Sunday, November 06, 2005

French Riots - Could it Happen Here?

"People are under pressure, they feel the anger of no jobs and no chance to improve their lives until finally -- boom! -- it just explodes."

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"Just allow us the dignity of good jobs and a chance to make better lives. Then the French will have nothing to fear from 'dangerous Muslims'."
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The French Riots -
Could it Happen Here?

If we create a new federal vision that will fully value and support moderate American Muslims, welcome new Arab-world immigrants, and make policy to support the poorest in our society and in the world, we'll decrease the chances that it will ever happen here.


- UK prime minister Tony Blair is having second thoughts about the anti-terror law he'd proposed, which would allow for detaining suspects for up to 90 days without trial. In a liberal society, he is coming to understand that the Tories will never stand for it. Compromise or negotiation will be in necessary in a liberal society, even though Blair favors the rule. Perhaps the riots in France are causing everyone in Europe to have second thoughts about how to govern in societies with large (and often poor) Muslim populations. [BBC News]

A radical new antiterrorism package unveiled by Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy giving the French government the right to deport residents summarily and to strip some Muslims who are deemed "radical" of their naturalized French citizenship is a "zero tolerance" policy which many say will politically play into the hands of militants and strip freedom further away from consideration in the French rule of law. Analysts warn that a western approach which lumps together all forms of Islamism and brands them "radical" or "hostile" could strengthen the appeal of extremists. [source: BBC News]

Mark my words. This new trend of Westen governments summarily stripping people of their citizenship and smothering their freedom of speech is going to reinforce an already-growing image of Western elitism in the Middle Eastern world that will weaken the war of Western ideas and strengthen the cause of extremists.


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The Price of Ignoring Pleas for Social Justice:
Idolizing the Wrong Heroes


Let's look at today's Boston Globe:
- What do Osama bin Laden and Rodney King have in common? They are both heros of a young man in France - the son of poor Algerian immigrants -
"One because he gives pride back to the Muslims," the young man asserted as he and a trio of friends stood near the charred ruins of a carpet shop. "The other because he was just a poor man, a 'nobody man' of color, but he caused a great city to burn."

So - this is how terrorism plays out in a permissive society which prides itself so much on equality that it doesn't keep statistics that separate one race or religion from another. Unheeded and silenced cries for social justice snowball into a burning mass of chaos. You haven't seen that level of violence and destruction happening here in America. Why not?

France's failure to ensure the social mobility of ethnic minorities is a likely contributor to their current troubles. The growing appeal of radical Islam is another major contributor. America is not immune from either of these factors - especially with the economic and foreign policies promoted by the current presidential administration and the Republican leadership that has blindly supported those policies. We've made big cultural strides - backwards - for the past five years. We're inviting what we see happening in France today, but it's not too late to find our vision and to once again show this world how to lead - instead of following them down the path of sure failure.



Equality without social justice is meaningless
What about America?

America's
population of immigrants from the Arab and Muslim world can be seen as a matter of class and economic status more than Muslim culture. We've heard the message about The Two Americas - what about the glaring problem of the two Middle Easts? Poor Muslims are harder to find in America - and there are reasons which we don't often think about. We've tended to see Muslim immigrants succeeding here in America, often surpassing the economic status of the average American. The transient poor of the Muslim world have drifted toward European cities - and in France's case, they have been virtually ignored in the odd name of equality. Equality without social justice is meaningless.

One surprising conclusion drawn from data collected by the US Census Bureau in 2000 was that people of Arab descent living in the US are better educated and wealthier than the average American of non-Arab descent. See "Culture is not the Culprit in Arab Poverty" [Carnegie Endowment]
That immigrants generally do better than their compatriots back home is no surprise. What is far less common is for immigrants to out-perform the average population of their adopted home. This should prompt debates on issues such as the notion that cultural factors lie behind the Middle East 's widespread poverty...

