What is happening in Paris?

The troubles in Paris just seem to be going on and on. After eleven straight days the riots themselves have claimed its first fatality. There’s no shortage of schadenfreude in liberal Britain or in some circles in Israel. But what is actually going on over there?France’s Ambassador to Ireland Frédéric Grasset gave a candid interview on Morning Ireland this morning (sound file). He suggested that there is a great deal of caution in the reporting of causes in France because of a fear of the political consequences arising. So far although the riots have centred on the Arabic suburbs of of Paris, AFP reports that there is no descernable religious element to the rioting itself. Indeed a Fatwa was declared against rioting on Sunday.

So is it to do with economics? Much of the anti government anger seems focused on Nicolas Sarkozy, the second generation French interior ministry. Unusually for a top French politician of any stripe, he did not attend the École nationale d’administration. Unusually too, he is an admirer of Tony Blair and is known to hanker after the freer Anglo Saxon economic model.

The Nation magazine is in no doubt that political complaicency lies at the bottom of the rioting:

Behind the facade of France’s democratic idealism – Liberte, Egalite and Fraternite – frustration among fast-growing ethnic minorities, which make up almost 10 per cent of the total population, over racism, unemployment and police harassment have been brewing for years, if not decades. Impoverished Muslims and North African immigrants and their children have become disillusioned by harsh social and economic realities, particularly structural factors that they feel have trapped them in a never-ending cycle of poverty and destitution.

Such factors include attempts by France to protect its own particular brand of welfare state at the expense of new entrants to the job market, particularly those belonging to ethnic minority groups, who tend to be poorly educated and low-skilled and therefore less employable. Relegating poor minorities to the outer suburbs hardly make fermenting problems go away, as the current violence has shown.

Rioting provides a way for these second-class citizens to protest a system they feel is keeping them down. No country in the world can lay claim to a harmonious race-relations model that has worked in the past, continues to work today and will work in the future without regular adjustments and overhauls. The process to correct the injustices may be long and fraught with obstacles, but the time to start is now. And the most crucial first step is the restoration of law and order.

It’s worth noting this short thought note on how the left and right tend to box all manner of events into their own pre-set grand narrative.

Richard Delevan, in his new column in yesterday’s Sunday Tribune warns against smugness elsewhere, least of all in Ireland. In the wake of the race riots in LA in 1992, he quotes a report in the Chicago Sun Times: “The consensus of French pundits that something on the scale of the Los Angeles could not happen here, mainly because France is a more humane, less racist place with a much stronger committment to social welfare programs”.

He goes on to note Michael McDowell’s recent speech when he suggested that Ireland could not afford to have a second generation immigrant population that grows up institutionally disaffected from the police force, “we have to plan for this, rather than ending up with a largely white, native force policing migrant communities who don’t feel any bond with the police force”.

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