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Saturday, April 12, 2003


The idea of cancelling the huge foreign debt of the Iraqis, which was incurred mainly by France, Germany, and Russia --- specifically by their nationalized firms, private firms, and public and private banks (with government guarantees) --- was first floated two days ago by Paul Wolfowitz, the Assistant Secretary of Defense. It was his rejoinder to the trio of Saddamite patrons meeting in Moscow the last two days, the latest installment of their moralizing humbug and diplomatic maneuvers at countering what the French media called the Anglo-Saxon coalition . . . a term, as at least one French journalist courageously noted, was used throughout WWII by the Nazi-collaborating Vichy regime. The Wolfowitz suggestion was then taken up yesterday at a meeting of the World Bank, and guess what?

The pacifist and humanitarian Germans --- innovators, as the German media have put it, of the new German moral way in foreign policy --- refused categorically to write off the debt, estimated to amount to well over $120 billion (a staggering amount for such a small GDP, itself in shambles right now) and with about $4 billion owed the Germans. Turns out, evidently, the German Schroeder government can't even keep up its sanctimonious public posture when it comes down to hard cash. See The Guardian

Given all this, little wonder that the icon of politically correct hokum and anti-Americanism in Germany, the weekly Der Spiegel, has run a long article in which Germans, Russians, and Frenchmen --- businessmen and politicians --- express their anxiety about what American and British soldiers may discover in Iraqi Saddamite files about their decades of lucrative chicaneries and lavish support for the brutal fascist regime. Der Spiegel (Note that excerpts from the article will appear at the end here.) As for the Russians, they already have more than enough reason to nurture anxiety. According to the Daily Telegraph, top-secret documents taken from Saddam's intelligence agency the last day or so and passed to the paper (no doubt from a British source) set out in detail the military and intelligence assistance the Russians were giving Saddam's regime right up to the start of the war . . . including listening in on Blair's conversations with other statesmen. Oh, and not to forget that Moscow also provided Saddam with a list of hit-men available in the West for assassination contracts.
Top secret documents obtained by The Telegraph in Baghdad show that Russia provided Saddam Hussein's regime with wide-ranging assistance in the months leading up to the war, including intelligence on private conversations between Tony Blair and other Western leaders.

Moscow also provided Saddam with lists of assassins available for "hits" in the West and details of arms deals to neighbouring countries. The two countries also signed agreements to share intelligence, help each other to "obtain" visas for agents to go to other countries and to exchange information on the activities of Osama bin Laden, the al-Qa'eda leader.

The documents detailing the extent of the links between Russia and Saddam were obtained from the heavily bombed headquarters of the Iraqi intelligence service in Baghdad yesterday.

The sprawling complex, which for years struck fear into Iraqis, has been the target of looters and ordinary Iraqis searching for information about relatives who disappeared during Saddam's rule


A Few Voices of Home-Grown Criticism in France and Belgium

The intensity behind the French, German, and Russian demands of late --- besides resistance to canceling Iraqi debts, the insistence that the UN take control of Iraqi reconstruction --- has now reached such startling heights that Chirac himself has come under a limited drumbeat of criticism, from some of the media and not least from some of his own party members. They think that his anti-American campaign, which consisted of categorically resisting any ultimatum to Iraq no matter what, and then trying to stymie the US and UK at every turn elsewhere over Iraq --- even to the point of taking the unprecedented stand in NATO of resisting any pre-war support for Turkey, a fellow ally --- has now gone too far . . . though whether their protests reflect any awareness that the French come across as a country propping up a vicious fascist regime is another matter. Most likely, they reflect two other concerns: German diplomacy is probably going to alter at some point, which will leave France essentially isolated in the EU as a staunchly anti-American force (with tiny Belgium tagging along behind), and French business --- which enjoyed the top position at the Iraqi trough in Saddam's days --- is likely to find itself crowed out of anything substantive that's left there in the post-Saddam era.

For French criticisms of Chirac, see France


Appeasement at Home and Abroad: A EU Tradition in Many Countries

Note something. Even tiny Belgium (10 million) may not be a fully reliable back-up for the French (56 million). There, for weeks, the government's leaders were, if anything, even more strident in encouraging nation-wide anti-American demonstrations that, as in France, became violent and mixed in the by now predictable anti-Semitism of thuggish Muslim youths that were galvanized by the Iraqi conflict and government and media rhetoric. Remember, here: Jews, Israel, and the US are now seen as part of the same conspiracy against Islam in radical fundamentalism, something --- note further in the article that follows --- Villepin, the French foreign minister, himself recently voiced if with coded words. Such fundamentalism, as it happens, has been sweeping much of the younger generation of Muslims throughout the EU as opposed to the older generations. As the article shows, the government now has begun to have some second thoughts and recognized that things have gotten out of hand.

