France could learn from Canada

This commentary vastly overstates the Canadian situation and in some cases simply misrepresents it. Nevertheless it gives some insight into the history of these riots in France.

France could learn from Canada

Immigrants from Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and elsewhere arrived in France between 1956 and 1974 in search of a better economic future and to quench the thirst for cheap labour in the booming French economy. The parents and grandparents of today’s unemployed rioters arrived at a time of full employment, allowing many of them to gain a modest toehold in the country. In the absence of a vibrant private housing sector, the state built millions of housing units, in large estates that sheltered 6,000 to 60,000 people.

Today, a 10th of the population lives in public housing with all the charm of Moscow’s Brezhnev-era monstrosities. In the city of Nancy, there is a 430-metre-long building that contains 7,000 residents… Extreme problems called forth extreme solutions, and city planners’ errors were literally cast in concrete. Most French housing estates are located far from the hustle and bustle of the central city. Jobs are as scarce as hope. As jobs evaporated during the 1980s, native-born white French citizens abandoned public housing to immigrants…

Paris has entire suburbs, with hundreds of thousands of immigrants living in almost complete isolation from the mainstream, decade after decade… North Africans are expected to jettison all their cultural and religious baggage at the border, and pretend that their ancestors are the Gauls. Multiculturalism is dismissed as a dangerous Anglo-Saxon import, or even the path to Balkanization. Sixteen-year-old girls donning head scarves seem to threaten France’s century-old official separation of church and state.

The head-scarf ban was interpreted by Muslims as an attack on their religion and way of life, a sign that they are not welcome in France… Indeed, they are not welcome: Opinion polls tell us that most French people believe there are too many Arabs in France… The French believe that multiculturalism would only privilege individuals by association with their ethnic, religious or racial roots. There is no such concept as Algerian French.

The fiery rage of immigrant alienation

In discussions with French political leaders in recent days, some of the young ghetto-dwellers have said they want decent jobs, decent housing and an equal chance at social mobility.

The root problem, said Mr. Guizani, is that the residents feel estranged from a society that treats them as outsiders and discriminates against them in the workplace and in schools.

“They feel that they’re always going to be considered immigrants, even when they have been born in France and are French citizens,” he said. “It makes them uneasy in their spirits and their heads.”

To get ahead, Mr. Guizani added, “an Ali must turn himself into an Alain to hide his origins. For them, the French model of integration means an erasure of their identity. So they feel they will never be themselves and part of this society.”

European cities fear copycat violence

“There are terrible living conditions and unhappiness, (even) where everybody is Italian,” said Romano Prodi, the center-left’s candidate to oppose Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi next spring, in a newspaper interview. Mr. Prodi said poverty, unemployment and urban decay could spark violence…

“The conditions in France are different from the ones we have,” [Germany’s] Wolfgang Schaeuble… said. “We don’t have these gigantic high-rise projects that they have on the edges of French cities”… An immigration law that took effect in January aims to integrate newcomers to Germany, making German-language and civics courses obligatory for them…

Abdelkarim Carrasco, a leader of Spain’s estimated 1 million-member Muslim community, said he does not see his country at risk of suffering the same kind of violence, because the proportion of poor North African Muslims is much smaller. But he said the French experience posed a key test for Europe in general.
“Either Europe develops and supports the idea of a mixed culture, or Europe has no future,” he said. “Europe has to learn from what the United States has done. It is a country that has taken in people from all over the world.”

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