Wednesday, July 28, 2004

The French Threat
 
The BBC reports that a recent study commissioned by the French government shows that France’s suburbs are increasingly turning into Arab ghettoes where anti-Western and anti-Jewish sentiment are becoming the norm.

As the article notes, this isn’t entirely unexpected, but it is worrisome. France’s Muslim problem – and it is a problem with Islamic fundamentalism – is the worst in Europe. While many European nations are having difficulties integrating the children of Muslim immigrants into their societies, France stands out as by far the most troubling case.

From a domestic standpoint, it was originally hoped that Muslims would integrate into secular French society, while still celebrating their particular ethnic background (as if Islam were ever simply an ethnic phenomenon). This hope was based on a combination of naïve assumptions held by multicultural socialists and moderates that had little to do with the true meaning of French secularism or with the immigrants involved.

Historically, French secularism was in fact a compromise between liberal and revolutionary philosophy on the one hand, and Christianity on the other. It eventually was also embraced by many French Jews. In other words, it was an accommodation with a particular religion, and not simply an implementation of abstract liberal notions about religion. As such, French secularism is not easily adaptable to other religions. The Jews, who are still among the staunchest defenders of this secularism, were also among its victims, as the Dreyfus Affair showed. But when French secularism encounters a religion as militaristic and political as Islam, it should have surprised no one that an easy fit would not be achieved.

Furthermore, in a climate where liberal universality has been perverted to the extent that it means nothing more than the unthinking promotion of every culture’s own peculiarities no matter how barbaric, the traditional French liberal finds himself hard pressed to make his case in contemporary French society.

But if the problem of increasingly ghettoized suburbs is primarily a French problem, it is still something that should worry the rest of Europe for a number of reasons. France, like the rest of Europe, is aging. Its elderly population is growing while its birthrate is falling. Except, that is, among Muslim immigrants. From an economic and social point of view, an aging population itself is a worry as it increases stresses on an already overburdened health and social security system. But when we add to that a poorly educated, alienated sub-class of angry Muslim youth, it’s nothing less than a recipe for social breakdown.

Of course, this has to worry the rest of Europe because France is one of the largest nations in the European Union. Social and economic tensions in France will inevitably affect the rest of Europe and in many ways both obvious and more hidden. One of the less evident effects, but one also potentially dangerous, is that France, unable to modernize its economy due to heavy social welfare burdens, will attempt to resolve its problems on the backs of other European nations. Indeed, it could be argued, and some French economists have made this point, that the French government used the Euro currency in order to piggyback on the German economy in order to avoid reforming the shambles which is French finances. Of course, the Germany economy has had its own troubles. But if the rest of Europe begins to see French social breakdown as affecting their own quality of life, the tensions within the EU could reach the breaking point.

Other more evident effects would simply be the disastrous impact on the rest of Europe with an almost civil war-like state in France. This sort of domestic upheaval would inevitably pull in the rest of Europe and could even inflame similar tensions in neighboring countries.

The picture in France is not too bright at present. Anti-Jewish and anti-Western sentiment among the non-integrated Muslim population is growing, and the French government seems unable, both morally and intellectually, to deal with the issue. It’s a danger that could have enormous implications for France and for Europe.

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