Will it really matter?


The Foreign Side of EU Appeasement

To answer the question left hanging fire: hard to say; probably not.

The chief reason: In Belgium --- as in France and Germany and most of the other EU countries --- the decline in moral fiber and the steadfast willingness to appease both frightening dictatorships and increasingly violent, crime-raging Muslim youth in the EU have been put on graphic display, and the spectacle won't be easily forgotten by the US public. Abroad, the Germans, French, and most other EU states are only too happy to adhere to the status quo and do business with corrupt, brutal strongmen in power --- the stronger they are, the more secure the economic loot in trade and investments; the more corrupt, the easier to bribe them for specific deals, such as Laurent Kabila, the tyrant who shot his way to power in the Congo a year or two ago . . . only to be killed in turn; or almost all the other dictators in power in French-speaking Africa and the current Arab states ruled by despots.

As for France, say what you will about it. At least French sleaze and deal-making have this virtue: they're strictly non-partisan. Sleaze, corruption, wire-pulling, appeasing bloody tyrants abroad --- preferring even to deal with them --- are rife no matter who's in power.

Thus Francois Mitterand, the Socialist President of France from 1981-1995 --- a man, according to a former socialist Premier of his (Michel Ricard), congenitally incapable of telling the truth --- saw to it that his son became a billionaire selling arms to the dicatorial client-states and other friends of the French; and Hacques Chirac, president since 1995, has been engaged in sleazy corruption and deal-making for himself and his family and friends for decades . . . all the way back to the time he was the Prime Minister in 1976 and signed a nice lucrative deal to give Saddam Hussein his first nuclear reactor, something even the Soviet Communists balked at doing, knowing full well what Saddam's intents were. In public service all his life, an ENA-arch (Ecole National de l'Administration that produces the technocrats who run the French state, nationalized industries, the TV and radio media, the transportation system, the banks, and most big private firms once they retire, and who supply almost all the Prime Ministers, other key Ministers, and Presidents), Chirac has managed to buy a 16th century Chateau and a huge very costly apartment, among other benefits, while in office. Last year, the French left --- faced with a choice after the first round of voting in the presidential primary between Chirac on the right and Jean-Marie Le Pen on the extreme right (18% of the vote, with another 12% going to extremist left-wing parties of a Trotskyite nature) --- put it effectively in capsule form when their slogan became, "Votez l'escroc, pas le facho": Vote the Gangster, Not the Fascist. Oddly, no such slogan was visible during the even more lucrative orgies of seedy deal-making and corruption during the Mitterand era . . . the former president himself lying about his Vichy-government service, then about his role as a Socialist Interior Minister approving torture by the French army in Algeria, then about his secret second-wife and child, then about all the corruption and wire-pulling that made his other family rich, then about his terminal sickness, then about . . . well, truth-telling wasn't his strength, any more than Chirac's.

Small wonder that last year at this time, just as the presidential election was getting under way, the three investigating magistrates into Chirac's chicaneries resigned in protest, followed by a press release in which they denounced all the obstacles that had stonewalled their investigations for years on end. France, they said, turned out to be surprisingly bereft of a rule of law for the top dogs: instead, there was one law for ordinary Frenchmen, another for the powerful.

And of course what we've found out the last few months is just how extensive French aid --- trade, investments, oil technologies, lucrative contracts galore --- has been in helping to prop up its client, Saddam Hussein. For that matter, the peripatetic and noticeably pathetic French foreign minister, Villepin (who assures us that daily, however ridiculed, he strives to expand French prestige) has just arrived in Syria in time for a public statement to defend its blood-soaked, repressive Ba'athist regime --- especially in the teeth of US official criticisms of that regime's support for the Iraqi thugs seeking refuge there. Villepin This defense will, of course, gain support from the other Arab despots, but in largely non-behavioral ways. They aren't fools, venal and clinging to power-mad as they happen to be, and they know what the power shift in the Middle East means.


