As we watched Paris burn several weeks ago, a troubling question surfaced: is this the death of France? And what ominous sign did the frightening events portend for the rest of Europe? In which way, moreover, can France, and the rest of the continent, still potentially defend itself?
It is clear that radical Islam played the main protagonist in the Paris riots. Yet some critics have defensively proclaimed that the riots, and the French crisis upon us, is not about Islam. But then the question must be asked: what is the crisis about? If it isn’t about Islam, then why didn’t the riots involve all other minorities in France, such as Asians? Indeed, why were the rioters all Arabs and Muslims who screamed "Allah Akbar" as they destroyed public property and set it aflame?
To discuss these and other questions with us today, Frontpage Symposium has assembled a distinguished panel. Our guests today are:
Mohamed Ibn Guadi, an Islamologist at Strasbourg University and a researcher in Semitic Philology. He is a contributor to Figaro, Le Point and other journals. He has lectured at the Theological Seminary of Montpellier (France) in Islamic Law and Islamic Warfare during the Abbasside empire at Fez (Morocco) and has taught Persian, Arabic, Sumerian and other Semitic languages in Switzerland.
Dr. Hans-Peter Raddatz, a scholar of Islamic Studies and author of Von Allah zum Terror? Der Djihad und die Deformierung des Westens (From Allah to Terror? Jihad and the Western Deformation).
Olivier Guitta, a Washington DC based consultant on European, Middle Eastern affairs, and terrorism.
Nidra Poller, an American novelist who has been living in Paris since 1972, where she writes with equal ease in both English and French. She is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin (1956 BA, History) and Johns Hopkins University (1969, MLA, Writing Seminars). Since the outbreak of the jihad-intifada in Israel in September 2000, she has been using her skill in the art of the novel to observe and analyze current events.
FP: Olivier Guitta, Mohamed Ibn Guadi, Nidra Poller, Michel Gurfinkiel and Dr. Hans-Peter Raddatz, welcome to Frontpage Symposium.
Mr. Guitta, let us begin with you. Let’s begin with a simple question: have the chickens come home to roost for les Francais?
Guitta: Yes Jamie, they indeed have. But in my opinion, the recent riots in French suburbs are just the tip of the iceberg and we can expect future chaos in France.
The writing has been on the wall for at least fifteen years, but has been totally ignored by successive French governments whether from the left or the right. Indeed as early as 1990, when one of the first grave riots erupted in the Lyon’s suburb of Vaulx-en-Velin, the Renseignements Généraux - a unit of the French police- started warning the different administrations about the ever-increasing violence in these suburbs, which have become no man’s lands, the soaring radicalization of young elements of the Muslim community and the potential for home-grown terrorism.
Ex-Prime Minister Socialist Lionel Jospin used to say that he did not want to read these reports because they depressed him too much. Obviously, most French political leaders were hoping that by turning a blind eye, the problems of immigration, integration and Radical Islam would go away. But as the world witnessed, they were so wrong.
To be perfectly honest, France has tried one thing to solve these issues: money. Indeed, appeasing with money has been the name of the game: after showering the suburbs with billions of dollars in the 1990’s, the latest plan put in place way before this recent wave of violence calls for a 36 Billion USD help over the next five years for these suburbs.
But this is not going to have any effect on the roots of the problem. Most of the press has explained the revolt as a refusal of the French state to integrate this mostly Muslim population. But not a lot of commentators have pointed out the fact that some Muslim youths do not want to integrate because they don’t consider themselves French (even if they hold French citizenship) but first and foremost Muslim. This state of mind is the result of the work of organizations such as the French branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, UOIF (Union des Organisations Islamiques de France), the Tabligh and people like Swiss Islamist Tariq Ramadan.
FP: So we have critics denouncing France for not assimilating a population that does not want to be assimilated. Wonderful. So if certain groups do not want to assimilate and have contempt for multiculturalism, why should Western societies take them in? And another thing: if these immigrants to France hate France so much and do not want to assimilate into French society, why do they remain in France? Why don’t they go home to their home societies?
Poller: The problem Jamie is that most of these “immigrants” were born in France. Many of them are third generation. It is impossible to understand what is happening in Europe today without asking why these enraged young men, most of them born in France, are called “immigrants.” The common assumption is that a harsh inhospitable French society refuses to integrate them. And this supposedly explains their anger, and their anger justifies their violence and, according to that logic, the solution is to reshape French society in such a way that their presence will be evenly distributed on all levels, frustration will give way to satisfaction, and healthy conflict will open the way to harmony.
