By now, most have heard—sometimes with sorrow, sometimes with delight—of the latest fashion in the working-class suburbs of France: setting fire to cars at night.  There is a lot more to this than a nocturnal rite for rival juvenile gangs.  It is probably exaggerated to forecast a civil war: Two sides are necessary to make a war, and the French hardly seem anxious to wage one.  But it could very well be a sign of irretrievable decay for France—and maybe not for France alone.

Some alleged factors regarding the social unrest not only are of dubious explanatory value but look, frankly, preposterous.  The Economist’s (November 12-18, 2005) short-sightedness and intellectual platitude were appalling: France’s racial arrogance and economic inefficiency are supposed to have brought forth what France deserved.  While it is true that rampant socialism in France destroys initiative and opportunities for work, it is also quite obvious that Mr. Blair’s policy failed to avert terrorism backed by racial prejudices hostile to England.  (The father of one of last summer’s London Underground terrorists owned two shops, two houses, and one Mercedes.)  It is wrong and just plain laughable for France to stand accused of racist indifference or exploitative cruelty toward her immigrant populations, whether or not they are legally French.  Countless “suburban projects” have been implemented, and billions of euros (or, formerly, francs) have been spent.  Housing, recreational centers, schools, and so forth have been generously provided; these fell short of building little paradises but could have sufficed for a start.  All of that was to no avail.

It is a simple and obvious fact that immigrants used to enter France seeking jobs, good education, and training, and quite a few were successful—so much so that they stayed instead of returning to their countries, in whose development they could have participated.

But, following a long tradition of public assistance to the helpless and unlucky, France has come to be known more and more as a country where unemployment compensation is so substantial and long-lasting as to compete favorably with the dividends of working.  And the French are directly responsible for the spreading of the word, constantly behaving as if the state had to provide them with whatever they may desire.

This has not been lost on many ears in developing countries.  So we have to face another equally brutal fact: It is no longer only the ambitious and capable, the ones who are quite able to integrate into the social fabric of the country, who flock into France.  More and more of those who pour in are just plain wretched people (e.g., Africans from the poorest countries) who have heard of this wonder world where everyone can enjoy public welfare at little or no cost, where you can do nothing and get paid for it.  (I overheard one youngster who, when asked what he wanted, replied, “everything.”)  Of course, France does not have the means to distribute royal dividends to everyone begging for them.  So these expectations are not met, and, the longer some have been kept waiting, or the younger the immigrants, the more they tend to become enraged.  Since, eventually, they all manage to get some sort of assistance, the very fact that they obtain it without having much to show for it constitutes a very powerful enticement to believe there must be a reason for that.  And what reason could be easier to grasp, and more powerful, than that they have some innate right to it, whether by nature or by some sort of compensation for the wrong that has been done to them?  Hence, they get angry, and, since there are plenty of demagogues to tell them they are right to be angry, the more they are given, the more they think they are entitled to, and the more they feel mistreated and unfairly rewarded when not given everything that normal working people possess.

This explains their very ambiguous feeling about French society and the French state: They love it for what they think they can get from it (they demand to be granted French citizenship), and they hate it for what it does not give them.  So they molest anything symbolic of organized French society, be it firemen, schools, ambulances, or buses.  Some noticed they were harming their next-door neighbors as well.  There is a logic in this aggressiveness: Because he has a car, my next-door neighbor becomes a part of the system and, therefore, has to be branded (literally).  Anyone who has a car must be a slave-driver; let us make sure that he does not drive any more!

The rioters’ supposed wailing for employment has to be counterbalanced by any schoolteacher’s daily experience when his classes are overflowing with immigrants: There is an obvious propensity for the students, rather than attending classes and trying to learn (French, in particular), to prefer the oh-so-convenient claim that whatever they attempt will be of no avail and, therefore, useless in the first place, so they should be immediately compensated for the ill will they are doomed to meet.  Either there is not enough work in France even for Frenchmen, and immigrants should not be coming today, while yesterday’s should strive all the more for qualifications; or there is available work, and, again, it is up to the new French to prove themselves able to work, which means first of all starting to study furiously at school.  This may not be enough, but it is an absolute prerequisite, which, moreover, would start alleviating the prejudices of the employers.  And, if they are still not happy, why should they not try their luck elsewhere, the way Europeans themselves have been doing for centuries?  In any case, continuous assistance without any counterpart is a self-defeating process; beyond a certain level, it amounts to admitting to the giver’s guilt.

