Well, look who’s at war now.
A few months ago, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman jetted to Europe to interview people for a documentary with the provocative title, “Does Europe Hate Us?” French students lectured Friedman that “France is more tolerant” than the U.S. Unlike the cowboy George W. Bush, they insisted, few Frenchmen “believe you can liberate people by dropping bombs on them.” They -- like Sen. Ted Kennedy, who once described the war in Iraq as “a fraud … made up in Texas” -- clearly viewed the war on terror as an American creation.
Their smugness is probably gone now, at least if those students ever bother to journey out into the suburbs surrounding Paris. Every night for more than two weeks, angry Islamic youths trashed their French neighborhoods. Thousands of cars were torched and hundreds of buildings attacked. The violence didn’t ease until the French government declared a state of emergency.
Then again, maybe those French students remain unmoved, as some of their countrymen do. “People are shouting they want to be equal,” Christophe Bertossi, an immigration specialist at the French Institute for International Relations explained to The Washington Post. “And the government is treating them as if they were criminals or terrorists.”
It’s unclear how Bertossi would prefer that the violent young Muslims (invariably called “French youths” in the mainstream media) be treated. If torching cars and destroying schools isn’t criminal and terrorist behavior, nothing is.
Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy understands that. In the early days of the rioting, he called the youths engaging in it “scum,” which they certainly are. “For too long politicians have not used the right words to describe reality,” Sarkozy says.
By speaking the truth, Sarkozy made himself a target. “It won’t stop until he resigns!” a 17-year-old named Ahmed announced in the town of Stains. “Young people don’t like being called thugs,” whined a teenager named Bilal. Maybe they ought to stop acting like thugs, then.
Of course, it’s not just the rioters who sound a bit strange. “It’s important for people to try to understand how what these people are doing might seem, from their perspective, might seem like the logical, rational thing to do,” Susan Fiske, a professor at Princeton, said on CNN. “It’s too easy to dismiss them as irrational and emotional and a mob. But they’re people, too, and from their own particular perspective, this is what has to be done.”