In fact there is a blueprint for harmonious relations between these “immigrants” and the host European countries. Its name is “Eurabia.” And its aim is not integration but fusion of European and Muslim societies, under cover of something that sounds like a lovely conversation: the Euro-Mediterranean dialogue.
In the heart of this Euro-Mediterranean dialogue, which in fact concerns Muslims, not Mediterranean, countries, immigrants become an ethnic group. The status of immigrants is maintained from generation to generation. It is a privileged status that offers surplus rights and reduced responsibilities.
Of course blueprints are simplifications, and in reality millions of Muslims have settled in Europe for myriad, essentially personal reasons. At the same time they are acting in response to willful geopolitical projects, planned by elites and transformed into incentives, enticement, and other types of pressure.
The Euro-Mediterranean dialogue is exploding in the faces of French people today. I agree with Olivier—the recent insurrection is just the beginning of very serious trouble. It has been building for decades, and rapidly accelerating since the fall of 2000 when the first pro-Palestinian demonstrations resounded with cries of “Death to the Jews.” Over the past five years, France’s public image has been draped in white togas of purity. The government boasts of its virtues. The media act like griots, singing the praises of France without borders, without violence, without enemies—except perhaps for Israel, the US, and Great Britain. France has posed as the prince of peaceful conflict resolution.
Behind this smokescreen, terrible violence has been churning and bubbling. French society is totally unprepared to even acknowledge what is happening. The government is ineffectual. And it will only get worse. Because the reaction to this first big outburst has been to thicken the smokescreen.
By pretending that everything can be settled by dialogue, by demonizing the Israeli and American governments for responding to attacks by defending themselves with vigorous military action, by denying that evils exist and must be confronted within French society, the government and its willing intellectuals have placed citizens in an impossible situation of crippled sovereignty. If the police can’t protect them, what shall they do? Stand naked before mob violence? After all, they’re French, not immigrants. They can’t go back home.
FP: This sounds like an irresolvable nightmare. Dr. Guadi?
Guadi: Yes, more or less. The immigration problem has evolved over several decades. But there is an obvious contradiction in the French system. France does not recognize the ethnicity of these young Moslems and Africans. The French feel that if they were born in France, they are French and that person should speak French, not Arabic or African. This is understandable from a certain point of view. On the other hand, the government allows these people to have dual nationality including the country from which their parents arrived. How can they maintain allegiance to France while lending allegiance to another country which they never knew and don't speak the language of? I believe that France, unfortunately, did not think sufficiently about these problems.
Many Arabs who left their countries in the sixties for France still have a permanent resident card (permit equivalent to the Green Card). For 40 years these people have lived in France with this permit without knowing the French language and never expressed the desire to obtain French citizenship. The problem it is that they had children who were born in France. In addition, much of these people about which I speak are not necessarily religious Moslems.
The problem is also the fact that French society has a very bad image of itself. Immigrants or not, the French people are in a crisis with themselves. A crisis of identity. Being French today does not have the same significance as it once did. I do not think that all these issues will be solved in the years to come. The evolution of the French society is such that it will still be a few decades before the French policy of integration is modified. The system has become ideological. People do not accept it yet that their country is multi-ethnic.
Moreover, in a country like France where the religious tradition has almost entirely disappeared from all the layers of society, it is normal that Islam fills the spiritual gap.
FP: So in some ways there is a yearning for something spiritual and militant Islam is filling that void in French society?
Raddatz: Superficially it looks like that although the point is quite old. Over the last twenty years one could hear and read about the allegedly empty Western society yearning for values If it were so, however, one may ask why nobody has come up with results so far, neither in France nor in any other comparable Western country.
In this context I like Ms. Poller's expression of "white togas of purity." It depicts the cynical innocence all respective politicians are washing their hands in whenever it comes to the question of Islamic immigration and integration, respectively. As we can hear Europe-wide, "Islam is not the problem." Consequently, as Mr. Guitta points out, nothing much has happened except for a radicalization, Muslim Brotherhood style.
As for the so-called values we may draw the conclusion that if at all they will be set by the elites. Contrary to the still prevailing traditional impression, the elites do
not represent national or majority interests anymore but supra-national economic goals. Look for instance at the way the EU is handling the Turkish accession which is everything else but an "identity" question. As far as socially reasonable behaviour is concerned the French or other national authorities like those in Germany are simply not interested in doing what is good for their "identity", i.e. their respective people.
