Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The French Riots

Oxblog's Patrick Belton has travelled to Paris to cover the riots, and has posted an early take:
"Paris is burning. It has done so before. Those of 1848 were the street riots of modernism, heralding enlightenment and republicanism versus the restoration of the ancien regime. The soixante-huitards's were those of postmodernity, seeking to resituate the individual and power at the centre of a discourse which modernity and liberalism's had to their view hidden. One is tempted to see in 2005 the riots of the atavistic, but that would be overdrawing the issue - they are the riots of Newark, Watts, and Brixton come to Paris. Those residents of the banlieues who are religious, even Islamist, are not the ones who are throwing stones or assaulting the Marais's Jews (whatever international activity some of their number may get up to to the side). Contra one recent meme of commentary, the problem of the banleieus in a sense is not that its inhabitants are Muslim, but that they are not."

I'm not a France expert, but this sounds right to me. Those wishing to understand what's happening would be far better off heading for Ceuta and Melilla than reading about the Battle of Poitiers, even if some fall back on a fundamenalist sense of the identity for which they feel they are discriminated against. In fact, al-Jazeera's Islamist talk show host Yusuf al-Qaradawi has spoken out against the riots, and Muslim leaders in France have issued what this report calls a fatwa forbidding Muslims from rioting.

I hope for a quick end to the violence. I also hope, albeit pessimistically, that the points made above will become part of the popular perception about what is happening, and that it doesn't instead fall into a "clash of civilizations" narrative which can too easily become self-fulfilling. After all, these riots sprung from rhetoric, mistrust and fear into which was dropped, not so much an incident, but a rumor thereof. Such is the power of perception.


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