A Post-Riot Letter from France: A Tense Bastille Day

Today’s Bastille Day celebration was a low-key family affair in the medieval village of Châtillon-en-Diois, in the heart of the Drôme. In the neighboring town of Die (pop. 4,700) it was more elaborate, with a small parade at 10 a.m. that included municipal firefighting vehicles, a brief official ceremony at the monument to the fallen in the Great War at 11:30, and a pique-nique convivial in the afternoon. The police presence was minimal and the crowd was distinctly monoethnic: no recognizably North African faces or Muslim dress styles were anywhere in sight.

Writing from an old farmhouse in the Diois, I am tempted to imagine that France is a normal European country and that all is well. The region, between the Alps and the Provence, is lovely in a rugged way. The barely populated area around Châtillon remains mercifully undiscovered by the British and their northern Continental kin (save some adventurous Dutch). The local wines, little known outside the region, are solid rather than superb. The food is excellent, the prices are reasonable, the sun is bright and the nights are cool.

Walking the streets of Châtillon, one could feel transported six decades into the past to the France of General Charles De Gaulle, except for the ubiquitous cellphones and massive cars (no Citroën 2CV  or Renault 4  to be seen). Yet, less than 50 miles away in Grenoble’s southern suburb of Échirolles—where I went shopping for supplies en route to here on Monday—the scene was reminiscent of a prosperous Algerian or Moroccan community; prosperous by the standards of North Africa, that is, and not of today’s Europe. Échirolles is not known as a “no-go” zone, where the immigrant population is hostile to outsiders. About a third of the people in the hypermarket were Europeans, but it was as far from the land of Diois as the Bronx is from Manhattan’s luxurious Hudson Yards.

My stopover in Échirolles provided a reminder that France is unwell. In France’s metropolitan areas, tens of thousands of policemen are on high alert today following a week of rioting in France’s largest cities. The police are on duty to try to make this year’s Bastille Day safe—or at least safer than it was in 2016, when Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, a Tunisian-born Muslim, drove a 20-ton truck into the crown in Nice, killing 86 people and injuring over 400. The apprehension is real and well-founded.

The killing of the 17-year old Algerian-born Nahel Merzouk by a police officer in Nanterre, a horrid northwestern suburb of Paris, on June 27 triggered a spiral of urban warfare. The impoverished suburban banlieues’ “angry youths” (the Western media are invariably squeamish about revealing their ethnic or religious identity) acted in exactly the same manner as their fathers did in 2005, when the self-inflicted death of two Muslim teenagers hiding from the police started three weeks of riots which led to the declaration of a national state of emergency.

Though the Western political establishment pretends to be puzzled by the true cause of the riots, it is the same as it was in 2005, when I noted in Chronicles that Muslims in France and elsewhere in Europe already consider themselves to be de facto autonomous. They see themselves as a community centered on mosques and Islamic centers and justifiably opposed to the broader society of infidels. I wrote then:

The emergence of a huge diaspora of the faithful away from the heartland is seen by pious Muslims as an event archetypically linked to conquest. The demand for the predominantly Muslim areas to be granted communal self-rule will inevitably lead to the clamoring for the sharia law in a segregated Muslim France. Assimilation is no longer a viable option in France, the country that used to pride itself on its ability to turn foreigners into Frenchmen. That was possible with the Italians, Spaniards, Poles and Russians because they were culturally assimilable and because they came in tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands even (e.g., the non-French Pieds-Noirs), but not in the millions. The Muslims now account for ten percent of France’s population and for more than one-fifth of all newborns. They live in compact communities in which it is no longer possible to buy wine in a local store or to see Amélie in a cinema.

The French state has failed to integrate its North African and Arab communities into the urban and social fabric because the task is structurally impossible, as illustrated by the current rioters targeting cultural institutions—notably public schools and libraries—more pointedly than in 2005. In the schools of the “difficult neighborhoods” teachers are permanently on the front line in facing the aggressive and often violent demands of teenage. In October 2020, the emblematic episode was the beheading of the history and geography professor, Samuel Paty, just outside his school in the Paris region. The rejection of French education and culture by Muslim immigrants has become overt and systematic. Furthermore, the median age of the immigrants arrested during the riots is 14 to 18 years old, whereas in 2005 it was 16 to 20 years old. This is a clear indicator that the rock-solid mindset of rejecting France and all things French is currently replicated in an even younger generation of the “youths from the suburbs.”