That is why they keep on telling us the same story over and over again about the West being responsible for the non-integration of Muslims regardless of living here in the third generation or just having arrived. As the elitarian interest does not aim at majority needs it is simply playing for time. In the long run it prefers an Islamization of European democracies to a democratization of Muslim communities in Europe since the latter is more expensive in terms of labor and social cost.
I could agree with Mr. Guadi who expects Islam filling spiritual gaps if he means the spirituality of elitarian political Islam which is following not only its ideological lines but also its conditions of economic corruption. From this point of view the Euro-Mediterranean as well as all the other countless "dialogues" with their unchanging language cliché of "Peace", Tolerance & Co." make a lot of sense. Over the last two decades the French society has paid a hell of a lot of tax money for "integration" with the result of civil war. The primary problem is created by a political system cheating its society, thereby fooling itself about its own future, of course.
Guitta: I agree with Mohammed that the issue is even larger than just the Muslim minority because the French model, if it ever existed, is dead. There was never a French dream but now there’s a French nightmare. In fact the welfare system is bankrupt and France cannot afford it anymore but does not want let go. It is partially responsible for the situation France is in today.
In fact, for instance the wide array of subsidies has pushed people into a state of total dependence towards the State. From unemployment to minimum income, housing, large families, winter vacation some people are not motivated to work for sometimes less than what they collect. Of course at the same time France is the second highest taxed country in the world, the economy is in shambles, the brain drain is the highest ever. So they’re going right into a wall.
To go back to the specifics of the riots, no one - except the French authorities, the French press - can claim it was just a coincidence that most rioters were Muslim. Indeed, why did Asians - mostly Chinese and Vietnamese immigrants -, quite important in numbers, not take part in the riots - even the ones living in the banlieues? On top of it, one would think that with the language barrier, it would be very tough for these populations to integrate into French society but obviously they make do. Why then is it an insurmountable problem for French of Arab descent born and bred in France? Also, one should not underestimate the anti-white racism present within some young Muslim youths. The anti-white riots that occurred in March in Paris during students’ demonstrations were already a sign of things to come.
Also the other issue about the Muslim community in France is its sheer number. Some officials have privately said that the number is about eight million even though most people use five million. Furthermore, Muslim women in France have a birth rate much higher than non-Muslim French women and some demographers are predicting that Muslims will represent 25% of the French population within twenty-five years. In order to avoid constant “social unrest” as French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin called the riots on CNN, France is going to have to integrate this community. Unfortunately it looks like the current generation is already lost, mostly because of the brainwashing from Radical Islamists who affirmed that Islam is the solution to everything. The only hope for France would be to tame down or even eradicate this disastrous influence starting with the school system. But it won’t be easy because regularly reports are coming out of the Islamization spreading throughout French society: from schools to hospitals, administration and even private companies.
To second Nidra’s point, it is unconceivable that successive French governments since the 1970’s did not see this coming. Back in the 1960’s legendary French leader Charles De Gaulle warned about the integration problems of the Muslim community in France. Indeed he stated: “Those who advocate integration of the Algerian Muslims have a hummingbird’s brain. Try to integrate oil and vinegar. Shake the bottle. After a moment, they will once more separate. Does one really believe that the French body will be able to absorb 10 million Muslims, who will be 20 million tomorrow and 40 million the day after tomorrow?”
But nobody listened, even De Gaulle’s political heirs… Also how can you tolerate in most cases the law of the country of origin to supersede yours? Even though for instance polygamy and excision are forbidden in France, they are tolerated and even rewarded monetary in the case of polygamy, because the country of origin accepts these practices. How can one integrate people if they don’t respect the law of their host country or worse their native one?
FP: It sounds like France is finished to me. It committed suicide. Nidra Poller?
Poller: Yes, of course, Jamie, France has committed suicide. But the problem is, France will still be with us, France will still be a problem crying for help. When an individual commits suicide, he’s gone. Countries live on geographically even when their hearts stop beating. Since I am an infinitely hopeful person, I can’t reach a zero-degree of hope for France. It would be easy. I’m not French, I have no roots here. I could wash my hands of the whole problem and walk away with no regrets.
But no matter what perspective I choose, it seems to me more intelligent to strive for improvement in France before writing it off. It would be better for the Western world to have France as an ally in the ongoing conflict with Islamic jihad. It would be better for the Muslim world as a whole to see France stand up and declare its rights as a sovereign country, entitled to define its borders, its limits, its values. I mean by this that Conquest Islam is confronting American military determination, and it should also encounter European cultural determination.
