Sharing the Blame in France

A sense of desperation continues to pervade French commentary on the rioting that has spread across the country. There is a widespread feeling that the country's "Republican social pact" is falling apart.

Even after President Jacques Chirac declared a state of emergency and Prime Minister Dominique Villepin imposed curfews in cities nationwide, La Croix (in French) portrayed the government as flailing "to get out of the crisis. To get out at any price."

"The government is trying hopelessly to regain the upper hand while appearing impotent against the rising power of urban violence," said the national daily. Villepin is caught between the imperatives of "firmness" and "justice," while the image of hard-line Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy as "'the first cop of France' has been seriously chipped."

Le Figaro (in French) suggests Villepin is rising to the occasion. In outlining his plan to reestablish order, he brought out the "heavy artillery" and spoke with "calmness, coolness and determination," according to the rightist daily.

But the editors of the leftist Le Monde (in French) say more needs to be done.

"Both the left and the right bear responsibility for the ripping of the social pact in the suburbs," they say. They note that the conservative parties have been in power for three years and that Chirac himself spoke two years ago of "reconquering the lost territories of the Republic," referring to the lawless zones in the suburbs dominated by drug dealers and gangs. Now Chirac must "act to heal the urban fracture that he let grow."

By Jefferson Morley |  November 8, 2005; 2:10 PM ET  | Category:  Europe
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I dont't know If we can say that Le Monde is a leftist newspaper...

Posted by: A french guy | November 8, 2005 03:02 PM

The French are hypocrites.. what do they expect?

When you claim to be the most civilized society on earth, yet allow overt discrimination, bribe evil governments for access to their oil, stand as an impediment to the search for and destruction of terrorism, and are anti-semetic it only follows that the burning of your own suburbs by your citizens and invited illegal immigrants is going to happen, eventually.

Welcome to reality

Posted by: Long Beach, CA | November 8, 2005 03:59 PM

The French are accused of all sorts of things. Actually they are no better, no worse than the other nations of Europe. Who would dare to say they are worse than Germans(Hitler?); Italians (Mussolini?); English (Chamberlain et al.?); Poles (You have heard of Jebwabne?)

Istvan Deak wrote recently that all the nations of Europe have about the same record (he meant in connection with the Holocaust, but it is true in general).

Posted by: candide | November 8, 2005 05:34 PM

I hope the European journalists in New Orleans were able to get home in time to cover the unrest in the French capital.

Posted by: Chris | November 8, 2005 05:35 PM

Long Beach, you are trying to be intentionally ironic, right? Any American who reads the news can't really accuse other countries of being hypocritical without being a hypocrit himself. (Remember how after we found no WMDs we said we invaded to save Iraqis from Saddam's brutality, then immediately started torturing Iraqis). Plus, you criticize France for allowing overt discrimination (kinda like New Orleans after Katrina maybe?) and being antisemitic, yet you have no problem painting every citizen of France with common traits, beliefs, and motivations. It is laughable how so many Americans resent France because its government stood up against American pressure about Iraq. Thank God there are still a few countries willing to do that since otherwise our trigger happy government would go unchecked in the world.

Posted by: Rob | November 8, 2005 05:46 PM

thanks Rob. A voice of sanity coming out of the USA is a fine thing.

Posted by: betsey | November 8, 2005 06:07 PM


If you have a beef with the way Long Beach went about puting his thoughts forward that's fine, but surely you're not implying that American's cannot criticize the failure of the French social pact model.

Posted by: | November 8, 2005 06:24 PM

I think what happened could happen in 3rd world country,but I was astonished to read that there are a lot of such mizrable people in France.I am too much disappointed

Posted by: Dr A Ghazal | November 8, 2005 07:26 PM

Long Beach:

In addition to some other comments about French policy, you wrote that the French "stand as an impediment to the search for and destruction of terrorism." This is completely false, though it's a popular misconception over here.

Actually of all the countries helping us in tracking down Al-Qaeda members, France has probably been the most helpful. They have a wealth of experience and skill in dealing with terrorism from the Middle East. They were dealing with the threat decades ago, long before the issue achieved prominence in the US. And on terrorism (as on Afghanistan, though not on Iraq) they have been extremely cooperative, and they were so even at the height of their disagreement with us over Iraq. Of course, one never knows for sure, but it may well be that their valuable assistance has averted an attack over here. Gloating when they suffer riots is a poor way of thanking them (and also isn't especially mindful of our own history of race relations).

Posted by: Beren | November 8, 2005 08:02 PM

whatever the French foreign policy, the reality IS that we failed (I am french) and that we would be well inspired if we stopped giving moral lessons to the entire world (and I'm even not talking foreign policy, for instance corruption with the Iraqi former government). I don't really like USA foreign policy, but I don't chose the American president, while I DO chose my government. And this is so shameful.

