Thinking Back on the French Riots

Monday, November 21, 2005
An underappreciated analyst, Britain's Melanie Phillips, has a piece quoting the French philosopher Alain Finkielkraut, on the ongoing effort to downplay the extent to which Islam was a factor in the outbreak of rioting across dozens of French cities:

'In France, they would like very much to reduce these riots to their social dimension, to see them as a revolt of youths from the suburbs against their situation, against the discrimination they suffer from, against the unemployment. The problem is that most of these youths are blacks or Arabs, with a Muslim identity. Look, in France there are also other immigrants whose situation is difficult - Chinese, Vietnamese, Portuguese - and they're not taking part in the riots. Therefore, it is clear that this is a revolt with an ethno-religious character… directed against France as a former colonial power, against France as a European country. Against France, with its Christian or Judeo-Christian tradition...

'We are witness to an Islamic radicalization that must be explained in its entirety before we get to the French case, to a culture that, instead of dealing with its problems, searches for an external guilty party. It's easier to find an external guilty party. It's tempting to tell yourself that in France you're neglected, and to say, “Gimme, gimme.” It hasn't worked like that for anyone. It can't work.’

To me it seems the degree to which Islam and Islamism figured into the rioting is still a controversial and unsettled question. But Finkielkraut's conclusion, for the French, and perhaps particularly for the French Jews, is frightening, and saddening:

‘But there's something in France - a kind of denial ... in the sociologists and social workers - and no one dares say anything else. This struggle is lost. I've been left behind.’


truepeers said...

Jamie, I wrote a long comment on this great Finkielkraut article on the first post of the day, when Rick mentioned it, via David, in his update. I hope it is not out of place to reproduce it, slightly edited, here:

Thanks David, I really like that Finkielkraut interview. His notion of this rioting being fundamentally anti-Republican, strikes me as just right. It is anti-Republican because it is rooted in a hatred of those confident westerners who have gone first in various political, cultural, and scientific endeavors, those who have led their brothers and sisters in humanity in the name of glorious France, instead of deferring to more democratic, more strictly egalitarian, sensibilities. The Republic relies on someone breaking ranks and going first; but the utopias the anti-Republicans desire are essentially dreams of some steady-state equality. So, as Finkielkraut notes, many French Muslims and their liberal sympathizers are destroying the educational standards and hierarchies of the country in a fit, attempting to serve the downtrodden from the colonies in overcoming the history of white-led crimes and injustices. What is at the root of this is a religion of guilt.

Self-destructive behaviour, all-consuming desire, is rooted in a resentful relationship to the sacred. He who resents the sacred center, misreading it as the source or cause of injustice and inequality, and consequent guilt, cannot see the sacred for what it truly is: something to love because it creates for us the possibility of deferring our conflict over common objects of desire, through a common worship of sacred signs that we substitute for the material things that cause us conflict.

In other words, the sacred allows us to set up communal standards that must be achieved as a precondition for any distribution and access to the material things we desire and must first produce before desire can be satisfied. Instead of love for the sacred sign, what is going on in France right now is promotion of the utopian lie that you can have all the cool things you want and deserve, without first particpating in the (formerly) sacralized communal standards by which productivity is maintained. This utopianism is on a self-destructive path, one that may entail the Islamist and liberal taking many others with them to their inevitable deaths. The utopian lie privileges consuming desires at the expense of productivity. One ends up burning objects of desire - e.g. cars - because if I can't have one, no one can.

Love God, or secular equivalents, or die. It comes down to this. And too many in France cannot love God or France anymore. But what about the Muslims you say? They love Allah, or so they say, and yet many are now self-destructive (and acting in ways, notes Finkielkraut, that Jews caught in poverty, or in a much more righteous anger for what France did to its Jews during the Holocaust, never would).

The most hopeful (yet unproven) answer is that many of these kids are not yet serious and skilled Muslims and so don't know what it means to love God. But some of their elders who should know better seem to be abetting this rioting. Here we have to turn to consider the nature of Islam's catholic, and one might say, democratic, submission to the word of god. Perhaps Islam is a democracy, at least in its utopian vision for the next world; and hence it cannot easily adapt to a worldly Republic that allows for much meritocratic or political asymmetry on top of the fundamental symmetry of all members in the national brother and sisterhood. One can't help but note that so many Muslim fundamentalists and even ordinary Muslim brothers, not to mention their western leftist sympathizers, have a rather hysterical nature, arguably rooted in an overvaluation of equality and a consequent sense of injustice at worldly differences, those practical differences that are necessary to our productive life.