When you look at the dilapidated state of the majority of countries in this world, you can’t just dump Europe onto the trash heap and say “good riddance.” There is too much worth salvaging. If France, the country that has been spearheading the Eurabian betrayal of Europe, can change, it would be salutary for the whole of Europe.
Is this an impossible task? Yes and No. If there is one universal lesson to be drawn from the whole of human history it is: “it’s already too late.” By the time we realize what we have done, collectively, it is too late to reverse the trend. And yet nations do change and can improve.
Let’s just think for a minute about how France could be transformed into a dynamic, modern, democratic nation, open to the world. The key lies in the third term: democracy. As an American living in France for over three decades I have slowly become aware of the undemocratic nature of French society…and I think this is true of Europe as a whole, in differing degrees. We are ruled by a pitiful élite, mediocre men and women sitting in palatial offices, shuffling papers, prancing and prattling. They don’t take care of business. But they do accumulate and abuse power.
Perhaps de Gaulle did warn about the impossibility of integrating Muslims into French society, but he also crafted the foreign policy that led to the deliberate influx of Muslim populations. The recent Barcelona Conference suddenly goes public with that pernicious Euro-Mediterranean Dialogue at a point when the project seems to be collapsing under its own weight. Though the underlying ambitions of fusion are reiterated and still menacing.
Isn’t it profoundly dishonest to talk about integration and equal opportunity as a solution, when European countries are faced with an unprecedented transfer of populations? No reliable figures are available; is France today 10% or 15% or 20% Muslim? We do know that this unprecedented influx has taken place over three short decades. And we know that Muslims, everywhere in the world, are in conflict with neighboring populations.
And we know that Islam has a particular problem about living with Others.
How can France possibly integrate such a population? Could France integrate a comparable influx of Americans, most of them drawn from the poor, under-educated, unsophisticated, backward classes? José Bové became a hero for attacking a McDonald’s restaurant. But if you say that France cannot absorb 5 or 8 or 10 or 15 million Muslims, you are a filthy racist.
Today, there are still enough French people in France to reclaim their sovereignty. Not by shrinking back to a narrow-minded peasant mentality but by truly accepting the risks of modernity.
Well, it sounds like the same remedy as we’re proposing for the Middle East: free markets, free press, authentic democracy. The 2007 elections will be decisive. The “leadership” that got us into this predicament will most probably be disavowed. But we can’t be sure that it will be replaced by a truly effective, forward-looking government.
A word about this brave new European Islam we have been promised…more than promised, presented as if it really existed. Look what it has brought us. A 19 year-old Moroccan woman fighting for her life, set aflame by a rejected Pakistani suitor…in a banlieue of Paris. A Belgian woman, married to an Islamist, who blows herself up in a martyrdom operation in Baghdad. Sleeper cells, operational cells, support cells, financing networks, French jihadis in Iraq, jihad missiles in France, Waqf zones in the banlieues, endemic anti-Semitism…is this a favor to decent freedom-loving Muslims who hoped to find refuge in France?
I believe that the American military action in Afghanistan and Iraq has done more for the Muslim world than decades of human-rightist cant.
The United States doesn’t have to go to war against France--crude, vulgar French bashing is too easy--but severe American criticism based on greater understanding of what is happening here is very helpful. The worst thing American commentators can do for freedom-loving French people is to peddle the same flimsy excuses that are current here.
I’m not naming names, but some of the coverage of the 3-week insurrection was incredibly dishonest.
No one has anything to gain from a mass French suicide. So let us hope that the recent outburst of crude reality will burn away the hypocrisy and lead to clear thinking and decisive measures.
Guadi: As Olivier pointed out about the riots, if the relation between radical Islamism and the riots is not established, it is interesting to note that the French media failed to explain why the riots don't involve other minorities in France, such as Asians.
On the other hand, I believe that the Muslim organizations made an error. The UOIF tried its best to declare that Islam had nothing to do with the riots but in the same time they enacted a fatwa to appeal for calm. The UOIF recognized, indirectly, that the rioters were primary Muslims.
Apart from the case of the immigrants in France, the representation of the Muslims in this country poses serious problems. Contrary to Christian and Jewish institutions, Islam includes all the aspects of the existence of a believer. Consequently, to want to make the difference between Muslim culture and Islamic religion is almost nonsense. The Arab language does not have a term to distinguish the practise of religion from those who are in the culture. Islam makes no distinction between the "city of humankind" and the "city of God". However, in a country as France which tends to eliminate the religious characteristics, this can lead to some schizophrenic behavior. This is why while the rioters can scream "Allah Akbar" when taking on the police forces, their every day lives do not have anything to do with religious practice.
