Paris Burning

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A burning car in Strasbourg

A car burns in Strasbourg [Francois Schnell / Flickr]

A burning car in Strasbourg

The remains of a carpet factory in Paris [Matthew Kebbekus / Flickr]

What was most striking … was the condition of the neighborhoods. Listening to the news, I imagined inner-city like ghettos, rotting public housing and street gangs. The places we saw appeared middle class, with decent parks, clean streets, and a mixture of businesses and residential towers. I expected it to be more stark.

Matthew Kebbekus, from a 11/08 email to Open Source

Now one thing to note is that these neighboroods are not ghettos. My aunt lived there most of her life, she was a teacher in a nearby pre-school and has a mostly normal middle class life. There are lots of minorities, lots of kids with dysfunctional families, an obvious lack of jobs, and decrepit buildings, but it’s not a rundown place, it’s not cut off from the rest of the country, and there is a lot of solidarity between the inhabitants.

Jerome a Paris, from the European Tribune

So what’s going on? The riots in France, Denmark — and now possibly Belgium — don’t resemble the civil unrest we profess to understand from our own recent history. We read words like “disenfranchisement,” and they don’t really tell us anything and it’s hard for us, as Americans, to understand that France — and most of Europe — is not really an immigrant nation. Or at least, it doesn’t see itself as one. Or, at least, not until recently.

What drives this kind of unrest? Is it an consequence of immmigration policy, or social policy? Or is it, a roaring to power of the significant numbers of North African and Middle Eastern immigrants that live in capitals and port cities all over Europe? Is this civil unrest, or a new political class?

Patrick Belton

Blogger, Oxblog

Currently reporting inside the Paris banlieues (suburbs)

Jeremy Rifkin

President, Foundation on Economic Trends

Author, The European Dream: How Europe’s Vision of the Future is Quiety Eclipsing the American Dream

Jerome Guillet

Blogger, Jerome a Paris of the European Tribune

Paris based energy banker

Lila Azam Zanganeh

Contributer, Le Monde

Extra Credit Reading


Fist Full of Euroes, Brûlant de colère / burning with anger

Polysigh, Paris Riots

Civitatensis, Rioting in France: Day 10

Global Voices Online, Dead for Nothing in Paris

The Telegraph, a map of the riots

Reuters, Three Bloggers Arrested for Inciting Riots (French)

Salon, Paris Burning

The Christian Science Monitor, Deep Roots of Paris Riots (via Grumpy)

City Journal, The Barbarians at the Gates of Paris and The Suicide Bombers Among Us (via LeeJudt)

Economics and similar, for the sleep-deprived, Les Riotes (or possibly “les riots”, I really can’t be bothered to check) (via Abby)

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  • Grumpy

    The reading list seems to be skewed in a totally predictable “the French are too nice, the arabs are too bad” direction. Here’s a more serious analysis, by Peter Ford of Christian Science Monitor:

    Brendan, in the name of fairness you _have_ to put in on the list.

    Best regards.

  • LeeJudt

    Here is another serious analysis:

    The Suicide Bombers Among Us

    Theodore Dalrymple

    Dalrymple is a doctor who lives in Paris and has written extensively on Islamic alianation in the West.

  • ChrisTover

    This morning I listened to the Diane Rehm show on NPR.

    The first hour was on the riots in Paris by

    disaffected Muslims. This reminded of events from 15

    years ago.

    I was living in Paris when the ‘Satanic Verses’ was

    published. The Ayatollah Komeni issued a fatwa

    calling for the death death of Salman Rushdie. In

    Amsterdam some Muslims held a demonstration where they

    chanted “Death to Salman Rushdie”. That shocked me.

    I worried that these Muslims were endangering the

    status of their people in Holland.

    Even more shocking, a couple of years later an avowed

    Nazi, Jan Maat, was elected to the Dutch parliament.

    In the next election he was joined by three or four

    more Nazi’s.

