Burning a principle

November 08, 2005

French suburbs - which is to say, French ghettos - are in flames, and however tempting it may be to think that this might take French sanctimony down a welcome peg or two, the truth is that the unrest could presage more serious trouble ahead.

The French have long cherished the belief that France is an ideal republic and that anyone with French citizenship is French, period - in theory, at least. This allows the government to ruthlessly suppress expressions of diversity among its large population of Muslims, most descended from North African immigrants, even while ordinary French people and businesses routinely discriminate against them. The result is high unemployment, dreary living conditions in hidden-away satellite housing projects and a strong feeling of alienation.

For nearly two weeks now, these communities have erupted every night. As of yet, there have been no particular ideological or sectarian overtones. French Muslim leaders have denounced the violence.

The danger lies in the methods the government chooses to employ to end the unrest. If the result is a large population of resentful and bitter young men, that could present a golden opportunity to recruiters for Islamic jihad in the West. The radicalization of those now burning cars in French streets would pose a serious threat to Europe, and beyond.

The French government must move to quell the violence, of course, but it must also show that it can recognize its immigrants for who they are, and then listen to their grievances.

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