It's been written about quite fully elsewhere - see Lenin's posting here and here , and Meaders here and here. I'm not sure I've got much to add: I don't know a great deal about contemporary France because unlike most people I know, it really doesn't interest me that much. I don't hate the French Daily Mail little-Englander style but I don't fawn before their culture Guardian-liberal style. Most of the time they bore me - their politics bore me, I don't like French cuisine particularly, their films are boring, and their wine is over-rated. Which is why the riots didn't register with me for a couple of days, a response I think significant and which I'll come back to in a mo'. Meanwhile, can I say that while I don't know a huge amount about contemporary France, I do know a fair bit of their history and I know enough social science method to recognise when someone's talking crap - which brings us, rather neatly I thought, to Melanie Phillips. She knows why 'France is burning', or so she thinks:
"Nicolas Sarkozy, the tough-minded Interior Minister, has been blamed for inflaming the situation by his uncompromising language. French policy in general has been blamed for herding poor Arabs into suburban ghettos where they have been left to fester in high unemployment and poverty.So, nothing less than a French intifada eh? Sarkozy's language is certainly 'uncompromising' - I understand that the proper translation of the expression he used to describe the rioters is 'scum'. Call me a woolly-minded liberal if you want but I reckon he's not helping. I am in no way excusing the wicked and reprehensible actions of the rioters but the epithet 'scum' carries connotations of sub-humanity and I'm afraid these rioters are very human, all too human - and I doubt whether he's helping matters with this sort of macho crap.
The disturbances are thus being portrayed as race riots caused by official discrimination and insensitivity. But this is a gross misreading of the situation. It is far more profound and intractable. What we are seeing is, in effect, a French intifada: an uprising by French Muslims against the state."
Anyway, Mel goes on:
"The warning for us from the disturbing events in France could not be clearer. We must end the ruinous doctrine of multiculturalism and reassert British identity and British values and insist that although Muslims are a valued minority, they must abide by majority rules."Now let me try and work this out: Britain has to change it's policy vis-a-vis multi-culturalism because France is experiencing riots - even though by her own admission the French haven't followed this model? In fact, what she seems to be arguing is that immigrant Muslims will cause you problems regardless of what policy you adopt. A rather dodgy argument which, if she followed it to its logical conclusion would lead to a rather unrealistic, isolationist - to say no more than that - view of the world.
One of the reasons I like history is that it's full of antidotes to this sort of guff. The examples Ms. Phillips cites are of course highly selective. If one looks at the history of urban riots from a rather wider perspective than she does, it quickly becomes clear that she hasn't provided a single shred of evidence that Islam is the significant variable here. Did we not have riots here in the 1980s? Nothing to do with Islam. Or the periodic riots experienced in American cities since the 1960s, the most recent being those in LA that followed the acquittal of the police officers caught on camera beating Rodney King? No Islam involved there either. And what of the historical comparison being made within France - the worst civil unrest since 1968? Maybe I'm a bit thick or something but does that not imply that these riots have not yet surpassed the violence of that year? And that had nothing to do with Islam either.
Wherever there has been urban rioting rioting in history, race, unemployment and heavy policing have almost always been present. You may accuse me of rationalising these. I am not. Some of the crimes that have been committed in France over the last few days are heinous and disgusting and I hope the perpetrators are caught and severely punished; I'm simply trying to make the point that human beings are nasty, single young men particularly nasty and it is in every society's self-interest to get these something to do wherever possible - and this applies to young Muslim men, no more or less than anyone else.
But in the case of France there's another ever-present variable at work. Rioting is part of French political culture, dating back to the 1789 revolution at least. Farmers and trade unionists routinely indulge in a sort of collective bargaining by riot. In a fairly absolutist political culture, setting fire to things has been - and we should be honest about this - seen at best normal, at worst an acceptable way of expressing one's grievance against the French state. It seems rather late in the day to decide that this is not a Good Thing after all just because the Arabs have joined the game. Which brings me back to the point mentioned above: these didn't register with me for a couple of days because I thought, "Ho hum - there they go again".
Ah, I hear you say, but this is different...
No it isn't.