Many people call Islam a patriarchal culture. But it still retains much of the matriarchal impulse to defend all the children as equals before their creator. The polygamy that is apparently common among French immigrants may reflect a dubious male privilege built on top of a culture in which women traditionally do most of the work and raise the children, at least until the young men reject the mother and get in the game of fighting other men for the right to live (and die) as beastly pseudo-patriarchs. The universal submission of the faithful in Islam may be some kind of half-way house between a matriarchal and patriarchal culture as Salman Rushdie suggests:
The Koran was revealed at a time of great change in the Arab world, the seventh-century shift from a matriarchal nomadic culture to an urban patriarchal system. Muhammad, as an orphan, personally suffered the difficulties of this transformation, and it is possible to read the Koran as a plea for the old matriarchal values in the new patriarchal world, a conservative plea that became revolutionary because of its appeal to all those whom the new system disenfranchised, the poor, the powerless and, yes, the orphans.

The true patriarch is someone who can maintain (or, more to the point, who is imagined by his followers as the source of) order and productivity among his children, even amidst the most trying circumstances of poverty, war, inequality, etc. This argument is in no way an attempt to deny the fundamental equality of men and women. It is rather to argue that this equality is best served by our common rejection of a utopian democracy and religion, which, I hypothesize, are rooted in ancient matriarchal sensibilities. Equality and republican democracy does much better with a respect for the asymmetry within symmetry that is the hallmark of a free and open politics and meritocracy, and of a religious love for the father.

rich said...

Kudos for giving Melanie Phillips a boost. She is wonderful and should be read by more Americans.

Peter UK said...

The bitter experience of the Algerians with their former colonial masters has poisoned the well for generations.This is not simply a Muslim deprivation, issue,nor is it merely an assimilation problem,they were given French nationality in 1946.The fact is, there is bad blood between the Algerians and the French.Nearly a million Algerians died in the wars and uprisings.

ex-democrat said...

truepeers - "Love God, or secular equivalents, or die. It comes down to this."
I find among my liberal friends and acquaintances a strong antipathy towards religion of any kind. To hear them speak, then, the existential threat posed by jihadis is simply the threat posed by religious extremism of any kind. Although I, like them, was raised without religion (pretty normal in the UK), I do not share this antipathy.
It's remarkable how often a conversation that begins with the latest developments in the WOT ends with me asking them what they do believe in and why?

Anonymous said...

Melanie Phillips is always a joy to read. So is Dr. Dalrymple. THey are so clear thinking and such beautiful writers. C

Skookumchuk said...

Well, it is only anecdotal and personal evidence, but here goes. I was in Paris on business about three years ago and got my fill of the hysterically anti-American press. I also asked a person I was visiting about the growing Moslem presence in France and if - in light of the recent events of 9/11 - he saw violence in the future. This was a very nice, low-key, well-educated guy. His response was something like "when it finally happens, we will deal with them all in our own way" or words to that effect. My impression at the time was on the one hand, the classic, self-destructive multiculti intelligensia and educational bureaucracy looking forward to, and relishing, the ruin of France. Shades of Cavafy. On the other, the easy, offhand way in which my friend at dinner was seemingly advocating a progrom. No way out. Certainly not if their intellectual and emotional vocabularies are so impoverished as to only see the one alternative or the other.

MeaninglessHotAir said...

It's easier to find an external guilty party. It's tempting to tell yourself that in France you're neglected, and to say, “Gimme, gimme.” It hasn't worked like that for anyone. It can't work.’

Why does this remind me of Democrats discussing Republicans?

terrye said...

I think it is true that Islam, at least as we seem to know it, does rely on outside enemies to explain away its own failures.
Islam is more than a religion to most of its adherents, it is a way of life. And it has lagged behind the west and been dependent on the infidels and that is hurtful to their pride and their self image. So many of them attack. [instead of using that damn oil money to improve their societies]. This is an oversimplifaction and needless to say it does not apply to everyone in the Middle East.

The whole concept of jihad is struggle and of course there must be someone to struggle against.

In France I am afraid that much of traditional Islam has been lost but the jihad continues.