Another opportunity has not escaped the consideration of those of the immigrant classes who have a knack for entrepreneurship.  How could they avoid being enthralled by the lure of easy money—and the consideration that goes with it—that can be immediately harvested from illegal trafficking of all kinds, especially drug dealing?  It did not take them long to realize that there is so much sympathy for their predicament that they run a very marginal risk in setting up their lethal business, and what glory for the gang!  The rioting was, to some extent, a reaction to a timid attempt by the police to regain some kind of control over certain suburban areas that had degenerated into zones of extreme violence, blatant lawlessness, and drug trafficking.  I doubt very much that the mediocre awards of an honest but modest job can beat, in the eyes of the many, the glamour and flamboyance of beating the system they hate anyway.

And then, over the whole stage, hovers the overpowering shadow of Islam.

There are undoubtedly quite a few moderate Muslims.  They are not the rioters, and I dare say their moderation stems less from Islam being intrinsically moderate than from their being moderately believing, and rather secularized, Muslims.  There is a good case to be made for Islam having always been a religion of warriors—often, trade warriors.  But even barring this view, I confess I am stunned by the general readiness to condone the idea of a revival of the Islamic faith, as if it were but natural for any religious faith—and particularly such a reactionary one—to overcome the glorious dedication of the modern world to the only god who can be attractive to it: namely, Progress.  Let us pay serious attention to what is glaringly obvious in France’s suburbs.  The youths who burn cars are not seeking Allah; they are seeking two things that ambitious Islamic leaders are quite quick to grasp and eager to provide.  The imams of France may have been pleased with the riots, but not one seems to have been directly involved in triggering or managing the troubles.  We should not overlook the general climate of hostility to France that they have proved instrumental in creating, and that obviously serves as a background for the whole drama.

These young Muslims are perfectly aware that they resemble dropouts and have little about which to boast.  How self-redeeming to be told no one of them is to be blamed for his own wretchedness!  This is the time-tested trick: better to blame the other than yourself.  It has already made a success of Marxism.  To achieve this goal, however, young Muslims need a scapegoat to stand accused of their plight, and to be hated.  And who better than the country they pour into to get what their own countries cannot offer them—that wicked, infidel Western society?  Islam is the Marxism of the 21st century, the prophet of a new class struggle, the bourgeois class being the French (not to say Western man, for why should Islam differentiate among infidels?), and the proletariat, the Muslims.  And this new Marxism is even more effective than the old in that it permeates its followers with a sense of identity definitely more powerful than that arising from belonging to the worldwide community of proletarians, for the new convert is offered an opportunity for pride: How can he not be proud of himself as a recognized member of a glorious and everlasting community, which maintains an open line to god himself?  And, mind you, this is a god who promises happiness not only beyond this life but within this one, by the simple means of revolution.

In other words, I do not think there can be much doubt that an inferiority complex has fanned the radicalization of Islam.  Now that the green flag has been raised, the time of hatred and revenge has come, the time for the Western world to suffer and for France, in particular, to pay for her arrogant ways of dealing with Muslims.  (She did, after all, have the affront to turn Algeria into two French départements.)  Islam feeds on resentment, and any Muslim who does not feel this way must be a traitor.  If there is any way other than brute force to quench this feeling, I do not know it.  What I think obvious, at least, is that the Catholic Church has chosen the worst possible moment to practice Her new policy of self-deprecation.  The history of the relationship between Islam and Christianity may have been bloody indeed; nevertheless, no one can claim that the Muslims were ever a bunch of innocent pacifists awaiting slaughter, horrified at the very idea that war against the infidel could be sacred.  The unilateral repentance initiated by the late Pope John Paul II, instead of creating a charitable attitude toward Christians, could not but fan the fire of Muslim hatred for a Faith Whose very charity they despise as weakness.

I do not doubt that many of the rioters may have been but marionettes whose strings were more or less loosely pulled by the puppet masters.  I do not doubt either that the French authorities were (and still are) actually scared brainless at the possibility that the proverbial matter might hit the proverbial fan in the form of some rioter’s blood being spilled.  (Why should they otherwise imagine that the best way to fight fire is to condone the maiming of the firemen and the wounding of some 150 policemen, while boasting “no arsonist was hurt”?)

But the hidden hands would not have been so effective, nor the authorities so indecisive, nor the rioters so arrogant, nor the riots so often more spontaneous than orchestrated, if it were not for one simple crucial fact that seems to me to be the agent of the explosion and will remain so for future ones.