Posted by: simple | November 8, 2005 08:14 PM

From what I understand, the problem with France's appraoch to race relations is to not approach it. The logic behind the French social pact model is that all French citizens are equal and therefore no attention needs to be paid by the state to recognize any differences. Thus, no demographic data is kept.

This is what I find at fault with the French model. Without recognizing differences bewteen ethnic and religious groups one cannot address problems within their own society. It would be akin to the United States, after passing the Thirteenth Amendment, to say to the newly freed slaves "you're all citizens now, good luck," and doing without affirmative action, the Civil Rights Act, etc.

The French have a past they need to address just like the rest of us. The only bright side to these riots may be that the French government will be forced to address it seriously.

Posted by: Chris | November 8, 2005 08:20 PM

Beren...isn't that what the whole world INCLUDING France was doing when Hurricane Katrina hit and people where looting? You say that the french people are suffering...meaning the white french are suffering now, what about the brown and the black people that have been suffering for years even under a Liberal gov't rule? Very shameful, don't you think? "Do as I say not as I do...

Posted by: Fidel | November 9, 2005 12:31 AM


I don't think people should gloat when other people suffer, period. No matter which way they look across the Atlantic while doing their gloating. Actually the French reaction to Katrina was more sympathetic than those of some other European countries I can think of. The French have a long-standing cultural connection to New Orleans, and it was sad for many of them to see the destruction there. Of course there was criticism of our government's response-time (just as we now wonder why it has taken so long for the French government to make up its mind on how to deal with the riots, let alone the underlying issues), but who here can disagree with that?

Certainly I didn't imply that France didn't have serious problems to grapple with as far as the treatment of minorities, poverty etc. are concerned. It does. They were well described by several French people who posted in the previous discussion, and I didn't think I could add much to what they said.

As for the comment on the suffering of white people v. brown and black people, I don't know how you got that out of my post. In the short term this rioting will cause suffering for many who happen to be in the way, and that will happen no matter what the color of their skin.

My concern was just to correct an incorrect statement by Long Beach about France's involvement in combatting international terrorism. Too many Americans generalize from French policy on invading Iraq to French policy on fighting terrorism, and assume that since the French opposed the one, they must oppose the other too. But to the French government they were separate, and even mutually opposed issues.

Posted by: Beren | November 9, 2005 01:50 AM

This proves once again that 'zero tolerance' is nothing more then modern tyranny cloaked in the name of 'democracy' which makes everything that would normally be considered taboo ok.
Have the French learned nothing from the disaster of zero tolerance in the US? And do they also wish to emulate the US in becoming one of the biggest jailers on earth?
The sad consequence may well be the rise of that right-wing megalomaniac Sarkozy who while lacking the colour of former dictater's in Europe is using the same politics of fear to catapult himself into power. If he manages to do so (by populist democratic rabble--hm- sounds like someone else from the 'republic' of Texas) it will be the most dangerous situation that Western Europe has faced since the end of the second world war!

Posted by: SSA | November 9, 2005 05:40 AM

The French have a lot to answer for, but next to the U.S., they are a model of tolerance, enlightenment, inclusion and respect for the law.

Posted by: | November 9, 2005 09:30 AM

I think it is important to note that we are discussing a country that is mostly homogenous when it comes to its population. Unlike the U.S., most people in France are of the same religious faith - catholicism - and share a common ethnic heritage. This is why it is easy to feel excluded in France today, because there is a feeling that you, the outsider, are confronted with a mass of people who are basically the same and who somehow make certain that YOU (the immigrant, minority, etc.) do not feel included in what goes on. Call it the tyranny of the majority, but it is alive and well.

Posted by: Playboy | November 9, 2005 02:05 PM

Denmark is not The Netherlands!!!!
Shame on the American education system!

Posted by: Andrew in Florida | November 9, 2005 02:33 PM

Denmark??? Where did Denmark come from? Isn't that in the Netherworld?

Posted by: Chris | November 9, 2005 02:45 PM

Rob....I can't believe my eyes. Please tell us again where is the hypocrisy???? guys still don't get it? The misinformation was coming from CIA and Iraqi scientists that were lying to Sadam pretending that they had WMDs. At that time CIA was still headed by the guy put it by Clinton...maybe just to screw with the next president knowing that the left was not going in the White House?!?!
2.New Orleans. The Governor himself or the mayor too should have declared the state of emergency and request federal that REALLY hard to understand?
Where exactly is the hypocrisy? Rather than talking about hypocrisy maybe we should look into bigotism

Posted by: Xuxa | November 9, 2005 06:52 PM

The prsent situation in France is a wake up call to our own country (USA). Our government has abandoned our cities and we have many barrios on the brinks of disaster.The Bush administration is wasting billions in a phony war trying to spread democracy/freedom and dont know what else, but I dont simply buy Mr. Bush excuses for the war.

Posted by: LagaresH | November 14, 2005 04:18 PM

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