The Domestic Side: Appeasing EU Muslim Communites Out of Fear

The growth of fundamentalist appeals to violent young Muslims --- at a time when the EU national birth rates of native Europeans are drastically in decline --- will almost certainly lead to further efforts at governments' appeasing them, and no less certainly will all the same inflame relations with the wider national populations. Remember that the wave of populist conservative party breakthroughs in most of the EU, starting three years ago, has been fed by a growing sense of personal insecurity, ignored or pooh-poohed by established parties for years. The reality of violent crime, and its connections to Muslim youths in ghetto-like conditions in every urban city in the EU, is still not something that is frankly talked about in detail in the established parties or the politically correct media --- in France in the summer of 2002, a French sociologist who published a book-length study showing that violent crime was worse in France than in the US was denounced essentially as either a fool or an American fellow-traveler --- and yet the "fear factor," as one article put it summarizing a study by a human rights organization in the EU, is very real.

The reality? These days, you're six times more likely to be mugged on the streets of London than New York; the US ranks below most of the EU in violent crime according to the best UN studies (carried out by a Dutch university team for over a dozen years now and at regular intervals); and Americans are the most confident of their police and the least concerned of all industrial peoples, Japan included, when we go out in public. The US stands out in its homicide rate, that's all (nothing insignificant though).


US-EU Islamic Communities Compared

Note in this connection that the EU Muslim population is several times larger than in the US. Officially, in the EU with its 380 million people, there are 15 million Muslim immigrants, but the figure is likely to be well over 20 million what with illegals. What's more, the birth rate is booming even as it continues to fall off among the native European peoples. By all accounts, France has the highest percentage, somewhere between 7.0 - 9.0%. By contrast, in the US with its 280 million people, there are somewhere between 2 and 3 million Muslims, according to two academic studies carried out last year, and almost all are well educated and have an income higher than the average American, which means that few US Muslims are alienated --- a state of mind pervasive among EU Muslim youths. Most American Arabs, moreover, are Christians and have been here for generations. As for the connection between the fundamentalist-leaning Muslim youths in the EU --- alienated, angry, doing poorly in school, with high rates of unemployment --- and the "fear factor" mentioned a moment ago, remember that it has two sides, this fear: growing discrimination against rapidly swelling numbers of Muslim immigrants, and growing backlashes and Islamophobia among the native Europeans.

"The specter of Islamic terrorism," a lengthy investigative article carried out by the Los Angeles Times Paris-based office last year, "hovers over high-crime neighborhoods with large Muslim populations. Extremists in mosques and prisons have recruited thousands of undercover warriors who have been trained by Al Qaeda and other networks, according to anti-terrorism officials . . . ." Again, the Times reporter noted, "the most worrisome trends are a spreading drug-and-thug culture, especially among young men of North African descent, and the increased presence of assault rifles and other heavy weapons smuggled from the Balkans." For a very updated if truncated analysis on French fears in officialdom of its potentially explosive Muslim community, the largest in the EU, see last week's story in the London Observer

Or, as was noted last year, (see Fear factor turning EU against Muslims )

BRUSSELS: Fear of Islam led to increased hostilities against Muslims in the European Union after the terrorist attacks on the United States, a new report shows. The report "Islamophobia in the EU after 11 September, 2001" was released on Thursday by the Vienna-based European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC), an official agency of the European Union (EU). The report records the results of studies carried out in the 15 member states of the EU on aggression against Muslims from September 11 until the end of last year. The report says "Islamic communities and other vulnerable groups have become targets of increased hostilities since September 11." It says: "September 11 brought a greater sense of fear across the EU, where anxieties about the perceived threat from potential internal terrorists and reciprocal attacks in Europe became incorporated into those prejudices that were already identifiably existent in numerous nationally constrained manifestations of ethnic xenophobia."

The highest rise in attacks on Muslims was reported in Denmark, Britain, Holland and Sweden. But Beate Winkler, director of EMUC, warns against reading into these figures too closely. The four countries reporting the highest number of incidents are those with the most efficient reporting systems, she says. The EMUC is still working on a common system of indicators so that fair comparisons can be made, she says. Winkler says it was surprising that the "fear factor" became so important within such a short period following the terrorist attacks. But Bob Purkiss, EUMC Chair, says the warning signs were already there. "September 11 merely acted as a detonator of feelings that have failed to be adequately addressed," he says. Many far-right and neo-Nazi groups capitalised on this fear, the report says. The report found that visible traits of Muslims such as the headscarf that many Muslim women wear provoked attacks. "Muslims, especially women, asylum-seekers and others, including those who 'look' of Muslim or Arab descent were at times targeted for aggressions," the report says.

Most recorded attacks did not involve physical violence. In one case in Germany, the Islamic religious community Hessen received daily hate mail and calls, especially against women wearing scarves. Non-governmental organizations in Spain told researchers that they found the number of violent acts to be low. Spanish reports included racist graffiti on mosques and Muslim shops and incidents between children of Moroccan descent and youngsters in some schools.-Dawn/The InterPress News Service.


