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On Point

Will Chirac Fiddle While Paris Burns?


by Austin Bay
November 8, 2005

"Brennt Paris?" Adolf Hitler asked in August 1944. "Is Paris burning?"

The Paris garrison commander, German Gen. Dietrich von Choltitz, finessed the Fuhrer's "scorched earth" evil. His forces put up a fight, but Paris wasn't torched and turned to ash.

The past two weeks of immigrant riots haven't burned Paris, at least not literally. That's part of the story. The neighborhoods afflicted by violence aren't the toney blocks and chic boulevards -- not yet.

Migrants from France's former Muslim colonies initially came to France seeking jobs, often the jobs the French no longer deigned to do. The immigrants stayed. Whether the immigrants wanted to assimilate (of course many do, some do not), assimilation has not occurred. Now, France's "Muslim neighborhoods" and "African neighborhoods" exist as permanent "cultural islands," scarred by high unemployment and bitter resentment. These are the "quartiers sensible" -- the sensitive neighborhoods.

The poverty, public neglect and ethnic hatred are not news, nor is the religious-political violence of Islamist militants. In 1995, I wrote an article for The San Antonio Express-News analyzing France's entanglement with Algeria's Armed Islamic Group. A couple paragraphs emphasize the deep roots of the current crisis:

"France struggles with its own internal 'Islam problem.' About 4 to 5 million Muslims, most of them Arab immigrants and a third of them Algerian, live in France. In 1970, France had two dozen mosques. In 1994, there were around 1,000 mosques in France.

"The French government confronts many difficult choices. A tough response to terrorists is one thing; a 'state of siege,' which leads to ethnic carnage between the French and Arab immigrants, is a step toward a kind of smoldering civil war, and one that plays into the hands of extreme right-wing politicians."

Hitler failed to burn Paris, and I doubt teenagers with flaming Molotovs or even Al Qaida's bombs will reduce The City of Light to embers. But the Molotovs shed hard light on political, economic and demographic problems France has ignored and tried to hide for four decades.

Perhaps France didn't invent Bonapartism, though it invented the word. It's certainly familiar with the concept of a hard-line "man on a horse" using bayonets to "bring order" out of revolutionary anarchy. Recall that Jacques Chirac faced Jean-Marie Le Pen in the last French presidential election. Le Pen, a far right denizen and former paratrooper, outpolled the Socialist candidate. Le Pen attracts communist support, which should surprise no one, since communism is red fascism.

How France addresses its domestic woes is critical to the rest of Western Europe, and a "man on a horse" from either the right or left is not the answer.

France needs evolution, not revolution. France's stated racial and cultural integration policies don't square with its ghetto and Molotov reality. Over time, a jobs-producing economy might create something of a Gallic melting pot, but France's statist economy doesn't produce jobs. The Euro-socialist economic model may enthrall leftist intellectuals, but its dole doesn't satisfy immigrants seeking a better life. Fundamental economic change requires leaders with vision who will accept domestic political pain, not to mention the international embarrassment of "Americanization."

Holland may be a step ahead of France in confronting the immediate "worst case" scenario of a jihadist-engineered "intifada-like" revolt. The Dutch are expelling non-citizens suspected of ties to Islamist terrorist groups. The November 2004 vicious murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh by a jihadist told Holland its fashionable multiculturalism didn't appease terrorists.

French evolution means isolating and, if necessary, arresting Salafist/Islamist radicals. The French government, albeit belatedly, has encouraged the spread of what for want of a better description is called "Euro-Islam." Turkey, however, can argue that implementing "Euro-Islam" has been its policy since the 1920s.

On the international front, evolution means two things: The first is fostering economic development in Francophone Africa. France still operates a rapacious African empire, an ugly truth. The second is helping develop democratic alternatives in the politically dysfunctional Arab Muslim Middle East.

The irony is evident. In terms of here-and-now policy, that means helping the Iraqi people defeat the Saddmist killers and Al Qaida theo-fascists in Iraq.

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