....if cultural impediments are behind the Arab world's disappointing performance, what explains the success of people of Arab descent in America? One common perception is that Arabs who come to the US come from the wealthier Arab countries and are already better off. Another answer, of course, is that the US offers them better opportunities and institutions. Arabs in the US have ample opportunities to prosper and can rely on institutions to protect their civil and economic rights to do so.

Why there and not here?

Why are Arab immigrants in Europe worse off than those in the US? Why are leaders of Arab communities in France seeing social and racial tensions that have created a social and political time bomb? Moises Naim , editor in chief of Foreign Policy magazine, hits the nail on the head when he says:
Arab leaders should be ashamed when they see their emigrants prospering in the US while their own people are miserable. Europeans, too, should consider why their Arab immigrants lag so far behind those in America..... Americans need to ponder if the changes instituted after the terrorist attacks of September 11 2001 will make future generations of Arab immigrants look more like their disadvantaged European compatriots than like today's successful Arab-Americans.

Let's Value and Support our Muslim Communities Here in America
The Rhetoric of Fear, Political Abuse, and Mistrust Must End

Our moderate Muslim communities should be respected and our policies should support them and promote the immigration of more people from the Middle East - not less. If we believe in our ideas, then why not set policy to WIN the war of ideas?

We should appreciate and support the wonderful Muslim communities that exist in our country today, rather than seeing and hearing partisan right-wing pundits rhetorically beating on them and accusing them of failing to speak out against terror. They deserve our full support - not our fearful suspicion! They are Americans, like you and me.

A 2004 study by The Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU)has provided an interesting profile of the active Muslim in the Detroit, MI area. See report here.
The average participant in a mosque is 34, is married with children, is well-educated, is an immigrant or born to immigrants, makes more than $75,000 a year, is either progressive (38 percent) or traditional (28 percent) in religious practice. The average Muslim is also politically conscious (68 percent registered to vote), a bit ethnocentric — there is some evidence of ethnic clustering around mosques — and is a political liberal (supports affirmative action, universal health care and tough environmental protection laws) but is socially conservative (worried about sexual promiscuity).

The community issues that mattered most to the respondents were
1. Education
2. Schools
3. Work
4. Unity
5. Spiritual growth.

Some believe that because America has given the Islamic community so much freedom that we have undoubtedly made it easier for them to "seduce U.S. citizens to join jihadist groups and seek to kill their countrymen." I think that is the talk of fearful people - or people using "fear" to usurp political influence or power. When did all communities of Muslim immigrants and their cultural integrity become suspect of evil? I believe that if we allowed 9/11 to destroy our faith in the goodness of our fellow man as well as the freedoms within our democratic social fabric, we are lost. When we err on the side of false imprisonment and blanket discrimination based on a person's ethnicity, we are lost.

Victor Davis Hanson has written a recent article for Front Page magazine and insisted that America's "elite commitment to multiculturalism also hamstrings us from taking the needed security steps."
For 30 years, our schools have pounded home the creed that all cultures are of equal merit[...]Millions of Americans consequently aren’t sure whether radical Islam is just another legitimate alternative to the dominant Western narrative.

I think Hanson's argument is ineffective. The answer is not to take away a student's ability to make critical judgement for themselves by dulling the reality of thought that exists in diverse cultures. That will only breed ignorance. There were root causes stemming from the culture from which the 9/11 plot originated - and it will never help us, as a society and a member of the international community, to ignore every single factor that led to the sad occurrence.

French public schools promote equality and secular thought, and look at what is still happening there! Islamic unrest has been relayed in a much different way in France this week than in America on 9/11. When a society ignores the calls from its own citizens for social justice, the resulting backlash from too many years of complacency is often shocking. It isn't Muslim culture that is the proximate cause of the strife in France - it's a social justice issue.

Islamic leaders and social commentators insist that the root causes of the violence in France are economic, not religious. In their hopelessness, those living in poverty and feeling that there is no escape are turning to dangerous ideas and desperate measures. People feel that they've been isolated in poor neighborhoods with inadequate schools and few opportunities. This sounds too close to today's America for comfort, especially with the foreign policy put into play by the Bush administration.