Will We Forget?

All of which brings us circling back to where we started this commentary, the mix of unctuousness, moral humbug, and greed of the two long-term US allies in West Europe, and Russia. This volatile combination has fed demagogy at home --- including violent anti-US and anti-Jewish demonstrations --- and served, among other things, as a cover for sheer economic interest that helped prop up one of the most vicious regimes in recent history. We now all are anxious to see what records and bureaucrats we can find in Iraq that will throw more light on the machinations of these three countries in Saddamite Iraq over the last generation.


First, from the WSJ, on French and Belgian Demagogy

On all this, see the WSJ article by the Wall Street Journal reporter in Brussels, Michael Gonzales, excerpted below:

'Lest We Forget France and Belgium pay the price for backing Saddam."

BRUSSELS-- . . . "How did we get here?" asked a former French minister in a newspaper column recently. "Here" is a situation in which French Jews are being beaten up in the streets of Paris and in which President Jacques Chirac has to write to Queen Elizabeth to apologize for the desecration of British tombs in France, and in which one-third of the French have been pulling for Saddam Hussein to win. An even better question is who brought us here. The former environment minister, Corinne Lepage, lays the blame on the government and an obeisant media for "having wanted to stigmatize American policy in excessive fashion." But it's time to name names.

Mr. Chirac brought us here, as did his foreign minister Dominique de Villepin. In Belgium the foreign, defense and prime ministers--Louis Michel, André Flahaut and Guy Verhofstadt--have brought their country to shame too. And that's just the start.


Mr. de Villepin, the pinup boy of diplomacy in "progressive" circles, was not just content to travel the world in an attempt to derail U.S. policy. Reportedly, he also has made instructive comments that make clear "how we got here." Mr. de Villepin, sources say, last week told members of the National Assembly that "hawks" in the U.S. administration are "in the hands of [Ariel] Sharon." According to the satirical newspaper Le Canard Enchaine, he went so far as to attack a "pro-Zionist" lobby made up of Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, White House staffer Elliot Abrams and Pentagon adviser Richard Perle, all Jews. But it's not just a juif thing. Mr. de Villepin--who claims in his book "The Cry of the Gargoyle" to be a fan of both Machiavelli and Napoleon--never shies from messianic statements. He told legislators that the fight over Iraq was actually one against "Anglo-Saxon liberalism," an Assembly member told me.

But indignant reactions are now being heard. An editorial on Radio France Internationale noticed that the phrase "the Anglo-American forces," constantly used instead of "coalition forces," is borrowed straight from Vichy propaganda. In her own j'accuse for Le Figaro, Ms. Lepage said that to the errors of the media and the leaders, "one can add the pacifist demonstrations, which have nothing peaceful about them." She could "bear witness to the fact that these demonstrations are far from gatherings of real defenders of the rights of man or of peace. These are hordes orchestrated by the security services of Islamicist groups which . . . shout extremely violent slogans in which racial and anti-Semitic hatred is expressed without the least taboo."

Small wonder that the Interior Ministry itself says a mere spark could "turn anti-Americanism in the suburbs into uncontrolled violence." That observation comes too late for Noam Levy, a Jew beaten with an iron bar while at an antiwar demonstration. He said he was shocked by "the anti-Zionist slogans." (He should check with the Quai d'Orsay about the provenance of these feelings.) And it's too late for the families of Britons who died defending France in World War I, and whose tombs near Calais were vandalized. Among the graffiti on a cenotaph: "Dig up your rubbish, it's contaminating our soil."

"France," wrote Mr. Chirac to Queen Elizabeth with all the pomp--not to mention pomposity--at his command, "knows what it owes to the sacrifice and courage of British soldiers who came to help her recover her liberty in the fight against barbarity. . . . From the French people and from me personally, I offer you my deepest regrets." Too late. Mr. Chirac has himself refused to say which side he backs in the war. No wonder a third of the French tell pollsters that they want Saddam to win. Mr. Chirac is basking in 60% approval ratings, but he's paid for them dearly. Demonstrators in the street shout "Long live Chirac, stop the Jews!" . . . .


Second: Der Spiegel's Comments on German, French, and Russian Anxieties about the Revelations that Iraqi Files Might Contain

"Apprehensive about victory"

War opponents Russia, Germany and France are worried that the United States will find new evidence of their roles in the arming of Iraq, and will use it to its political advantage.