As far as French foreign policy is concerned, France has always been just like the Arab world: complicated. Nidra is right about De Gaulle. If he could say that the Muslims could not be integrated De Gaulle has also been an ardent advocate in favour of the some reactionary Arab regimes.
Raddatz: We are getting a little too speculative for my taste. As I said earlier, the problems we are complaining about have been very well known for a long time. Western demographic shrinking is the longest term problem possible and still not managed in its slightest basics.
Immigration as an off-spring of this problem has been handled in the same seemingly counter-productive if not destructive way. Seemingly, because we may regard this kind of destruction as an integral part of the ongoing paradigm. We have heard all the important points about the influx of people, the Euro-Islam combination, the inescapability of an unchanging religion within the Islamic culture, consequent violence breakouts, governmental incompetence, filtered media reporting, etc.
If you look into comments on the situation thirty years ago, though, you will find many of these aspects there as well. Acting in favor of minorities and against the majority, correspondingly, has become the name of the multicultural game. One point, however, has been added meanwhile: security.
Since 9/11 there is a widening gap between the political and economic spheres of interest. While one carries the Barcelona declaration cliché of the "partnership for peace and prosperity" still around, we can observe a growing partnership between the Euro governments and the repressive regimes south of the Mediterranean and in other areas of Islam, quite similar to the US/Saudi connection.
The magic word here is "security". Feeding the regimes one hopes to control the Islamists who in turn are given a lot of leeway in their current ideological campaign and mosque building strategy in Europe. On the one hand, France and the other Europeans maintain nice relations with the Saudi and Morocco kings, for instance, on the other hand, they neglect the liberal Arab-Islamic efforts against repression and corruption. Most of the money disbursed in the framework of MEDA I, the financial tool of the Barcelona agreement, has been spent on countless conferences and/or vanished in elitarian channels.
A very remarkable result we may register is the new form of "security". Maghrebinians who fight for democracy and human rights have to be kept at bay because they jeopardize the legitimization of their authoritarian regimes, in this aspect resembling the Islamist organizations. As the radicals argue from the religious side and the moderates from the democratic one, the European governments have to assume the ideology and behaviour of Islamic regimes in order to protect them.
The ongoing paradigm is based on another version of "divide and rule", exemplified by Libya. This country converted from the "axis of evil" to the good community of free trade. Aside from a few cosmetic changes, Ghaddafi paid lip service to WTO demands and let the ruling clans - and Western companies - make tons of money in the resulting black market. It is no secret that the Libyan "Führer" and the Italian "Cavaliere" Berlusconi are maintaining close relations of the buddy type.
As similar deals started in the former French colonies long before, we should not be astonished that also Chirac of France felt very "secure" until recently. He and his predecessors promoted the strategic division between economic liberalism and political repression, led by the US policy in the Middle East. With an "integration" that put the Maghrebinian immigrants and passport French into some sort of isolated social orbit, France drifted into its current dilemma, accompanied by a record anti-Semitism. The neoliberal structures, pushed forward by the US and Euro governments, however, weaken the Islamic economies and simultaneously strengthen the alliance of mafia-type regimes and their alleged terrorist antagonists.
Another grotesque symptom of this process was a "security idea" of Otto Schily, the former German Minister of the Interior. It received euphoric support by high EU officials. He proposed to build a new version of concentration camps along the southern Mediteranean coast in order to dilute the stream of migrants. It is difficult to agree with Ms. Poller's expectation of the 2007 elections being a decisive event. Normally, a government is a mirror of the people. If there is no basic change in the general perception of the ruling class, the elections in Europe will keep on serving an extremely opportunistic elite, promoted by aligned media. Also in France it will be just another stepping-stone towards a new neo-feudalism, thereby prolonging the democratic agony we are witnesses of in our time.
FP: Olivier Guitta, Mohamed Ibn Guadi, Nidra Poller and Dr. Hans-Peter Raddatz, thank you for joining Frontpage Symposium.
The War for the Soul of Iraq
The POWs the Communists Kept
Lebanon: The Spark of Liberty in the Middle East
Leaving the Political Faith
Katrina, Race and Silence
The She Bomber
The Future of Treason
Africa: Nightmare Continent
Through the Eyes of a Suicide Bomber
Iraq: A Report Card
Iran: The Showdown
Muslims in France: A Ticking Time Bomb?
Murdering Women For “Honor”
The Radical Lies of Aids
A Crack in the Saudi Berlin Wall?
Turkey: The Road to Sharia?
The Future of Terror