Not many people, including the French themselves, like the French. The term "French victory" is so out of date that it has become an oxymoron. Their march into the 21st century has been marred by indignity. The French ego was flattened like a crepe when the United States saved their chateaus in two world wars.
This is a source of renewal of the long-standing anti-America sentiment in France: How dare the cigar-chomping, loudmouthed vulgar American bore, who knows nothing about fine wine, haute cuisine or couturier fashion, ride to the rescue of the land of 300 cheeses? Unable to accept their own weakness, they turned on us. A taker hates a giver. French polls repeatedly show how little the French think of America. Anti-Americanism is the first refuge of the French scoundrel.
"What we mistakenly see as a craven, anti-Semitic, insecure, hypocritical, hysterically anti-American, selfish, overtaxed, culturally exhausted country, bereft of ideas, fearful of its own capitulation to Islam, headed for a demographic cul de sac, corrupted by lame ideologies, clinging to unusually unsupportable entitlements, crippled by a spirit of multilayered bureaucracy," writes Denis Boyles in his book, "Vile France: Fear, Duplicity, Cowardice and Cheese," is "actually worse than all that."
He examines the reasons why the French in their post-modern incompetence and inferiority turn on the United States, and imbedded in his analysis are many of the reasons the rioters who have set France aflame -- none of whom are American -- have turned on the nation that gave them refuge. The Paris government has alternately patronized and isolated the Muslim have-nots in their midst, preferring to keep them in the decaying suburbs with welfare benefits without hope for rising into the middle class. Instead of "liberte, egalite, fraternite," gangs of Muslims groove to rapper Akhenaton's call for "only gangsta as identification." When the French declined to join the United States and Britain to liberate Iraq, it was perceived as weakness by young Muslims, no matter how much they detest the liberation.
The French offer the Muslims a faux secularism by banning headscarves for Islamic schoolgirls, but such forced taboos can't compare with the ideological correctness of their imams, many of whom cultivate followers in French prisons. The first generation from Arabia and Africa born in France does not want to identify with the French. For all of our own problems with illegal immigration, the United States at its best offers pride of American citizenship. Our suburbs are often "melting pot suburbs"; so many immigrant entrepreneurs have settled comfortably there.
Appeals to multiculturalism only deepen the alienation of the children of immigrants, who understand that their alien culture and the poverty their parents brought with them keep them separate and apart from authentic participation in the nation. France, as other nations of Europe, depends on assimilated immigrants with skills and good attitudes to keep the economy moving. That isn't happening, and the riots won't make it so.
Paris burning ignites a fierce debate among Europeans over immigration and integration of the 5 or 6 million Muslims living elsewhere in Western Europe. Sporadic fires have spread to Belgium and Germany. "One of the greatest dishonesties of European policy and intellectual discourse," observes the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, "has been that multicultural issues can only be discussed in one direction -- the 'accepting society.' Whoever calls on the immigrants themselves to integrate better is seen as a nationalist monster who lacks 'openness.'"
Out of work adolescents isolated in ghettos become rebels with a cause to create a Baghdad on the Seine. Francis Fukuyama draws parallels with other radicals, of other times, other places. "We have seen the exact same forms of alienation among those young people who in earlier generations became anarchists, Bolsheviks, fascists or members of the Bader-Meinhof gang," he writes in The Wall Street Journal. "The ideology changes but the underlying psychology does not."
The current disturbing ideology is radical Islam, and the French -- who never lose an opportunity to criticize America and Israel, and who embraced Arafat, and who sneer at American aims in Iraq -- encourage the mentality of the mobs in their midst crying "jihad" and "war" while setting fire to cars, buses, stores, warehouses and beating up the occasional man and woman who happen to be in their way.
For an American to look realistically at the problem is not to indulge in schadenfreude, but to suggest that it's time for France to look to America as a better model for a growing economy. It's too late to shoot the messenger.