It began with small caliber weapons and developed into an exchange of heavy verbal artillery. The Americans complained of "a disturbing turn of events" that "raises concerns." Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov angrily responded to what he referred to as "unfounded allegations." Then, according to ear-witness reports, voices were raised during a telephone conversation between Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin. After the Americans had accused the Russians of having provided Iraq with bazookas, night-vision equipment and jamming transmitters against their GPS-guided weapons, the dispute almost began to take on Cold War proportions. But this time Russia was not the only enemy. Anyone who was involved in arming the Saddam regime and now stands by his side in battle can expect to incur the wrath of the Americans, including the Germans and the French.

The Germans, lacking the confidence to display the Russians' stoic gruffness, prepared for possible accusations by the Americans in their own way. Before the first bombs began to fall on Iraq, archivists at the Federal Chancellery sorted through files long since placed into storage at the Foreign Ministry and Ministry of Economic Affairs, many of which, such as handwritten memos, had already been submitted to long-term Chancellor Helmut Kohl. More recent reports submitted to the UN Security Council by the Iraqis were quickly reviewed at the Customs Police Agency in Cologne. According to orders from Berlin, these documents were to be examined to determine whether they contain any new information. With the aid of powerful desk lamps, six investigators assigned exclusively to this task even attempted to decipher text that had been blacked out under pressure from the United States.

However, efforts at political damage control may be too late. "What will the world discover once the war has ended? Which countries secretly helped Saddam develop his weapons of terror?," asked conservative columnist William Safire, full of anticipation, in the "New York Times" the week before last. And publicist Kenneth Timmermann, author of an influential book on the arming of Iraq ("The Death Lobby: How the West Armed Iraq"), predicts: "We will experience a completely new discussion once again. And you Germans will not look good when that happens."

The Russians were the first victims. Unlike the French and Germans, who were especially active in supplying Saddam with weapons in the 1980s, the Russians have apparently done so until recently. . .


Third: French Crime, "The Barbarians at the Gate,"

Theodore Dalrymple (a British Psychiatrist) "Everyone knows la douce France: the France of wonderful food and wine, beautiful landscapes, splendid châteaux and cathedrals. More tourists (60 million a year) visit France than any country in the world by far. Indeed, the Germans have a saying, not altogether reassuring for the French: "to live as God in France." Half a million Britons have bought second homes there; many of them bore their friends back home with how they order these things better in France.

But there is another growing, and much less reassuring, side to France. I go to Paris about four times a year and thus have a sense of the evolving preoccupations of the French middle classes. A few years ago it was schools: the much vaunted French educational system was falling apart; illiteracy was rising; children were leaving school as ignorant as they entered, and much worse-behaved. For the last couple of years, though, it has been crime: l'insécurité, les violences urbaines, les incivilités. Everyone has a tale to tell, and no dinner party is complete without a horrifying story. Every crime, one senses, means a vote for Le Pen or whoever replaces him.

I first saw l'insécurité for myself about eight months ago. It was just off the Boulevard Saint-Germain, in a neighborhood where a tolerably spacious apartment would cost $1 million. Three youths—Rumanians—were attempting quite openly to break into a parking meter with large screwdrivers to steal the coins. It was four o'clock in the afternoon; the sidewalks were crowded, and the nearby cafés were full. The youths behaved as if they were simply pursuing a normal and legitimate activity, with nothing to fear.

Eventually, two women in their sixties told them to stop. The youths, laughing until then, turned murderously angry, insulted the women, and brandished their screwdrivers. The women retreated, and the youths resumed their "work."

A man of about 70 then told them to stop. They berated him still more threateningly, one of them holding a screwdriver as if to stab him in the stomach. I moved forward to help the man, but the youths, still shouting abuse and genuinely outraged at being interrupted in the pursuit of their livelihood, decided to run off. But it all could have ended very differently.

Several things struck me about the incident: the youths' sense of invulnerability in broad daylight; the indifference to their behavior of large numbers of people who would never dream of behaving in the same way; that only the elderly tried to do anything about the situation, though physically least suited to do so. Could it be that only they had a view of right and wrong clear enough to wish to intervene? That everyone younger than they thought something like: "Refugees . . . hard life . . . very poor . . . too young to know right from wrong and anyway never taught . . . no choice for them . . . punishment cruel and useless"? The real criminals, indeed, were the drivers whose coins filled the parking meters: were they not polluting the world with their cars?

Another motive for inaction was that, had the youths been arrested, nothing would have happened to them. They would have been back on the streets within the hour. Who would risk a screwdriver in the liver to safeguard the parking meters of Paris for an hour?

