Monday, October 23, 2006

France in flames

By Michael J.W. Stickings

It's been a rather tumultuous past year or so for the French.

Last November, there were the riots — a state of emergency, if not quite another revolution — that, with multiple triggers sending alienated and in some cases highly politicized youth into the streets, exposed the deep cultural, political, and economic rift between mainstream French society and the largely ignored and depressed immigrant communities throughout the country.

Then, this past March, barricades were once again erected in Paris, in and around the Sorbonne, this time in response to proposed employment legislation.

The government gave in on the employment legislation, but the violence in some of the country's immigrant suburbs continues. The Times reports:

The figures are stark. An average of 112 cars a day have been torched across France so far this year and there have been 15 attacks a day on police and emergency services. Nearly 3,000 police officers have been injured in clashes this year. Officers have been badly injured in four ambushes in the Paris outskirts since September. Some police talk of open war with youths who are bent on more than vandalism.

To my understanding, this is a French problem more than, say, a Europe-wide problem, or a problem specifically about Muslim immigration. France's immigrant underclass is indeed alienated from the rest of the country, and it makes sense to me that its young people — who want to join French society, not separate from it; who want to share in the country's wealth, not destroy it — would take to the streets to express their anger and frustration. It's just alarming that this violent expression of anger and frustration is still going on a year later. The French government promised to do something about the root causes of the riots. It has evidently failed to do so.

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