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French riot policemen fire rubber bullets behind a burning car during clashes one day after two youths died in a motorbike accident with a police car in Villiers le Bel in the northern suburb of Paris, Nov. 26, 2007. REUTERS/Pascal RossignolSince 9/11, every time there is a major terrorist attack abroad, many Americans might think or say to themselves, understandably if not graciously, "Thank God it's not us." From Bali to Madrid to London and or Paris, extreme Islamist violence has struck peaceful cities with sudden gunfire or explosions and the killing of innocents. Not that the United States is immune the Fort Hood shootings and the Boston Marathon bombing are notable domestic incidents that involved assailants identifying with al Qaeda in one way or another. But after each attack, the same questions get asked. The horrific and tragic assault on the satirical newspaper and a supermarket serving the Jewish community occurred in a specifically French context of racial and religious tensions.From a certain perspective, France and the other Western European countries are marvels of successful social democracy in ways that American liberals can only dream about: excellent schools, public transportation and infrastructure; universal healthcare that has been a fact for generations; even troubled economies are buttressed by still resilient welfare states. There's little of the street crime that plagues many American cities.But despite persistent American conflicts over race, France's issues with its large Arab and Muslim minorities may run even deeper; it starts with its refusal to admit that there is really a problem. Lex Paulson, a former Capitol Hill staffer who has studied and taught at the elite Sciences Po Institute of Political Studies in Paris for the past three years, says, "French political culture is one dimensional, with a strong attachment to the abstract ideals and national values of the 'republic' embedded in the French mind set. The political class is lethargic. So racism is harder to fight because no one acknowledges it."Those ideals may be similar to American ones, defining citizenship based on equality and inalienable rights. But, as Paulson says, "the centralization of France is hard to overstate. Everything is in Paris. Paris becomes a vessel of Frenchness."No matter the importance of any one city or region in the United States, it would be impossible to say that of New York, Washington, Chicago or Los Angeles. The sheer concentration of power and influence in Paris means that other voices, especially Arab and Muslim ones on the periphery in the banlieus (suburbs), are rarely heard or understood.Furthermore, "the republic doesn't recognize ethnic groups, only [individual] people," says Jean Kempf, a professor of American Studies at the University of Lyon. "France hasn't really changed that much since the revolution of 1789. We are extremely segregated and extremely unequal in reality. This was forgotten and masked for most of the past 50 years when the economy was booming, but when the going gets tough, we're ready to do the unspeakable."The unspeakable that Kempf refers to is not the barbarity of terrorism, but the betrayal of French Jews during the Second World War. "French Jews were totally integrated. They thought they were part of the republic. But then they were NOT," Kempf continued, explaining that Arabs and Muslims in France today are well aware of that baneful history, when more than 70,000 French Jews were deported by their fellow French citizens collaborating with the Nazis and slaughtered."There's no space to be anything but French," Kempf explained. "If you say 'I'm also Algerian', that makes you a bad French person. There's only stigmatization and pain if you try to say that. We lack the intellectual tools to accept that you can be both French and _____. So it's better to be a visible minority in the United States, where you can have, if you wish, this double identity."Those banlieus surrounding French cities have become notorious ghettos. Half the population in them is of foreign origin, unemployment twice the national average and almost 40 percent of residents live below the poverty line.For if the very definition of what it means to be "French" cannot be expanded to include formerly foreign ethnicities, religions and cultures, then what does France have to offer to its immigrants and descendants of immigrants, other than a narrowly defined assimilation that may not even be respected when it matters most?That the policeman killed on the sidewalk, Ahmed Merabet, one of the slain Charlie Hebdo editors, Mustapha Ourrad, and the hero Women Canada Goose Montebello Parka Black Australia Shop of the supermarket siege, Lassana Bathily, were all Muslim has been much discussed. That is both a positive sign pointing toward how contemporary France is redefining identity, and a reminder of how much further they have to go because that diversity is not yet implicit.Europe marvels of successful social democracy in ways that American liberals can only dream about? excellent schools? public transportation? and infrastructure? universal healthcare that has been a fact for generations; even troubled economies are buttressed by still resilient welfare states?You obviously chose the places in Europe you travel and news you follow to fit your paradigm. The Europe most of us Europeans now live in is one of high and increasing youth unemployment, decaying infrastructure, bankrupt governments which increasingly not fulfil politician promises of pensions and quality health services of decades gone by coupled with high taxation (for all!) and stagnant