Fires of France

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Fires of France

by Ari Armstrong

The following article originally appeared at Boulder Weekly on November 17, 2005.

Self-righteous French sneering about America's racial and socioeconomic problems probably won't resurface for some time. Yet returning Europe's post-Katrina condemnations in kind wouldn't help matters in either continent. Maybe there's something we can learn from the troubles in France.

On Nov. 8, I read from Associated Press, Jacques Chirac declared a state of emergency. Yet National Police Chief Michel Gaudin reported progress: "rioting was reported in 226 towns across France, compared to nearly 300 the night before," AP noted. And only 1,173 cars were burned the previous night, down from 1,408 -- such progress!

So what's the problem? The same day that Chirac declared an emergency, a Denver Post editorial argued the riots "exposed festering discontent in Arab and African ethnic communities, and there is a warning here for all countries that must wrestle with immigration." The Post noted the riots started where "mostly Muslim immigrants from Africa are jammed into government-subsidized apartment blocks" and where unemployment "is 30 to 40 percent." Following the mayhem in New Orleans, analogous socioeconomic conditions were noted.

By my count, four main theories have been advanced to explain the social unrest in France and the United States.

1. The racist theory we can discard out of hand. Small pockets of racists both in our country and across Europe argue that people with a genetic lineage from Africa or the Middle East are somehow inherently worse than or incapable of living peacefully with those of "purer" or whiter genes. Obviously, such despicable theories are completely false, and they deserve our harshest moral censure.

2. The leftist or multiculturalist theory holds that neither France nor the United States has been sufficiently giving, generous or understanding toward minorities. For instance, the Post argued that "France should be more tolerant of diversity and confront racist attitudes," and perhaps the country should adopt more affirmative action. But don't we want to be INtolerant toward racism? The leftist approach is to appease the disgruntled and increase their welfare benefits. (That's also the standard leftist approach to Middle Eastern terrorism.)

3. On Sept. 2, Robert Tracinski argued that the unrest in New Orleans was a "man-made disaster of the welfare state." He argued that the problems of violence there also involved "a large number [of people] from the city's public housing projects." He continued, "What Hurricane Katrina exposed was the psychological consequences of the welfare state." Tracinski argued that "criminals and welfare parasites" don't "worry about saving their houses and property," don't "worry about crime and looting," because "living off of stolen wealth is a way of life for them." He concludes, "The welfare state -- and the brutish, uncivilized mentality it sustains and encourages -- is the man-made disaster that explains the moral ugliness that has swamped New Orleans."

4. Conservative writer Thomas Sowell also criticizes aspects of the welfare state: "A substantial Moslem population lives in France but is not really of France. Much of that population lives in social isolation in housing projects away from the center of Paris... Like housing projects in America, many of these are centers of social degeneration, lawlessness and violence." But Sowell also argues that multiculturalism itself is to blame: "European countries especially have thrown their doors open to a large influx of Moslem immigrants who have no intention of becoming part of the cultures of the countries to which they immigrate but to recreate their own cultures in those countries. In the name of tolerance, these countries have imported intolerance, of which growing anti-Semitism in Europe is just one example. In the name of respecting all cultures, Western nations have welcomed people who respect neither the cultures nor the rights of the population among whom they have settled."

So we face two main competing theories. The left believes social unrest requires multiculturalism and a generous welfare state. The left's critics believe those things exacerbate the problem, and what's needed is a strong law-and-order approach, combined with economic liberty and an assimilation into Western culture.

Coloradans will take up this debate next year. Defend Colorado Now wants to "stop the illegal alien invasion." It plans to sponsor a "ballot initiative that will add an amendment to the Colorado state constitution requiring persons attempting to access certain public services in Colorado to show they are legally present in the United States."

I'm of two minds on this initiative. On one hand, I'm no fan of the welfare state. On the other hand, I reject the anti-immigration hysteria bound up with such efforts. Indeed, I want to completely open up immigration to everyone without a criminal past or serious health problem. I agree with Tom Tancredo that the masses of illegal immigrants pose a security risk and create many other problems, but my solution is to legalize the immigration.

Most immigrants are net taxpayers. At least they pay sales taxes, and often they pay income taxes, without getting back any refund or Social Security benefit. Defend Colorado Now is essentially asking those workers to subsidize the welfare state for citizens. So the initiative doesn't really oppose welfare; it merely attempts to achieve discriminatory welfare.

Thankfully, while some leftist "intellectuals" want to create a "Republica del Norte" or similar ethnocentric utopia, most Mexican immigrants come here simply to work hard and improve their lives. Unfortunately, some on the right scapegoat Mexican immigrants rather than address the real problems in this country.

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