It may turn out that the scarf ban tactically was a bad idea. Nonetheless, France has as much right to implement said ban as Muslim countries have to require women to wear the veil. Let me add that Muslim activists wanted far more than head scarves at public schools. They also wanted gender-segregated physical-education and history classes expunged of the Holocaust. Change the scarf policy, and they still will be dissatisfied.
Meanwhile, the Sarkozy-bashing is all wrong. Sarkozy, it should be noted, ordered police not to fire at rioters. How can critics call him polarizing when, as the Los Angeles Times reported Monday, rioters have fired at police about half a dozen times, but police have not fired back?
Leach sees Sarkozy as a constructive force, who unlike Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, embraces the sort of Anglo-American free-market economic reforms that should raise employment levels and offer opportunity to the economically disenfranchised.
De Villepin prefers the government-rich model -- government programs and job counseling -- and dismisses the Sarkozy approach as un-French.
There is such a thing as being too French, after all. High unemployment, for example, is very French. Les greves (strikes) are French. These riots are French.
And while critics point to France's shortcomings, violence erupts around the world. London's July bombings sadly demonstrate that a healthy attitude and low unemployment alone cannot ward off extremism. The very-inclusive Dutch were horrified last year when a Muslim jihadist shot, stabbed and almost beheaded filmmaker Theo van Gogh. The killer left a note that warned other jihadists were ready to kill "the enemies of Islam."
The entire planet has been endangered by rogue extremists who promote violence in the name of Islam. Angry young minds are so drawn to the cause that they ignore cooler words -- such as the fatwa issued by a leading French Muslim organization against the riots.
And while critics may gloat at Chirac's discomfit, sadly, it is France's poor that will have paid the highest price. As the Ministry of Tourism noted in a statement, "The violence has occurred mainly at night in districts inhabited by the underprivileged. These persons are themselves the principal victims."
As tempting as it is to blame the French, even Francophobes need to be aware: What started around Paris could happen anywhere.
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