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Spinning the Parisian intifada

Some liberal acquaintances of mine want to know why the "right wing" has such an interest in "hyping" and "inflating" the Paris riots story. This question is exactly backwards. The question should be, "why is the Western left downplaying the riots, which are already beginning to spread outside the borders of France?"

Here's the short answer: Unable to construct a credible narrative in which Muslims and the French are both blameless, the only alternative is to deny what's currently happening.

For obvious reasons, the left doesn't want to admit that the French uprising has anything at all to do with the greater, global culture war between the West and the Islamist/Arab nationalist axis. There's no way to blame it on Bush, and France has done everything "right" up until this point. Even though the connection is difficult to deny, with the rioters using the language of intifada and jihad (e.g., "occupied territories," "Allah Akbar!"), deny it they must.

But stripped of any trappings of religious or cultural war, the narrative devolves into a simple story of social injustice on a massive scale. If there is a large French underclass of such hopeless desperation that they're willing to burn down the city, then the cherished notion of France as an enlightened, egalitarian paradise gets flushed down the bidet.

So there is no viable alternative -- the Western left must minimize the story. The problem is, they're setting themselves up for one hell of a climbdown, because it's going to get a lot worse before it gets better.

Unfortunately, the only thing surprising about the current crisis is that it took so long to ignite. I fully expected the recent headscarf ban to trigger a conflagration, for example. (For more on why the current spate of violence should come as no surprise, take a look at Theodore Dalrymple's City Journal article from 2002.)

For those who don't already know, I lived in Paris for almost three years during the early 90s. Unlike their American "counterparts," who are confined in the inner cities, the Parisian underclass is relegated to the outlying suburbs. I often viewed these troubled neighborhoods from a commuter train, and they were depressing, bleak and terrifying even back then. They were characterized by huge, soulless, high-rise "project" housing, grim and austere as a Stalinist nightmare. By comparison, The Bronx's Co-op City might as well be Malibu.

In short, they were scary places, and it seems they've only gotten worse in the meantime. I'm sure there's a large and growing number of French people (and other Europeans) who are positively terrified these days.

Now I'm going to make another not-so-bold prediction, and once again, I'd like to be wrong. But I'm going to predict a resurgence of the French far right. Remember that in the first presidential election after 9/11, the extreme right candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen earned a place in the election run-off, and that was without the impetus of the internal turmoil we're seeing now.

As I said, I hope I'm wrong. We'll see.


That's an interesting bit of urban planning, surrounding the well-off cities with rings of "suburban" slums populated by anti-French malcontents. Very close to a modern-day, domestic Maginot Line.

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