unrest in France

Like many, I’ve been hearing a lot about the riots in France, but I wasn’t sure what the riots were about. And I have had neither the time nor the inclination to investigate, until today.

There are several things one must understand about this. First of all, France has the highest Muslim population (about 5 million) in Europe. Secondly, much of this population, who are largely derived from centuries of French colonialism in North Africa, exists in poverty:

The growing violence is forcing France to confront long-simmering anger in its suburbs, where many immigrants and their French-born children live on society’s margins, struggling with high unemployment, racial discrimination and despair — fertile terrain for crime of all sorts.

In case there was any doubt about “Muslim extremists” (nee “Terrorists”), it is important to note the following:

France’s biggest Muslim fundamentalist organization, the Union for Islamic Organizations of France, issued a fatwa, or religious decree, that forbade all those “who seek divine grace from taking part in any action that blindly strikes private or public property or can harm others.”

So it seems that much of the unrest comes from the horrible poverty, unemployment, and racism that exists in France, that has existed for a long time. To put this in perspective, the largely Muslim areas where the rioting is mostly happening have a much higher unemployment rate than the rest of France, nearly 40%, compared to the national average in France of 10%.

It is also important to note that the rioting is not new:

… riots like those going on right now have been going on for years, on and off, in towns and suburbs far outside of Paris, led by disaffected children of immigrants, black, Muslim or both, and for the usual reasons: high unemployment, nothing to do, resentment of racism. The difference this time is that the trashing and burning and assaults that have broken out over the past ten days in the northern suburbs of Paris are too close to ignore. What’s new is a desperate desire to make sense of these events.

So I’m not alone. These events are somewhat inexplicable; those in power are by definition those of privilege, and are not accustomed to systematic racism affecting their means of survival. So they don’t really know how to respond, except to protect their privilege (ie, their property) with overwhelming force, promising further violence and punishment for rioters. Yeah, that’ll help.

The violence seems to be spreading, for right now to Belgium and Germany. It will be interesting to see how the US government responds if/when unrest of this sort comes to the US.

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