Thursday, November 10, 2005

Mayhem in the streets

I’ve just returned from a self-imposed news fast of nearly a week. For me, that is quite an accomplishment, as I spend a solid hour or more each morning scanning my news sources via the internet, prior to blogging and starting my day.

There are a number of things that I’ve come to on the backside, one of which is the rioting that is occurring in France. It’s been interesting to read the different accounts, particularly some of the spin being given by members of the right-wing in our own country.

There have been frequent attempts to attribute the rioting to Muslims and some have gone so far as to see terrorist ties to the burning of automobiles and the general reign of chaos visited upon French cities and suburban areas. I suppose this helps to further the simplistic, skewered worldview of many on the right-leaning end of our political spectrum.

Juan Cole helps to dispel these myths and others concerning the riots and helps intelligent readers get a handle on the issue. For those who are historically-challenged, American cities had similar outbreaks of rioting during its own not-too-distant past, in Detroit, Watts in LA, and Newark, to name but a few cities where similar events happened during the 1960’s. The Rodney King verdict touched off rioting in LA in the 1990’s and even the recent events associated with Katrina have illustrated the fragile balance of civility in our own backyard.

Many of the xenophobic, anti-immigration types of the Republican Party are attempting to make political hay, by saying that the riots have occurred because of France’s immigration policies. In reality, France has done a poor job incorporating their immigrant population, most of whom came from the continent of Africa to fill the many unskilled jobs necessary in France’s booming economy of the 1980’s and early 1990’s. Despite filling a need, the French government never felt an urgency to provide them with the same economic opportunities and accommodations of “true” Frenchman. Like in our own nation, racial problems usually can be traced back to an economic origin.

As Cole points out,

“The French have determinedly avoided multiculturalism or affirmative action. They have insisted that everyone is French together and on a "color-blind" set of policies. "Color-blind" policies based on "merit" always seem to benefit some groups more than others, despite a rhetoric of equality and achievement. In order to resolve the problems they face, the French will have to come to terms with the multi-cultural character of contemporary society. And they will have to find ways of actively sharing jobs with minority populations, who often suffer from an unemployment rate as high as 40 percent (i.e. Iraq).”

Sounds a bit like those in our country that demand a seemless assimilation, yet feel no need to treat one’s heritage and country of origin with recognition and respect.

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