I remember years ago reading a book of poems called "Sand and Stars" [I think] by a French pilot who had fought the Algerians. I can not remember his name right now. But it got me interested in the subject and it is true, there is much bad blood here.

The Algerians used to castrate the Frenchmen just to make a point.

And now of course they are in their midst and they are very unhappy.

not good.

Buddy Larsen said...

Re Terrye's ..."(use) that damn oil money to improve their societies...."

Whoopee, there's a mouthful! The Big Simple that GWB has been trying to point out, all along.

But, Teddy, Kerry, Ms Sheehan, et al, "It takes an OIF!"

David Thomson said...

“Kudos for giving Melanie Phillips a boost. She is wonderful and should be read by more Americans.”

Melanie Phillips is indeed very wonderful---and you can also sign up for her free e-mails. It will only take a few moments.

“This struggle is lost. I've been left behind.”

I am adamantly convinced that France is being destroyed. One can endure eccentric neighbors or a host of other minor irritations. Violence, however, is entirely another matter. I was raised in the slums of Detroit. Trust me on this, economic winners do not remain in areas deemed dangerous. They move out as quickly as possible. Only the so-called losers stay behind.

Buddy Larsen said...

Dave, French--and European--cash has been cascading into our markets since the riots began. I'm sure the numbers are somewhere--Bloomberg, maybe--but anecdotally, it's been much remarked in the last month (I keep CNBC on all thru mkt hours).

Jamie Irons said...


I remember years ago reading a book of poems called "Sand and Stars" [I think] by a French pilot who had fought the Algerians...

Wasn't that Antoine de St. Exupery, also the author of "Le Petit Prince"?


Papa Ray said...


Buddy Larsen said...

France actually won the Algerian War, and then De Gaulle, in trying to make a better peace, gave in to the original demands of the by-then vanquished enemy.

Time's passage--as well as much testimony--has proven that to've been the exact wrong thing to have done, setting the precedent of the extremists' win-by-losing strategy to wear down the western enemy, always safely inside the limits of the westerner's predictably measured response to any outrage.

Knucklehead said...

I saw some news item (can't recall what network or reporter) yesterday quoting a French official (possibly the French ambassador to the US) as declaring that the situation in France had returned to normal.

Is this "normal" the normal of some 60-80 autos burned on an average night in the "difficult neighborhoods" which are off-limits to French authorities such as police? If so, then the "normalcy" of this situation is indicative of a problem - a big problem.

Whoever the French official was he was apparently unable to resist the "normal" Euro habit of rationalizing their own problems by pointing to something "worse" in the US. In this case it was "making too much" of the French riots because, after all, they were not like the LA riots.

The Euros will never solve their problems. They will always choose to minimize the importance of their problems by finding something "American" against which to compare them and declare them minor.

Systemic, structural unemployment? Not a problem because, after all, while the US might have lower unemployment we also have a "savage" welfare system for the unemployed.

Lack of economic growth? Not a problem because, after all, while the US might have higher economic growth look at how "savage" the US system is with it's "creative destruction" inherent in the capitalist model.

Rising crime rates that seem to have reached the point of wanton destruction of private property? Not a problem because, after all, while Europe may have a great deal more of some forms of crime the US has more murders.

For any readers who have longed to visit Europe but have put it off, do it soon or write off the opportunity. Things will get much worse before they get any better. They refuse to take ownership of their problems. They are like a drunk who refuses to accept that he has a problem needing a solution because somewhere cross town lives someone with a different problem.

Buddy Larsen said...

papa ray, if you're a lefty, you can save ink with

Peter UK said...

TRhis is the fault line between dogma and reality.
Mas immigration was "sold" as a good thing by the political elites,partially for egalitarian ideas and partly for economic reasons.
Thus there any downside was airbrushed out of the equation,any doubts were smeared as racist,cultural adjustment was forced upon the idigenes in the name of not giving offence.
Multiculturalism,excluding that of the host culture,was the order of the day.This hide the side benefit of allowing the elites to cow the natives.
As the multicultural creed spread so did the cult of do as you please liberalism,it was obvious that at some point there was going to be a collision.
The 7/7 bombing and the French riots are greeted by the liberal elites as they would if their pet pooch started humping the Parsons leg,embarrassment and an attempt to cover up."Mommy,mommy,what is that dog doing,hush Dear, it is only being affectionate"...."More tea Vicar?"
..and so it goes,the elite have nothing in their aramatorium to cope with the problem,all the discrimination laws have been designed to deal with the racism of the indigenous population.Immigrants cannot be ,by definition racist,there must be,therefore,another root cause which fits the world view of the political elite,assimilation,exclusion,poverty anything from their busted flush will do.