    Holland was changing. With the fall of the Soviet

    Union many people in Eastern Union went to western

    Europe. This exacerbated the unemployment caused by

    the slowing of the economy. This resulted in a

    reaction to immigration. In Belgium some shops

    displayed signs that said that foreigners were not


    Europe is facing a problem that has been festering for

    decades. North Africans came to France since the end

    of WWII. Turks came in the 60’s and 70’s when Europe

    needed workers. Europeans expect the newcomers to

    integrate. But I don’t think that Eurpoeans have

    thought out what that means — loss of culture and

    language. It’s tough on the Muslims — they must

    integrate without truly being accepted.

    One big victim will likely be Turkey’s membership in

    the European Union.

    Europe will have work through its own civil rights


    Chris Billings

  • LeeJudt

    Here is another article by Theodore Dalrymple this one is specifically about Paris:

    The Barbarians at the Gates of Paris

    Theodore Dalrymple

  • Obadiah

    “It’s just riots in the suburbs, it is not Iraq, so what?” a tourist from Athens is quoted as saying in the Times. “I don’t feel insecure at all.”

    Sounds like the majority of Parisians there are following this with detached curiousity.

    How did the government respond to the fires that devastated som eof the poorer parts of Paris around the time Katrina hit? Is this connected in any way with the recent headscarf ban?

  • Abby

    Great comment by Daniel Davies as to why this might not be such a shocker for the French themselves. French people taking to the streets, I’m shocked, I tell you.

  • Grumpy

    Did I heard it right when Jerome Guillet said that all arrested were French (born in France) and almost a half of them not even ethnic minorities? I would like a link or something…

  • Brendan

    Hey Grumpy, no need to appeal to fairness. I’m happy to post any links that come my way. And not just because Executive Producer Mary McGrath is a Christian Science Monitor alum, either.

  • Brendan

    Oh, Grumpy, also: I just sent Jerome an email, asking if he has any confirmation his arrest statistics. I’ll post the link when he responds.

  • desertrose

    The problem of unemployment in the immigrant communities is not only in Paris, but also in many other European cities. The educated immigrants find it difficult to get jobs, although many were born & raised in these countries. Here in Denmark, a last name that is not Olsen or Rasmussen is not going to get your CV noticed. Hence the frustration visible in these communities. Many decide to take their university degrees with them, and flock to the US or the U.K. where there are opportunities available, and feel that they can make to make a difference in their lives & in the society in which they live. – an article by the Danish newspaper Politiken about the flight of educated foreigners to other countries. (in Danish language).

  • Brendan

    Hey Grumpy, response from Guillet posted above. Thanks for the catch.

  • Franz Hartl

    Where does the contreversy over the ban on female headscarves in French schools fit?

    This is not Jihad, but we might have kulturkampf in France.

  • Franz Hartl
  • Grumpy

    Wow, I didn’t really want that much attention. Thanks, guys, and the program itself was good, somewhat contrary to my expectations. Brendan, I didn’t mean to offend you, I’d had a bad day at work and was kind of jumpy, sorry.

    Thanks again.

  • Grumpy

    > “Where does the contreversy over the ban on female headscarves in French schools fit?”

    Good question. It’s strange _nobody_ mentions it.

    About these times there was a program on PBS about difficulties of French “integration”, I remember some school consellor talking to some girl in a muslim headscarf about her future education, the girl wanted to be a women’s doctor (the one who treats women) as she don’t want to see men undress, etc., and the consellor (a woman herself) with a prudish expression on her face was kind of mentoring poor girl that that’s not good, it’s sexist, the girl should become a man’s doctor too, as if there’s no such thing as women’s doctor. And the whole situation was presented as an example of the difficulties the French have, you know, with these barbarians.

  • Potter

    What I remember about the headscarf controversy is that there were demonstrations by the French Muslim community when two French reporters were taken hostage in Iraq.

    They were against outside (Muslim) interference in this (French) matter.

    This link from this earlier this month recalls all that and you can make a connection from this to the riots that were imminent:

    Jeremy Rifkin was excellent. Thanks for a good show and for all the links.