The laxisme of the French criminal justice system is now notorious. Judges often make remarks indicating their sympathy for the criminals they are trying (based upon the usual generalizations about how society, not the criminal, is to blame); and the day before I witnessed the scene on the Boulevard Saint-Germain, 8,000 police had marched to protest the release from prison on bail of an infamous career armed robber and suspected murderer before his trial for yet another armed robbery, in the course of which he shot someone in the head. Out on bail before this trial, he then burgled a house. Surprised by the police, he and his accomplices shot two of them dead and seriously wounded a third. He was also under strong suspicion of having committed a quadruple murder a few days previously, in which a couple who owned a restaurant, and two of their employees, were shot dead in front of the owners' nine-year-old daughter.

The left-leaning Libération, one of the two daily newspapers the French intelligentsia reads, dismissed the marchers, referring with disdainful sarcasm to la fièvre flicardiaire—cop fever. The paper would no doubt have regarded the murder of a single journalist—that is to say, of a full human being—differently, let alone the murder of two journalists or six; and of course no one in the newspaper acknowledged that an effective police force is as vital a guarantee of personal freedom as a free press, and that the thin blue line that separates man from brutality is exactly that: thin. This is not a decent thing for an intellectual to say, however true it might be . . . ."

Where does the increase in crime come from? The geographical answer: from the public housing projects that encircle and increasingly besiege every French city or town of any size, Paris especially. In these housing projects lives an immigrant population numbering several million, from North and West Africa mostly, along with their French-born descendants and a smattering of the least successful members of the French working class. From these projects, the excellence of the French public transport system ensures that the most fashionable arrondissements are within easy reach of the most inveterate thief and vandal.

Architecturally, the housing projects sprang from the ideas of Le Corbusier, the Swiss totalitarian architect—and still the untouchable hero of architectural education in France—who believed that a house was a machine for living in, that areas of cities should be entirely separated from one another by their function, and that the straight line and the right angle held the key to wisdom, virtue, beauty, and efficiency. The mulish opposition that met his scheme to pull down the whole of the center of Paris and rebuild it according to his "rational" and "advanced" ideas baffled and frustrated him.

The inhuman, unadorned, hard-edged geometry of these vast housing projects in their unearthly plazas brings to mind Le Corbusier's chilling and tyrannical words: "The despot is not a man. It is the . . . correct, realistic, exact plan . . . that will provide your solution once the problem has been posed clearly. . . . This plan has been drawn up well away from . . . the cries of the electorate or the laments of society's victims. It has been drawn up by serene and lucid minds."

But what is the problem to which these housing projects, known as cités, are the solution, conceived by serene and lucid minds like Le Corbusier's? It is the problem of providing an Habitation de Loyer Modéré—a House at Moderate Rent, shortened to HLM—for the workers, largely immigrant, whom the factories needed during France's great industrial expansion from the 1950s to the 1970s, when the unemployment rate was 2 percent and cheap labor was much in demand. By the late eighties, however, the demand had evaporated, but the people whose labor had satisfied it had not; and together with their descendants and a constant influx of new hopefuls, they made the provision of cheap housing more necessary than ever . . . .

he average visitor gives not a moment's thought to these Cités of Darkness as he speeds from the airport to the City of Light. But they are huge and important—and what the visitor would find there, if he bothered to go, would terrify him.

A kind of anti-society has grown up in them—a population that derives the meaning of its life from the hatred it bears for the other, "official," society in France. This alienation, this gulf of mistrust—greater than any I have encountered anywhere else in the world, including in the black townships of South Africa during the apartheid years—is written on the faces of the young men, most of them permanently unemployed, who hang out in the pocked and potholed open spaces between their logements. When you approach to speak to them, their immobile faces betray not a flicker of recognition of your shared humanity; they make no gesture to smooth social intercourse. If you are not one of them, you are against them.

Their hatred of official France manifests itself in many ways that scar everything around them. Young men risk life and limb to adorn the most inaccessible surfaces of concrete with graffiti—BAISE LA POLICE, fuck the police, being the favorite theme. The iconography of the cités is that of uncompromising hatred and aggression: a burned-out and destroyed community-meeting place in the Les Tarterets project, for example, has a picture of a science-fiction humanoid, his fist clenched as if to spring at the person who looks at him, while to his right is an admiring portrait of a huge slavering pit bull, a dog by temperament and training capable of tearing out a man's throat—the only breed of dog I saw in the cités, paraded with menacing swagger by their owners.