Not so long ago, there was only a trickle of immigrants, impressed with the prestige of France, striving to speak French, dreaming of becoming French, and yearning to be part of the French labor force.  Why would they have come to France otherwise?  The political mantra today is just the opposite: tolerance.  We are supposed to tolerate a flood and call it a fertilizing Nile.  We are supposed to tolerate the indefinite growth—caused both by the continuous flow of new arrivals and the high birthrate of yesterday’s immigrants—of a proletariat without any real qualification, nor any desire for assimilation (for years, the rappers have shouted in primitive French their disgust for anything French) but which, on the other hand, does not want to forfeit the rights and privileges of French nationals.  (There are 300,000 immigrants, both legal and illegal, per year, according to the parliamentarian Pierre Lellouche, cited in the weekly Valeurs Actuelles, November 18-24, 2005.  The surface area of France is equal to that of Texas.)  We are supposed to tolerate both the claim of criminals to protection under French laws and the lenience of the judges when they break them.  We are supposed to tolerate the senseless killing of an old man, the burning of buses full of passengers.  Tolerate?  Nay, we are supposed to admire alien cultures to the extent of encouraging an immigration that aims at defending and promoting its alien ways of living (polygamy, for instance), while fighting the right of French citizens of old to keep theirs.  France has become one of these houses where tolerance is a profession.  No wonder some rap stars call to rape her!  (The sanctification of tolerance even had the rather funny consequence of inducing the passage of a bill prohibiting the Islamic veil to be worn at school: It was feared that the republic might otherwise forfeit its commitment to the secularity that is hailed as the very expression of real tolerance!)

That this tolerance is self-defeating is obvious on two counts.  On one hand, the new populations learn from the ever-so-tolerant French themselves to despise the French culture that their parents have only barely begun to internalize.  The days are long gone when Mr. Senghor, the former president of Senegal, successfully strove to become a professor of French grammar.  On the other hand, it is only natural that, the more obsequious the old French are, the more arrogant the new ones.  The more despicable the former, the more the latter hate those they still see as their exploiters.

It is not that laws do not exist to control the violence (they date back to the 19th century); it is that law enforcement lacks punch, because of a tolerance that actually shows that the French are afraid to be French, and even ashamed; that they have lost respect for their past, their customs, their beliefs, and their language—i.e., their own culture.  The real question is: Where does the disease come from?  It is not difficult to isolate the two main causes, just politically incorrect to do so.

Whatever the merits attributed to it, democracy, particularly French-style democracy, has as its fountainhead the idea that there should not be any bond—any society—among men to which they have not consented.  Therefore, it cannot but contradict the other idea that a nation is built of—and cannot exist without—a heritage common to all her sons and daughters.  This contradiction was already inherent in the French Revolution, which called the patriots to arms so that the land of their fathers could be turned into a nonexclusive club.  In other words, as of 1789, France was a self-proclaimed open city: The only prerequisite for being a citizen was not to have inherited the national culture but to declare oneself willing to inhabit the soil of France and obey her laws.  Our good republicans are perfectly logical in promoting suffrage for aliens.  Why, however, would anyone want to join the new body?  Obviously not out of admiration for France or out of the desire to become culturally French.  Why, then, if not by calculated interest?  Join us, if it is of any use to you; opt out, when it is not profitable anymore; or, even better, organize some rioting.

Old habits die hard, and, for many years, young Frenchmen continued to learn that they had to defend the French Republic, at least as long as France had nondemocratic neighbors.  But how could the old spirit survive when the new spirit was geared toward France becoming the motherland of the rights not of Frenchmen but of man?

The withering away of the French soul has another obvious cause: the economic development of France.  The French consumer enjoys consumption, irrespective of anything other than his enjoyment, while, at the same time, he is after any goods he may like, and particularly new ones.  The French citizen as a consumer is a citizen of the world, and it shows: There are far more restaurants in Paris offering exotic, rather than French, cooking.  Good heavens!  Even Frenchmen buy wine in plastic containers, labeled “en provenance de pays de la Communauté Européenne” (“product of the European Community”), and would rather travel to Thailand than to Provence!  Anxious as they are to have a more comfortable life, the immigrants follow suit and end up being trained to seek whatever their new country can offer, whether local or not.  Technical progress achieves the same enfranchisement; consumer reports ignore borders and advise one to buy the best object for the lowest cost regardless of its origin, while the jeans-clad, Converse-sneakered French youth listen to radio, TV, and the internet for news not of France but of the world.  Individual economic interest calls for France to be ever more dependent on imports and ever more a nondescript part of an international market flooded with ever-cheaper goods, produced by foreign slaves under the supervision of international conglomerates following the rules of the “free market.”  No wonder it becomes increasingly difficult in France to differentiate between socialists and conservatives; they are equally eager to provide cheap goods to constituencies equally eager for them, even though neither party knows exactly how to provide French customers with the ways to buy them.  No wonder they both voted “yes” to a European constitution dissolving the French national identity!

