Monday, November 14, 2005

Why Was Anyone In Paris Surprised?

Thanks to Paul Greenberg in the NY Sun, New York's daily conservative paper, for recovering a three-year-old article from City Journal, a conservative journal in New York. Written for the Autumn 2002 issue by Theodore Dalrymple, it presents a picture that the Elysee Palace should have recognized then, instead of after two and a half weeks of fires and rioting.

I go to Paris about four times a year and thus have a sense of the evolving preoccupations of the French middle classes. A few years ago it was schools...For the last couple of years, though, it has been crime: l’insécurité, les violences urbaines, les incivilités. Everyone has a tale to tell...The laxisme of the French criminal justice system is now notorious. Judges often make remarks indicating their sympathy for the criminals they are trying...the day before, 8,000 police had marched to protest the release from prison on bail of an infamous career armed robber and suspected murderer...Reported crime in France has risen from 600,000 annually in 1959 to 4 million today, while the population has grown by less than 20 percent...Where does the increase in crime come from? The geographical answer: from the public housing projects that encircle and increasingly besiege every French city or town of any size...A kind of anti-society has grown up in them—a population that derives the meaning of its life from the hatred it bears for the other, “official,” society in France. This gulf of mistrust—greater than any I have encountered anywhere else in the world, including in the black townships of South Africa during the apartheid years—is written on the faces of the young men, most of them permanently unemployed, who hang out in the pocked and potholed open spaces between their logements. When you approach to speak to them, their immobile faces betray not a flicker of recognition of your shared humanity...There are burned-out and eviscerated carcasses of cars everywhere. Fire is now fashionable in the cités: in Les Tarterets, residents had torched and looted every store—with the exceptions of one government-subsidized supermarket and a pharmacy.

What Dalrymple describes is the condition of the French banlieues before the riots. Anyone who lived in New York City between 1975 and 1990 will recognize the descriptions and sympathize with Dalrymple's relentless assault on the primary cause, the French government in its statist presumptions to know all that needed to be known. New York nearly burned down under the weight of legacies from the Great Society and the New Deal as France is today under the legacy of French statism. And those who fled New York for other parts of the U.S., a veritable (and widely reported) flood during the Dinkins administration that preceded Rudolf Giuliani's election in 1993, are likely to find themselves with new French neighbors as the Chirac/Villepin government, once again, surrenders to the deluded expediency of bribing the gangsters and ignoring the people.

Don't miss Dalrymple's article, which is not science fiction, but an eyewitness report from three years before the current riots. It should be read in full.