Friday, November 18, 2005

The French Correction

Frank Furedi, a regular contributor to the U.K.–based spiked-online, offers some intelligent comments inspired by the warm glow of French firelight.
… Politics seems to be lost for words: public figures and the media struggle to understand or explain the big issues of the twenty-first century. Now, many seem unable to make sense of a situation where relatively small groups of teenagers and children from the banlieues can expose the powerlessness of the French forces of law and order, and of the French political elite itself. How could youngsters with no political aims or objectives call into question the legitimacy of all authority, and expose the feeble sense of identity in one of the oldest and most powerful nations in Europe?

Silence and evasion have dominated the response to the French crisis. Some have sought refuge in economic explanations. Bill Clinton's banal statement 'It's the economy, stupid!' seems to have acquired the status of unquestioned political truth. This is an attempt to use the language of the 1980s - poverty, exclusion and marginalisation - to make sense of the current riots. If the disturbances can be explained in economic terms, then maybe there's an off-the-peg solution to them: if only an EU development grant or training and jobs schemes could do the trick and calm things down!
So far, so good. It was entirely predictable that the international Liberal Establishment would do exactly what it has done — recast the French civil disturbances into the only shape it can understand and be comfortable with. An oppressed minority. Racism. Poverty. Government not doing enough.

Especially that last. In France, as well as in Furedi's Britain, an aggrandizing central government has taken unto itself almost all political and social power; local authority can scarcely enact a parking regulation on its own. Most people have given up trying to sort anything out themselves. That's the government's job. Ergo, Furedi complains that the meaning of the nationwide car-b-ques in France is that they show up the ineffectiveness of France's ruling class.
The most significant thing about recent events in France is not the behaviour of the rioters, but the reaction of the political class and official authority. The Bush regime's response to the flooding of New Orleans looks positively energetic when compared with the sense of paralysis and confusion that seems to have gripped French officialdom.
The cheap shot about "the Bush regime's response to the flooding of New Orleans" is a typical gibe by a citizen of a modern centralized bureaucratic state who can't grasp the idea of American federalism, but he's bang on about the "paralysis and confusion" of the French political class. And he continues with well-spoken criticism of the irrelevant official reaction to outbreaks of multiculturalist anarchy, both in the U.K. and France.

But for all his good sense within certain boundaries, Furedi illustrates just how addicted European intellectuals have become to the assumption that if anything is wrong, "we" (meaning the traditional culture, the government, or both) are the cause. Besides our oppression of minorities, it's our lack of purpose, or the "exhaustion of politics."
Since the end of the Cold War, it has become much less clear what France's global role might be. Its claim to act as the leader of Europe has been undermined by the expansion of the EU and the decline of the French-German axis. …

Somewhere between De Gaulle's aggressive nationalism and the silent, spineless and confused politics of today, France has lost its identity.
Silent, spineless, and confused politics may rule France, but please don't play the naif with me, Mr. Furedi. Islamovandals aren't torching Renaults up and down the land as a protest against a decline in France's global role.

By his own reckoning, the riots are not due to economic hardship or the lack of inter-ethnic group hugs. Nonetheless, he concludes, rather illogically, that "they [residents of the no-go banlieus] simply desire the kind of French prosperity that they see on the other side of the tracks, but without wanting to be associated with any idea of France."

If they don't want to be associated with any idea of France, why is that? Because France has lost its national amour-propre? Phooey. The country has had none since 1914, and until recently there was no teenage wasteland of Molotov cocktails.

Or could the unpleasantness that has erupted in voitures flambées have something to do with … with … Furedi can't bring himelf to say it: religion.

Here the model of the modern European intellectual is at a severe disadvantage in trying to think outside the Liberal Establishment box. To such as they, the very notion of religion is a bit of a joke, really. You politely indulge the occasional believer you meet — not that you meet many in your circle — but it's not something to waste good cerebral neurons on!

So Furedi (and to give him credit, he is far more perceptive than many of his fellow Liberal Establishment pundits) can't bring himself to admit that the first wave of mass civil disturbance by France's North African citizens is supercharged by their religion, a religion that teaches contempt for any institutions except those derived from The Prophet. No, according to the liberal faith, Islam is simply another creed in the Family of Man, not a motivation for violence and the desire of its adherents for separate enclaves.

I'm afraid Frank Furedi is going to have to learn about religion — one religion, anyway — in a very hard school.

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