The Winnipeg Free Press has been running news stories about the riots in French cities, on the inside pages. I don’t think the National Post or the Globe and Mail have treated these stories more prominently, although their stories have had more depth.
The Wikipedia entry has been regularly updated since the riots started, and it links to a number of media sources. The most recent BBC Online story on November 5 links to earlier stories and to stories that try to analyze the background and the political situation. Wikipedia links to Theodore Dalrymple’s essayin City Journal, in August 2002, The Barbarians at the Gates of Paris, which took a hard-headed view of the cités of La Zone. (For a note on Dalrymple, see this book review of Dalrymple’s Our Culture, What’s Left of It: the mandarins and the masses in the New Statesman).
The riots seem to come from a sense of oppression within a social class and subculture. The rioters are members of social groups affected by unemployment, poverty and discrimination and victimized by crime – crime perpetrated by members of their own community. They view the police and other institutions of government as ineffective and disinterested, and oppressive toward their community. We can see the same factors in play in the 1965 Watts riots, the 1967 Newark, and Detroit riots, the 1968 Washingon and Baltimore riots, and the 1992 Los Angeles riots.
The media have been looking at the religious angle, because many of the rioters are Muslims, and self-identified Muslim fundamendalists have been involved in violent conflicts with governments in many parts of the world, and in international terrorist conspiracies. However the French riots seem to be more like the American riots. They didn’t start as a protest against an insult to religion, and they aren’t the work of organized ideologues.
Muslim identity plays a part in the alienation of the affected communities from French institutions. Insults to religion provide a strong emotional base for collective action. British Sikhs rioted in last December over a perceived slight to their religion in a play. Insults to Islam in plays and movies were triggers for Muslim violence in Holland, including the murder of Theo Van Gogh. The Telegraph reports that Danish Muslims have marched to protest newspaper cartoons mocking Islamic principles and values, and the leaders of Muslim countries have protested to the Danish government.
Islamic ideas provide a powerful critique of French society and a strong set of rationalizations for violent reprisals against perceived and real injustices. Francis Fukuyama argued in his op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, A Year of Living Dangerously, that European radical Islamism is simply another anti-modern protest ideology, comparable to fascism and socialism. He has not been the most astute student of Islam, and has maintained that that Islam is a genuine ideological force in the world since his 1992 book The End of History and Last Man. His comments were directed to explaining the explicitly Islamic character of planned violence and organized terrorism in Europe – assassinations and bombings in Amsterdam, London, Madrid. There is still value in his view that Islam among the disenfranchised North African and Turkish migrants of Western Europe has evolved into an ideology of radical dissent from the values of the comfortable, decadent majority.
The French riots would seem to provide a strong reason to question Fukuyama’s infamous claims about the triumph of liberal democracy and global capitalism. It would seem to me that there are still a lot of people living out ideals that challenge the view that the American model of individualism and capitalism is the pinnacle of human social organization, who are not prepared to be managed as producers and consumers in a global market.