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May 7, 2007

The 'Other' France A Problem For Sarkozy

Topics: International News

As Haaretz reported yesterday, Sarkozy has won the election, and although an immigrant himself, his greatest challenge is likely to come from the lower rungs of French society, the "other" France - the Muslim immigrants.

Apparently, Haaretz was right: We're now learning that more than 700 cars were set alight and 600 people arrested in violence that hit cities across France, although the rioters blamed by police include extreme-left groups, anarchists and apolitical gangs.

Stratfor weighs in on what we can expect the immediate future to bring:

The short answer is violence. Royal's April 4 warning of impending political violence in case of a Sarkozy win was not solely a last-ditch effort to scare up some votes, but a very real prediction of what could happen. There are three power groups in France that consider such violence justifiable.

The first group comprises France's 2.3 million farmers. Based on whose numbers you use, 40 percent to 75 percent of a French farmer's income is provided by government subsidies. The majority of these come from the European Union. The source of that money, the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), has been enshrined in the EU budget since the multinational body's predecessor, the European Economic Community, was formed more than 50 years ago.

... The second group is France's roughly 6 million Arab Muslim immigrants, most of whom hail from North Africa. These are people who have faced cultural and institutional discrimination and have been ghettoized into France's rundown suburbs. This group got its first taste of rioting in 2005. Sarkozy has, to put it lightly, advocated a very firm hand against them. No group stands to be affected more if Sarkozy is able to implement his policies, so the real surprise in the next few days would be if France's Muslims did not rise up in some way involving fire.

And we see this already happening; the "other France" that has not assimilated is already rioting, as evidenced by where most of the riots are occurring.
The final group is the French left, and specifically the French youth. Whereas in the United States society largely has frowned on public uprising since the American Revolution, violence against the state has become part of the French cultural mythos. The French Revolution and the subsequent Reign of Terror stand out in the French mind because they were the most extreme cases of popular violence, not the only cases. In every generation France has experienced a boiling over of rage against the state, with the most recent iteration being the student riots of 1968.

The cultural grip of those riots persists even today -- something Sarkozy made much of during his campaign -- intimidating the state into allowing a rich set of social benefits for the French. Ultimately, Sarkozy's manifesto boils down to "it is time for France to get with the program" and run a tighter ship. That means less money for state spending, and dare we say, Anglo-style labor reforms.

While farmers will cause problems in the future, and Arabs will cause problems now, it is the left that will determine whether Sarkozy goes down in history as a revolutionary leader or a failed one.

But despite Stratfor's grim prediction, others such as Dominique Moisi, say that Sarcozy is the right revolution for France, and that France is ripe for reform:
Today, after 12 years of Jacques Chirac and 14 years of François Mitterrand, with a growth rate lower than most of Europe and a level of debt and unemployment higher than most, France is worried about decline and ripe for reform.

What Sarkozy understood better than anyone is that, 39 years after May 1968, France is in the mood for work, not love.

Most voters who backed Sarkozy expect a different sort of state, one that is more capable of providing physical security against violence and less capable of complicating their lives in economic and fiscal terms. This France endorses Sarkozy with enthusiasm; others view him as the unpleasant but necessary medicine France needs to cure its malaise.

Europe will be waiting with bated breath to see if in fact Sarkozy is indeed able to put France back to work and quiet that "other France."

Posted by Richard at May 7, 2007 6:24 PM

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