Local life, local communities, traditional local customs, and antiquated laws make for a nice tourist show, but, when the curtain falls, everybody hails the benefits of globalization (except the heirs of Trotsky who call themselves altermondialistes, but I would hardly rely on their respect for traditional ways of life).  Between French national identity and what is called the “economic development” of France, there is an ever-widening rift.

These arguments all lead to the same conclusion: The driving force behind the riots is not, contrary to accepted wisdom, an economic situation but a cultural mind-set.  The social crisis in France is a cultural crisis.  The French have lost all desire to assert their culture, lost interest in their own cultural tradition, and, as a result, their present culture is a timid and self-ridiculing ghost of its former self: Why should it be attractive to aliens?  Why go back to economic deprivation when the French education that would help correct it is construed as despicable and useless?  Why refer to the superiority of another faith when the Christian Faith is openly neglected, if not spurned and considered backward?  And why should immigrants behave otherwise and adore France, particularly as they are citizens whose nationality is still mainly a slip of paper?

But, some might argue, is there not an elite whose function is precisely to preserve and develop French heritage, even though the masses are lured by cultural products ready for immediate and easy consumption?  My answer would be an unequivocal “no”: There is no official elite devoted to such an unpopular purpose.

It is unpopular because this would amount to calling the French masses to arms, whereas economic insularity or isolationism mixed with a lack of cultural communion makes not only for an unwillingness to fight together but for cowardice and a propensity to buy one’s safety by private bargaining with the enemy.  (I heard one man say on television, “If they have something against the cops, they may have their reasons, but why burn my car?”  A woman wailed, “Have pity for my shop!”)

As for the so-called French intelligentsia, ever since the 18th century, they have been “enlightened,” which means they are convinced nothing is valid but that which the people think and are ready to accept as the truth.  Is abortion right or wrong?  Wrong question; the right one—the democratic one—is: Is the majority in favor of it or against it?  What marks the intellectual is his ability to be both master and slave to public opinion.  The French people want tolerance?  Tolerance it will be.  (Let us observe that tolerance is an admirable weapon against intellectual superiority: Tolerance means there are no objective criteria of worth.)  How can you be a devoted Frenchman?  This is so narrow-minded, so unintelligent, so intolerable . . .

As for the political elite, it is roughly divided into two shades of socialism.  The so-called right always stands chin up, whereas the left always maintains a bleeding heart.  The latter destroys all the floodgates.  (Immigrants should have the right to vote just like ordinary citizens, since they live on the same premises.)  The former opens the gates legally.  (Islam is welcome, provided the imams speak French.)  But, with the exception of a few unspeakable louts, who fortunately are forbidden to enter the French parliament, every honorable representative will agree that France is lucky indeed to attract so many immigrants, with only one provision: that they “respect the laws of the republic.”  All agree that it is highly inadvisable to use real force; all agree that a night in France is “peaceful” when fewer than 150 cars are burned.  All display the same admirable courage by solemnly warning that it is wrong to burn cars.

This touching unanimity actually has a very obvious reason.  How could any of the governing classes promote a preference for old French ways without decrying this new France, built not on the basis of a shared, inherited soul but on the individual’s will; not on a common history but on a daily plebiscite?  To attack tolerance would amount to sawing off the branch on which one is sitting.  For the so-called right to promote tolerance is somewhat ironic, however.  To tolerate the arrogant difference of an alien community is no way to induce it to minimize its difference; it is an encouragement to entrench itself in its difference, to be ever prouder of it and, therefore, ever more difficult to placate—and to put to work.  The politically correct French right is thereby doomed to a race in demagoguery with a left that will always beat it, since the left does not make any bones about its love for a multicultural France.  Hence Jacques Chirac’s latest move in response to the riots: to collect, in the form of a new tax, enough money for an umpteenth suburban renewal and to welcome the European Community’s additional funds to pour into the bottomless suburban wells.  During the French Revolution, on January 21, 1794, a man by the name of Quatremère was beheaded for “having humiliated the people by his innumerable acts of charity to the poor.”  Of course, the French political class is immune to this threat: Its members seldom live close enough to the ghettos.

The lesson of these new “events in France” (as Edmund Burke called the French Revolution) is obviously lost on the average Frenchman.  Could it be a warning to the nations of the Western world not to forfeit their souls?