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French Violence: No Easy Answers

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Murabit View Drop Down
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    Posted: 20 November 2005 at 4:23pm
French Violence: No Easy Answers

By Imam Zaid Shakir

As the violence that has vexed France recently begins to wind down, the search for explanations is intensifying. Insight can be gained into the causes of those riots by reflecting on the violent disturbances that occurred here during the 1960s. During that tumultuous decade, large swaths of Los Angeles, Newark, Detroit, Washington D.C., and many other cities were burned to the ground. The fury of the rioters, largely the descendants of African American migrants from the rural southern states, left a stunned nation asking, “Why?” In 1967, the government commissioned an inquiry into the causes of the riots. The ensuing document became known as the Kerner Commission Report.

President Lyndon Johnson, like those seeking to attribute the French riots to the instigation of Islamic radicals, anticipated the commission finding the presence of a foreign hand at work. The Kerner Commission found no foreign influences, instead it found, “The nation is moving towards two societies, one black, and one white – separate and unequal.” In essence, the commission found that the rioting was a direct result of the inability of urban white society to adequately absorb and meaningfully integrate into its fabric of life the large waves of African Americans migrants and their descendants.

The rioting in France has similar roots. During the 1960s and 1970s, hundreds of thousands of North Africans, mostly from the former French colony of Algeria, were encouraged to migrate to France, primarily to engage in manual labor. Herded into suburban ghettos, these immigrants were left isolated in high-crime, drug-infested communities, characterized by under-funded, overcrowded, failing schools. Their children, finding little hope for higher education, or a meaningful economic future, due to the gradual elimination of the economic sectors that had accommodated their parents and grandparents, were bound to explode.

The description of their suburban ghettos mirrors that of America’s impoverished urban communities. Hence, the grievances of those French communities are strikingly similar to those found by the Kerner Commission to be of primary concern to the residents of America’s seething ghettos. Some of those grievances, in order of intensity, as listed by the Commission, were: brutal police practices, unemployment, substandard housing, inadequate education, poor recreation facilities and programs, and the ineffectiveness of the political structures and grievance mechanisms.

If the French government hopes to affect a meaningful long-term solution to the current crises, it will have to take these grievances seriously. That these issues are still relevant in our own urban ghettos indicates they have been largely ignored. As a result, the alienated youth in our inner-cities are powder kegs that could be sparked into episodes of destructive violence under the right circumstances.

Eliminating those lingering grievances here has proven extremely arduous. Acting constructively to eliminate them in France will likewise prove difficult - politically, socially, and economically. In addition to the difficulty involved in building new political structures and changing entrenched attitudes and prejudices, the prescriptions advanced by the Kerner Commission involved a proposed cost of 56 billion dollars. Today, that figure would be much higher.

Despite the costs, settling on short-term solutions will not prove productive. A heavy-handed law and order approach, while perhaps needed to restore calm, provides no long-term answers. In this country, such an approach has only led to record numbers of incarcerated youth, while doing little to address the deeper problems identified by the Kerner Commission almost forty years ago.

Similarly, politically expedient answers, such as attributing the French riots to Islamic radicalism, will not address the deeper causes of the violence. As was the case here in the 1960s, those causes are associated with the existence of barriers to inclusion rooted in racial prejudices and institutionalized discrimination. Overcoming those barriers is a challenging task. However, it is a challenge that should be readily taken up. If that challenge is not met, both here and in France, then the lofty words inspiring our twin revolutions will ring hollow, and the work of democracy will remain unfinished.

"I am a slave. I eat as a slave eats and I sit as a slave sits.", Beloved, sallallahu alyhi wa-sallam.
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kenski70 View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote kenski70 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14 December 2005 at 10:15am
Maybe this Imam should write about things he knows. Theres a huge difference between the French riots and the ones in the US. Both groups or rioters lived in slums and poverty, but the similarities end there. The most brutal war America ever fought was about race. The Civil war. Since then even though the blacks are no longer slaves.they still endure racism, discrimination, and hate crimes. And have for many years. Thats what the riots in the US were about. The way these people were treated. They weren't asking for anything more than other Americans. They just wanted to be part of this country as equals. Religion was not a factor! Note the Americans just wanted to assimliate into a country that was not letting them!.....In France you have immigrants who were raised in a completely different culture. They came to France and didn't like the way everyday Frenchmen lived their lives. Being unwilling to adapt they rioted. These rioters want France to change its culture to an Islamic one. Poverty is a legitimate gripe! Trying to force a religion down a countries throat???????? not the same.
Sorry about that turn signal,I must have fallen asleep.
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