Some France-bashers are taking great delight in the Muslim riots that are burning French neighborhoods and claimed their first fatality Monday. But this 12-night rampage is no laughing -- or gloating -- matter. It is as tragic as it was inevitable.
Coverage of the riots by major American media has been incomplete. Headlines have referred to "angry French teens" and "angry immigrants." That's misleading. According to a French official, most of these rioters are French born -- the children or grandchildren of African and Arab immigrants. The word that is missing in the headlines, and that comes in later paragraphs in news stories, is: Muslim. Hence, the frequent rioters' cry: Allahu Akbar. God is great. Not that you'll read that in The New York Times.
About 10 percent of France's population is Muslim, largely the children and grandchildren of immigrants from North Africa. Unemployment is rampant among French Muslims, as high as 30 percent or greater, by some estimates. Many blame French prejudice against ethnic Arabs and Africans. The government's stated ideal of colorblind integration certainly has failed miserably, as unemployed families simply aren't going to integrate into a middle-class culture.
"It was not a question of if (the rioting) would occur, but when it would occur," noted former U.S. Ambassador to France Howard Leach from his San Francisco office. Leach went on to explain, "The reason it happened in France is that France has not made an active effort to assimilate these folks."
The rioting began after Oct. 27, when two teenagers, Zyed Benna, 17, and Bouna Traore, 15, were electrocuted while hiding in a power substation from police in the Parisian suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois. The government said that the police were not chasing the boys, but the community was outraged at the deaths. Riots ensued. Across France, angry rioters torched cars -- more than 3,500 vehicles, according to the Financial Times -- attacked individuals and fired at police. Authorities found a factory for homemade bombs in Evry, a town south of Paris.
A New York Times editorial predictably blamed Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy for calling the rioters "scum" and "riff raff." Sarkozy's biggest fault is that he is center-right. The editorial did not wag a finger at President Jacques Chirac, but did fault a policy he championed -- a ban on Muslim girls wearing head scarves at public schools.