Sunday, November 15, 2015

Paris, Encore

So after 36 hours of non-stop discussion, the commentators in Paris, New York, London, Bonn and Washington came up with an opinion: Terrorism is a complex problem and there is no easy solution.

Hmpf. I could’ve told them that.

So many varied issues are involved that it’s become what the French call un panier de crabe, a basket of crabs. The imagery is simple. Try to get a single crab out of the basket. You can’t. With claws and legs interlocked, the crustaceans defy separation. The same goes for terrorism.

France, for example, has had a serious issue with immigrants since the end of the Algerian War when tens of thousands of North Africans came to Europe.  As a nation, France was never designed to take outsiders. Indeed, it is run as a highly structured system based not on inclusion but on exclusion. The nation’s basic philosophy is one of meritocracy. Success in France often depends on the grandes écoles, highly specialized schools that take you to careers in politics, engineering, the arts, and business. This is contest-based education, where class standing, (don’t be fooled, the nobility is still there) a pervasive old-boy network and cronyism still play paramount roles. The émigrés have not breached the wall. It’s designed to keep them out and does it very well.

The immigrants, not to be outdone, bring with them old-world values that are no longer relevant. They live in neighborhoods and virtual city-states—no-go zones—where French is not spoken, and a Francophone culture may be openly reviled; often the only native French presence is the detested police. The non-native born hardly participate in the political process and are economically and educationally marginalized. They are pissed off, and rightly so. It’s little wonder that some have espoused radicalism. It’s the second-class citizens that foment revolution, not the elite.

Other more recent developments have come into play. There are guns in France, now. A Kalakshnikov imported from Russia costs about $500 on the street. There’s drugs, crime, powerlessness and rage, often fed by religious leaders of doubtful provenance. There’s massive unemployment that reaches eighty percent in some neighborhoods. Social services have fallen away, and the physical infrastructure is no better there than here, which is to say failing. Nefarious foreign influences stress violence as a solution. This is not the France tourist see; it is the hidden France that most French have turned a blind eye to.  

The immigrants are at fault as well. They too, are insular and distrustful; they often see themselves as powerless and victimized—not a good outlook for future success. In a country that reveres the comme il faut, the as-it-should-be, they make it a point to stand out…

The solution, if there is to be one, comes down to a radical reexamination of what is and what needs to be done.

The Islamic communities have to do their own house-cleaning, faire le ménage, the French call it. They have to police themselves and they should be allowed and encouraged to do so.

Those who have succeeded financially and socially, and there are many, particularly in the sports, entertainment and literary world (think Isabelle Adjani, Jacques Derrida, Zinedine Zidane) have to wield their large influences to encourage education and growth. They must also agitate to hold the government responsible for its shortcoming in regards to immigrant issues.

The French government, stodgy, slow, myopic, has to deal with the no-go zones. As early as 2002, the New York Times reported, “North African suburbs have become no-go zones at night, and the French continue to shrug their shoulders.” And Newsweek said in November, 2005, “According to research conducted by the government’s domestic intelligence network, the Renseignements Generaux, French police would not venture without major reinforcements into some 150 ‘no-go zones’ around the country.” In early January of this year, the New Republic wrote: “The word banlieue (‘suburb’) now connotes a no-go zone of high-rise slums, drug-fueled crime, failing schools and poor, largely Muslim immigrants and their angry offspring.”  

These neighborhoods, if they are to stop breeding outlaws, need better schools, more investments, community centers, and employment opportunities. They need to be made safe not through the efforts of the French authorities, but through those of their own inhabitants.  They need to elect intelligent representatives on a local, regional and national basis. They need to become part and parcel of the nation.  That would be a start.

Because here is the simple truth: The Islamists aren’t going to go away. But then, neither are the French.

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