labor market flexibility and other socialist policies have created unemployment at nearly 10%, most of which falls among immigrants. And part stems from the fact that France’s estimated 5 million Muslims, out of a population of 60 million, are led by mostly foreign radical imams. Only belatedly has the French state started taking action, pressing for clerics to be taught in France. All this is compounded by the image France projects of itself to its Muslims, which one can surmise is the reason why Muslims see rioting as the solution to any grievance.
It’s a barely kept secret that Mr. Chirac led the opposition to the Iraq war out of fear of how his Muslim population would react. This fear is a big part of why France portrays itself as America’s counterweight and why it criticizes Israel at every turn and coddled the terrorist Yasser Arafat right up to his death. This doesn’t elicit thanks from Muslim radicals in France. It turns out to project an image of weakness. Unsurprisingly when faced with some unhappiness they believe they can pressure the French state into submission.
A number of observers of the French scene have looked at population trends and suggested that France is on its way to becoming a Muslim country (one that would, let it be noted, be armed with hydrogen bombs). Some react to this by suggesting a halt to immigration and even expulsion. The better approach is to impose law and order, more speedily to reform the burdensome welfare state, and start integrating the Muslim community. France could also help itself by dispatching troops to help battle the radical Islamists in Iraq, thereby sending a message to Muslims at home and abroad that France is on the side of those Muslims, the majority no doubt, who want to live in peace.
The now-defunct Ottoman Empire was the first of several countries over the previous century to be dubbed “The Sick Man of Europe”. But economically and socially, Europe as a whole increasingly looks to be the Sick Man of the World, with dire–and now immediate–consequences for all of its population.