economies decades of open immigration policies which have led to social unrest as the EU struggles to assimilate its newcomers. Travel a bit more and open your eyes. Though I will give on the public transportation, French schools are only better if you are part of the elite and can afford private education and I hate to tell you but France has high crime rates in cities also. Though Americans are quicker to go extreme violent, the majority of my friends who have gone to Paris or other European cities have been robbed (some at knife point)and have experienced the same type of poverty that breeds violence that we see here in the United States. Stop trying to sell Europe as a utopia, it is just another messed up modern world place where anger runs deep and despair is prevalent. Don believe me, go to Paris and visit the non tourist places will see. And as to their economies, the only really prosperous are England and Germany, both of which got that way by shaking off the socialistic mentality.Posted by Abauerfeld Report as abusiveHmmm, the last and concluding sentence kind of leaves us at square one (arabs are not integrated but they are part of society and its institutions). I do think that a lot of the argument here is based on over generalization and simplification. I know a lot of my friends whose parents came from Algeria, Morocco or Tunisia that are totally assimilated and do not see themselves with any ties with the country of origin of their parents, sometimes to an extreme, often for political reasons by the way. That there are thresholds between old and new populations that induce rejection is a known fact against which a few principles of the French are meant to stand, one central one being Mixing population of diverse origins (either cultural or financial) does happen in France where the local tax system (linked to the educational system) does not systematically penalize the the way it does in the US for instance, where municipalities have to abide by rules/laws advocating diversity which do not exist in many countries. Many people nowadays would challenge the fact that Paris is France and vice versa. The devolution of means and responsibilities to regions has not always had the best possible consequences in the best possible world. They often play one region over the other, stop sharing the common resources with all (the republic). The issues, in my mind, are somewhat more complex and far less one sided.Posted by bchalifour Report as abusiveAs for Abauerfeld comment he or she has evidently no idea what the crime rate is elsewhere. As for the educational model in France I am a perfect examples that it works, not that it has not got its flaws too and cannot be improved. What is Abauerfeld comparing it to? I have lived and taught in England and the USA (as well as France) and I cannot confirm his/her assertions. Even coming from a rather impoverished area in France, with grandparents that had to leave behind a farm that was far to small to allow them to survive I think I got one of the best educations possible. It has allowed me to make a living, travel extensively, learn a lot and grow all 100% thanks to my French education. Alas, I believe Mr Chin does not have such excuse, when he tried to elaborate on the links between the recent killings in Paris and the secular and jacobinist background of French culture and politics.It would take far too long to debunk the pile of half truths, blatant lies or faked clich on french society, culture and history, conveyed by this opinion piece. Even Nolan Peterson from Fox News, who recently coined the NoGo Zones joke in Paris, could feel uncomfortable in front of such a pitiful ignorance of a country.Instead, my comment will focus on a specific point of this article, when Mr Chin is willing to invoke the Jewish tragedy as an analogy to the existantial threats more or less conciously felt by French muslims (Arabs and Muslims in France today are well aware of the betrayal of French Jews during the Second World War ). Mr Chin could have easily verified on internet the reality of his claims, and the fact he just didn should make the case for the whole piece.In Netherland, where jewish communities existed and thrived for centuries, 80% of the population was deported to death camps; of the 200 000 French jews at the time of occupation, only 24 500 were deported. Of all nazi occupied european countries, only Denmark did better to protect its Jews and the very limited size of its jewish community surely helped.While it is true to say that Petain regime was eager to abide to and even to anticipate Nazis wishes, it has to be said that the French population proved largely hostile to Jewish persecutions and occasionnaly expressed public disgust at the hunt for jews. Thousands of French individuals risked their lives to rescue, hide, take care or help escape tens of thoudands of Jewish people, regardless of their nationality, during the nazi occupation; to that regard, it is untrue to say that France betrayed its Jewish population. French state surely did. French people did not.For what regards racial tensions, criminality, and social mobility, those living in a country that keeps 1% of its population in jail and where minorities are living under the permanent threats of undiscriminate police shootings, should be very cautious before delivering advice and lessons to others.For those who languished for the but after the I am charlie worldwide wave, this Uniquely French Recipe for Unrest article is a pur regal; a brilliant exercise of faked tolerance and hidden disdain of European culture and values, cowardly waiting to emerge and spit its venom.
A uniquely French recipe for unrest