How long before the fever in Europe is spread to the streets here in American cities with poor Muslim immigrant communities like Lackawanna, NY or Lodi, CA where the poorer Muslim communities are looked at with little more than suspicion?

From a Lackawanna newspaper in 2002:
To be a Muslim teenager is to grapple with conflicting identities and cultures, to search for halal buffalo wings and modest clothing that still looks good. While the Yemeni community in Lackawanna supports its youth through an Islamic school, a soccer league and a community center, life beyond the First Ward - the city's shabbiest area housing its minority residents before a drive over a bridge yields a gentrifying downtown - can pose challenges.

"White people call them towelheads or ragheads," said Ron Jones, a black lifelong resident of the First Ward. "The bridge divides us. This is supposed to be a ghetto." [S. Mitra Kalita]
After 9/11, we became a fearful and closed society. If anyone so much as mentioned the root causes of violence in the months following 9/11, they were labeled as traitors. Artists are being labeled as terrorist sympathizers to this day if they dare to generate anything other than the fear of Muslims in their art. (Sound like McCarthy-era America?)

Poverty alone did not cause the planners of the attack to do harm to America that morning. Hatred and indifference to innocent life grew from many years of a cancer that grew in the Middle East. No one knows what causes cancer, but it silently grows and spreads, until it takes over the life support system. The poor and uneducated are easily co-opted for recruitment to terrorist ideas - and errant hero-worship - and civil unrest - perhaps violent and destructive unrest.

We can do better in America. We have done better - until the Bush administration and Republican leadership turned us into a weaker and fearful America, lashing out in vengeance and hiding our fear behind pre-emptive and unilateral attacks on a nation that never had a link to 9/11. It has unnecessarily taken thousands of lives.

We must see a new direction. We have lost our vision. When we look at France this week, we may gloat and feel vindicated by our society because it hasn't happened here. But, in other parts of the globe, our errant and wrong-minded federal government has completely failed to take constructive measures that would give promise or hope to the poorest and most uneducated of this world - and the extremists will continue to recruit them to lash back at the West in anger as long as we fail to do our part to send out a clear vision of hope and trust.



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-A Firsthand View and Opinion

* Kevin Drum refers us to a blogger named Jerome with some firsthand knowledge of one of the neighborhoods where the riots are taking place. An excerpt from Jerome's post:
What's real is that social budgets for these cit├ęs (those that allow the associations to run sport activities, literacy classes and the like) have been cut in the past 3 years, because, as always, this is the easiest thing to do politically.

What is real is that local police forces have been reduced (in Clichy, where it all started, the police has 15 officers vs 35 in the past) and replaced by national police who do not know the neighborood and are pretty aggressive in their behavior - and especially in their overuse of ID controls which target only people of color.

What is real is that France made a choice 30 years ago to preserve the jobs of those already integrated, and made it difficult to join that core. Thus unemployment, or unstable employment (temping, short term contracts, internships) touches only those that are not yet in the system - the young and the immigrants, or those that are kicked out - the older and less educated blue collar workers in dying industries. So in neighboroods where you have a lot of young immigrants, the problems are excerbated.
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-Additional note: A leading Muslim group -- the Union of Islamic Organisations in France (UOIF) -- issued a fatwa or formal instruction urging Muslims not to take part in acts of violence.

-For columnist Mark Steyn, it's all Black and White and Gloat and Hatespeak. If you can't go in like imperial stormtroopers and bomb cities and round up and detain all the dark-colored men without cause or trial; if you can't unilaterally wipe out a nation's regime in the name of democracy, you're just not cool in Steyn's book. In this blogger's opinion, he comes off sounding like a Euro-bashing horse's ass with plenty of political complaints and no solutions.

-See Why France Is Burning by Doug Ireland.

Paris Riots