Jonah Goldberg
Recommend this article

I tried. I really did. I wanted to deal dispassionately with l'affaire francaise. I even resolved to refrain, until my Schadenfreude wore off, from commenting on the situation in the country formerly known as "France." (Possible future names include: Paristine, Gaulistan, Frarabia and the Algerian North Bank.)

Schadenfreude is a German word meaning to take pleasure at the misfortune of others. And much like La Resistance in '40 (and '41, '42, '43, '44 and '45), I just can't shake off the Germans in this case. Since my Schadenfreude seems inextricably linked to the duration of the French intifada, I can't wait any longer. After all, the troubles promise to go on long enough for the French to lobby the International Olympic Committee to add the "Peugeot Burn" to the summer games.

To be fair, which I have not been so far, I don't actually believe the current riots are about Islam. This puts me to the left of a great many conservative Nostradamuses who've prophesized for so long that France's North African and other Muslim "immigrants" are going to bring Jihad to the home front. I don't think their predictions are necessarily wrong, I just believe that this is at best a dress rehearsal.

I put "immigrants" in quotation marks for the simple reason that most of the rioters are no such thing - they were born in France and hold French passports. Their parents or grandparents were from former French colonies. But the French establishment - a term I use in the most catholic sense possible, so as to include Katie Couric and her colleagues - has had a very hard time coming up with a useful vocabulary to describe these events. French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy came out of the blocks with "scum," but the uncharacteristic lack of nuance didn't go over well in a culture that has always believed there are two sides of the story for every murderer, never mind every window smasher.

We seem to have settled on "youths," which is as correct as "Muslims" and marginally more accurate than "immigrants," but it will hardly do. It's not as if airport screeners are going to keep a keener eye on young, blond Frenchmen named Jacques because a bunch of guys named Abdul and Hamid looted the local brasserie. And then there's the fact that these "youths" show no signs of being particularly pious Muslims. I don't mean to say that a devout Muslim would never break the peace - I think that theory has been sufficiently falsified in recent years so as to be inoperative, no?

Rather, these "youths" appear to be closer to nothing than they do to a specific something - except, of course, rioters. It is in the rioting that these kids get meaning. Rioting is how they appear on the Gallic radar system. They aren't Les Muslimerables so much as Les Invisibles.

The Islamic leadership in France would clearly and dearly love this to be a Muslim riot. They could then stop it and become true Left Bank Arafats, able to fire up a rent-a-mob whenever convenient and thereby shake down the government for one concession after another. That's why the French government is so desperate to prevent the imams from becoming middlemen. If the riots are stopped by Islamic clerics, they will become Islamic riots - even though they didn't start as that. And once the conflict is Islamified, the conservative Nostradamus scenarios kick in and we can all get ready for talk of "two-state solutions," the need to make Paris an "international city," and so forth.

Their being Muslim surely contributes to these kids' invisibility, but French racism and snobbery is more sweeping. Unlike in America, where snobbery, racism and anti-Muslim bigotry can all operate independently of each other, in France they're always linked in a menage a trois. If a resume arrives at the patisserie with the name Hamid on it, it gets trashed without the recipient wondering whether he was unfair to a Muslim, a black, an immigrant or even a French citizen.

But this type of young person is invisible for another reason. The French "social model" which pays wealthy, educated people not to work much - and prevents poor and desperate ones from working at all - simply has no solution for what to do with these surplus Frenchmen. So they get shunted off to the Islamic Bantustans surrounding the capital, where social pathologies fester.

Unfortunately, France is more likely to embrace Velveeta as the national cheese than to fix this system, and that spells long-term disaster for the country. Sarkozy had the right idea calling the rioters scum - not only because rioters tend to be exactly that, but also because calling them much of anything else would have politicized the rioters into "rebels." The long-term problem is that if you treat people like scum long enough, they'll become rebels. And that's when the battle for Gaulistan will truly begin.

Recommend this article

Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the forthcoming book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
 
TOWNHALL DAILY: Be the first to read Jonah Goldberg's column. Sign up today and receive Townhall.com daily lineup delivered each morning to your inbox.