More immediately worryingly for the French state, the Arab Muslim riots (let’s call them what they are) are more violent and wantonly destructive, but they are not much more hostile to the Macron establishment than the protests last March by mostly working- and lower-middle-class Frenchmen over the proposed pension system reform. They are indicative of a widening gap between the state and major segments of civil society. In both cases, the police were deployed as a blunt tool to fill that gap. In both cases, the media performed on cue, generally depicting French protesters last spring as violent, ignorant, and unreasonable, and the “suburban youths” as misguided but to some extent justified in their core grievances.

President Emmanuel Macron blaming the réseaux sociaux (social networks) as the key tools of instigating and coordinating riots is interesting as a thinly veiled sop to France’s chronic anti-American sentiment. His attack on U.S. technology platforms is a far cry from the blanket ban imposed by the Chinese Communist Party, but the substance is the same. As the Italian geopolitical journal Limes has pointed out, just over a decade ago the WikiLeaks scandal revealed what the French state had long suspected—that the U.S. was pursuing a strategy of wide-ranging influence on minorities in France, a real manipulative action scrupulously planned, supervised, and evaluated: “Evidently the search for autonomy in Paris aimed at recovering a first-rate role on the world stage, however underpowered, is by no means underestimated by Washington,” Fabrizio Agnocchetti wrote.

Reminiscent of the excuse made by Democrats in the U.S., Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader of La France Insoumise (LFI), a far-left party and main opposition force to the government, insists that it is actually the police that are out of control. Faced with repeated requests from various quarters to appeal for calm, Mélenchon’s LFI Party flatly refused, declaring “We are not appealing for calm, we are appealing for justice!” This replication of trans-Atlantic wokedom, otherwise still alien to the French mainstream, bodes ill for Macron’s halting and often hesitant attempts to emancipate France from American tutelage.

France is a former superpower that professes that it still has a destiny of global import. The République is an elective monarchy ruled by regicidal monarchists who still nurture symbols and narratives far greater than their country’s size and economy make likely. Unlike America’s kitschy exceptionalism backed by raw might, the Gallic arrogance is dressed as elegance, a quest for significance rather than dominance. To that end, ever since De Gaulle entered Paris in August 1944, France has had to simulate a grandeur that is beyond her station by any quantitative reckoning. As De Gaulle once confided to a friend, “I am on a stage and I pretend to believe it, I make believe that France is a great country. It is a perpetual illusion.”

Macron, a pathetic dwarf compared to De Gaulle, declared to the global Politbureau at Davos five years ago that “France is back.” It is not. It is a nation that in trying to avoid risks is shattering into ghettos. The elites try to delegitimize as “populists” millions of French men and women who want to protect their country from further invasion. These same elites fail to integrate—let alone assimilate—further millions of hostile aliens already inside the gates.

The reality of the banlieues is light years away from the decades-old hope of Gilles Kepel, France’s former Presidential Advisor on Islamic Affairs, to create “an Andalusia” of multi-denominational tolerance in France. As Yves Charles Zarka, director of Cités, has warned years ago, the semblance of peace can’t be maintained for long because the roots of “ideological Islamism” are deep and enduring among the young rioters. France is experiencing “a central phase of the more general and mutually conflicting encounter between the West and Islam, which only someone completely blind or of radical bad faith, or possibly of disconcerting naiveté, could fail to recognize.”

As I noted in my book Defeating Jihad, published in March 2006, one fact brutally apparent in the banlieues—and painfully puzzling to many Frenchmen—is that the immigrants from North Africa and their French-born offspring reject the civilisation française that has been admired, eagerly emulated and embraced by millions of immigrants and foreigners for centuries. Why are they so immune to Racine, Zola, and Berlioz? Why don’t they ever go to the Louvre or Versailles? They may as well ask, why did Muslims, when they entered the world of Christian civilization, reject humane civilization along with Christianity. As I wrote:

Outside the French ghettos the price of a wider societal “peace” is a complex web of lies and half-truths by which the elite class has sought to conceal the truth about what it has done to the French nation. The real cause of the French intifada is the enormous growth, dysfunctionality, and arrogant self-confidence of the Muslim immigrant community within France, coupled with the cultural enfeeblement and demographic decline of the French nation.

That enfeeblement, manifested in the post-Christian tolerance gone berserk, is the main enemy. This is as true today as it was when I wrote those lines. “No other race subscribes to these moral principles… because they are weapons of self-annihilation,” the late Jean Raspail wrote at the end of the last century. They need to be understood for what they are, and discarded, if France is to survive.

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