Roger L. Simon

The France of the Mind Goes Up in Smoke

I grew up with the most romantic view of France – Sartre, Piaf, Jean Renoir, the Resistance. Then it was Truffaut, Godard, Serge Gainsbourg. (My mother had gone to school there.) They were superior to us. The place to go. The place for a writer to be ratified (like Ernest and Scott) as a person of substance. I was most proud of myself when my first books were translated into French by Editions Alta (a company now defunct) and profiled in a magazine called Polar (also now defunct, I believe). Quel orgeuil.

Now the country itself seems defunct, its economic system a mess, its ability to assimilate immigrants (partly through its own fault and partly through the tribal religious primitivism of the immigrants themselves) practically non-existent. Its politicians seem a collection of pompous aristos and equally pompous leftists.

And yet France is magnificent and we should all be sad, sadder still that the violence is metastasizing to Belgium and who knows where else? In continental Europe at least, France was almost always the leading factor, for good or ill. I find it highly disturbing to watch it flounder like this. Buried in another article is even more disturbing news – churches are under attack. A church was set ablaze in the southern fishing town of Sete and another in nearby Lens, Pas de Calais. Echoes of 1492 reverberate in the motor scooters of fifteen year olds. People try to diminish all this as the work of “youths”, but how old were the Crusaders themselves, on both sides? I would imagine most of them were kids. Who else has the physical strength to fight wars? And that is one of the hidden nightmares in all this – the immigrants are young and the old Europeans are, for the most part, well, old.

But perhaps this is not all Armageddon, as Theodore Dalrymple, writing in this morning’s WSJ, reminds us:

Of course, apocalypses have a habit of not happening. The present riots are only a temporary exacerbation of “normal” life in French lower-class and immigrant suburbs. (In all of Western society, not just France, social housing means antisocial behavior.) Even when there are no riots, such suburbs are strewn with the carcasses of burnt-out cars, like skeletons in a desert, and one can see the blackened remains of shops that have been put to the torch. Drug-trafficking goes on openly, and the hostility to outsiders is palpable.

The current interior minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, is the first French politician to suggest some approach to the problem other than building more community centers made of concrete and named after great French poets. As a result, he is both hated and feared, and the rioters must hope that if they burn enough cars and kindergartens he will be forced to resign and thus lose his chance of winning the presidency and letting the CRS loose. This will enable “les jeunes” to return to the life they know and understand, that of criminality without interference by the state.

The Paris stock exchange has every confidence that, in the end, Sarkozy or no Sarkozy, the French state will emerge victorious over the disorganized racaille, and everything can continue as before. The index has risen steadily — or calmly, to quote the officer of the CRS — throughout the disturbances.

MEANWHILE: Michael Totten – who went to the Middle East in search of action – notes a role reversal: Paris has become the Beirut of Europe.

UPDATE: Dept. of Not Fodor’s. Some grisly photos of the recent events in France here. I was in Paris within weeks of May 1968 and saw nothing remotely resembling this. It’s interesting that CNN, etc. are not showing them – at least to my knowledge. SCRATCH THAT- I have seen similar photos elsewhere, including the BBC.