Skookumchuk said...

Well, It seems I can't hyperlink. Anyway, here is the famous poem by Constantine Cavafy (1864-1933) describing the Roman nobility as they wait for what is coming.

Waiting for the Barbarians

What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?

The barbarians are due here today.
Why isn't anything happening in the senate? Why do the senators sit there without legislating?

Because the barbarians are coming today.

What laws can the senators make now? Once the barbarians are here, they'll do the legislating.
Why did our emperor get up so early, and why is he sitting at the city's main gate on his throne, in state, wearing the crown?

Because the barbarians are coming today and the emperor is waiting to receive their leader.
He has even prepared a scroll to give him, replete with titles, with imposing names.

Why have our two consuls and praetors come out today
wearing their embroidered, their scarlet togas?
Why have they put on bracelets with so many amethysts,
and rings sparkling with magnificent emeralds?
Why are they carrying elegant canes
beautifully worked in silver and gold?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and things like that dazzle the barbarians.
Why don't our distinguished orators come forward as usual
to make their speeches, say what they have to say?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and they're bored by rhetoric and public speaking.
Why this sudden restlessness, this confusion?
(How serious people's faces have become.)
Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly,
everyone going home so lost in thought?

Because night has fallen and the barbarians have not come.
And some who have just returned from the border say
there are no barbarians any longer.
And now, what's going to happen to us without barbarians?
They were, those people, a kind of solution.

David Thomson said...

“The Euros will never solve their problems.”

In the case of the French, I take it one step further: It’s too late for them! They cannot reverse the course of history (don’t I sound so Hegelian?). This genie will never go back into the bottle. There are too many Muslim youths. A couple of hundred would present a daunting challenge. Instead, France may have over a million of these unassimilated individuals who enjoy engaging in nihilistic violence.

I can well remember beautiful homes being sold for next to nothing in Detroit. A home that might sell for $80,000 in Houston could go for less than $10,000. A woman I knew literally was scared to enter or leave her car merely to get into the front door. Murder was so common that it became a boring topic of conversation. Detroit’s population is now below a million---and still dropping. Yup, I think we can safely say that much of France is becoming another Motown.

Buddy Larsen said...

Le Enterprise Zone?

MeaninglessHotAir said...


Thank you. I hadn't seen that before.

Syl said...

I wonder if part of the French problem in not identifying a problem is the same the Netherlands has now? I mean, I think there is a real fear about speaking out at all.

Silent too long, and they've lost their chance at saying anything at all.

I really can't imagine the elites are that blind. I really can't.

There's a fear there and they are afraid to speak of it.

Peter UK said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Peter UK said...

"I really can't imagine the elites are that blind. I really can't."

They were willfully blind,this was a social engineering experiment on a vast scale, for a number of reasons.
There was a movement to destroy nationalism in Europe,consisting of two main strands,
One the construction of a single European state.
Two,the Gramscian Marxist undermining of the West to destroy capitalis by subverting its institutions and the pillars of society.
How far these two elements overlapped is uncertain,"By their works shall ye judge them" but it is obvious that mass immigration was a key element in changing mature and culturally homogeneous nations.

For both groups large minorities which did not share the dominant culture were a useful wedge for their projects,and so multiculturalism was the tool to keep communities separate.

As in all such social engineering,it was neccessary to silence dissent, so draconian laws and education campaigns were put in place to keep the indigenous population quiescent.

The project,as with all grandiose schemes that emmanate from the feverish minds of the intellectual and political elite,had no plan B.

The left have always specialised in destruction and revolution,so convinced are they of the rightness of their cause that they do not construct a replacement for what they destroy.Neither do the consider that anyone would want anything other than that which envisage,which leads us to where we are now....culture like power abhores a vacuum...there was no thought given to the possibility that a strong and aggressive culture would rush in to fill the void.

2:10 PM, November 22, 2005

Buddy Larsen said...

That culture is strong only because it IS aggressive. Cut off the lines of attack, and what does it offer the western sensibility?