There are burned-out and eviscerated carcasses of cars everywhere. Fire is now fashionable in the cités: in Les Tarterets, residents had torched and looted every store—with the exceptions of one government-subsidized supermarket and a pharmacy. The underground parking lot, charred and blackened by smoke like a vault in an urban hell, is permanently closed.

When agents of official France come to the cités, the residents attack them. The police are hated: one young Malian, who comfortingly believed that he was unemployable in France because of the color of his skin, described how the police invariably arrived like a raiding party, with batons swinging—ready to beat whoever came within reach, irrespective of who he was or of his innocence of any crime, before retreating to safety to their commissariat. The conduct of the police, he said, explained why residents threw Molotov cocktails at them from their windows. Who could tolerate such treatment at the hands of une police fasciste?

Molotov cocktails also greeted the president of the republic, Jacques Chirac, and his interior minister when they recently campaigned at two cités, Les Tarterets and Les Musiciens. The two dignitaries had to beat a swift and ignominious retreat, like foreign overlords visiting a barely held and hostile suzerainty: they came, they saw, they scuttled off.

Antagonism toward the police might appear understandable, but the conduct of the young inhabitants of the cités toward the firemen who come to rescue them from the fires that they have themselves started gives a dismaying glimpse into the depth of their hatred for mainstream society. They greet the admirable firemen (whose motto is Sauver ou périr, save or perish) with Molotov cocktails and hails of stones when they arrive on their mission of mercy, so that armored vehicles frequently have to protect the fire engines.

Benevolence inflames the anger of the young men of the cités as much as repression, because their rage is inseparable from their being. Ambulance men who take away a young man injured in an incident routinely find themselves surrounded by the man's "friends," and jostled, jeered at, and threatened: behavior that, according to one doctor I met, continues right into the hospital, even as the friends demand that their associate should be treated at once, before others. . . .

The state, while concerning itself with the details of their housing, their education, their medical care, and the payment of subsidies for them to do nothing, abrogates its responsibility completely in the one area in which the state's responsibility is absolutely inalienable: law and order. In order to placate, or at least not to inflame, disaffected youth, the ministry of the interior has instructed the police to tread softly (that is to say, virtually not at all, except by occasional raiding parties when inaction is impossible) in the more than 800 zones sensibles—sensitive areas—that surround French cities and that are known collectively as la Zone.

But human society, like nature, abhors a vacuum, and so authority of a kind, with its own set of values, occupies the space where law and order should be—the authority and brutal values of psychopathic criminals and drug dealers. The absence of a real economy and of law means, in practice, an economy and an informal legal system based on theft and drug-trafficking. In Les Tarterets, for example, I observed two dealers openly distributing drugs and collecting money while driving around in their highly conspicuous BMW convertible, clearly the monarchs of all they surveyed. Both of northwest African descent, one wore a scarlet baseball cap backward, while the other had dyed blond hair, contrasting dramatically with his complexion. Their faces were as immobile as those of potentates receiving tribute from conquered tribes. They drove everywhere at maximum speed in low gear and high noise: they could hardly have drawn more attention to themselves if they tried. They didn't fear the law: rather, the law feared them.

I watched their proceedings in the company of old immigrants from Algeria and Morocco, who had come to France in the early 1960s. They too lived in Les Tarterets and had witnessed its descent into a state of low-level insurgency. They were so horrified by daily life that they were trying to leave, to escape their own children and grandchildren: but once having fallen into the clutches of the system of public housing, they were trapped. They wanted to transfer to a cité, if such existed, where the new generation did not rule: but they were without leverage—or piston—in the giant system of patronage that is the French state. And so they had to stay put, puzzled, alarmed, incredulous, and bitter at what their own offspring had become, so very different from what they had hoped and expected. They were better Frenchmen than either their children or grandchildren: they would never have whistled and booed at the Marseillaise, as their descendants did before the soccer match between France and Algeria in 2001, alerting the rest of France to the terrible canker in its midst.

Whether France was wise to have permitted the mass immigration of people culturally very different from its own population to solve a temporary labor shortage and to assuage its own abstract liberal conscience is disputable: there are now an estimated 8 or 9 million people of North and West African origin in France, twice the number in 1975—and at least 5 million of them are Muslims. Demographic projections (though projections are not predictions) suggest that their descendants will number 35 million before this century is out, more than a third of the likely total population of France.

Indisputably, however, France has handled the resultant situation in the worst possible way. Unless it assimilates these millions successfully, its future will be grim. But it has separated and isolated immigrants and their descendants geographically into dehumanizing ghettos; it has pursued economic policies to promote unemployment and create dependence among them, with all the inevitable psychological consequences; it has flattered the repellent and worthless culture that they have developed; and it has withdrawn the protection of the law from them, allowing them to create their own lawless order.

No one should underestimate the danger that this failure poses, not only for France but also for the world. The inhabitants of the cités are exceptionally well armed. When the professional robbers among them raid a bank or an armored car delivering cash, they do so with bazookas and rocket launchers, and dress in paramilitary uniforms. From time to time, the police discover whole arsenals of Kalashnikovs in the cités. There is a vigorous informal trade between France and post-communist Eastern Europe: workshops in underground garages in the cités change the serial numbers of stolen luxury cars prior to export to the East, in exchange for sophisticated weaponry.

A profoundly alienated population is thus armed with serious firepower; and in conditions of violent social upheaval, such as France is in the habit of experiencing every few decades, it could prove difficult to control. The French state is caught in a dilemma between honoring its commitments to the more privileged section of the population, many of whom earn their livelihoods from administering the dirigiste economy, and freeing the labor market sufficiently to give the hope of a normal life to the inhabitants of the cités. Most likely, the state will solve the dilemma by attempts to buy off the disaffected with more benefits and rights, at the cost of higher taxes that will further stifle the job creation that would most help the cité dwellers. If that fails, as in the long run it will, harsh repression will follow.

But among the third of the population of the cités that is of North African Muslim descent, there is an option that the French, and not only the French, fear. For imagine yourself a youth in Les Tarterets or Les Musiciens, intellectually alert but not well educated, believing yourself to be despised because of your origins by the larger society that you were born into, permanently condemned to unemployment by the system that contemptuously feeds and clothes you, and surrounded by a contemptible nihilistic culture of despair, violence, and crime. Is it not possible that you would seek a doctrine that would simultaneously explain your predicament, justify your wrath, point the way toward your revenge, and guarantee your salvation, especially if you were imprisoned? Would you not seek a "worthwhile" direction for the energy, hatred, and violence seething within you, a direction that would enable you to do evil in the name of ultimate good? It would require only a relatively few of like mind to cause havoc. Islamist proselytism flourishes in the prisons of France (where 60 percent of the inmates are of immigrant origin), as it does in British prisons; and it takes only a handful of Zacharias Moussaouis to start a conflagration.

The French knew of this possibility well before September 11: in 1994, their special forces boarded a hijacked aircraft that landed in Marseilles and killed the hijackers—an unusual step for the French, who have traditionally preferred to negotiate with, or give in to, terrorists. But they had intelligence suggesting that, after refueling, the hijackers planned to fly the plane into the Eiffel Tower. In this case, no negotiation was possible.

A terrible chasm has opened up in French society, dramatically exemplified by a story that an acquaintance told me. He was driving along a six-lane highway with housing projects on both sides, when a man tried to dash across the road. My acquaintance hit him at high speed and killed him instantly.

According to French law, the participants in a fatal accident must stay as near as possible to the scene, until officials have elucidated all the circumstances. The police therefore took my informant to a kind of hotel nearby, where there was no staff, and the door could be opened only by inserting a credit card into an automatic billing terminal. Reaching his room, he discovered that all the furniture was of concrete, including the bed and washbasin, and attached either to the floor or walls.

The following morning, the police came to collect him, and he asked them what kind of place this was. Why was everything made of concrete?

"But don't you know where you are, monsieur?" they asked. "C'est la Zone, c'est la Zone."

La Zone is a foreign country: they do things differently there.

Surrounding the City of Light are threatening Cities of Darkness.

Replies: 1 Comment

I think there is a nexus here, too, to anti-Americanism in France. The "Barbarians at the Gate" article shows the pressures within France to implement structural economic reforms that would offer immigrants economic opportunities outside existing public and private institutions which reflect and perpetuate social/class hierarchies (e.g., regulatory reforms which would allow immigrants to flourish in small businesses that can grow into large businesses, as they often do in the United States, or which would allow meritocracies that don't require the imprimatur of elite institutions). That such reforms would look a lot like the "Anglo-American liberalism" isn't lost on French elites who view economic liberalism as a threat to the patronage system that preserves and perpetuates existing social/class hierarchies. The face of that resistance in foreign affairs is anti-Americanism, as is noted in the Michael Gonzales article when he quotes Dominique de Villepin telling legislators that the French position on Iraq is all about countering Anglo-American liberalism.

Posted by John @ 04/14/2003 12:29 AM PST