France mirrors worldwide immigration problems
BRUSSELS, Oct 26, 2006 (AFP) – The wave of riots which swept across France a year ago has rocked the international image of the land of “liberty, equality and fraternity” and held a mirror up to integration problems elsewhere in the world, analysts say.
Friday marks the one-year anniversary of the start of three weeks of rioting in suburbs across France, sparked by the accidental deaths of two teenagers who hid from police in an electrical sub-station in the poor, immigrant Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois.
The story became a top international news story, as television viewers around the world watched pictures of burning cars and schools, dramatic evidence of the failure of the country's integration efforts.
“The riots were watched with great interest,” recalled Arnauld Miguet of the London School of Economics.
“The British considered that the French model had failed in a way but at the same time it wasn't all negative as there were plenty of things to learn,” he told AFP.
They applied some policies themselves to try to become more integrationist. For example, becoming a British national now requires a test to make sure the newcomer can speak English, a move against ghettoisation.
“The British say, as do many others, that there is a crisis in France and that things were going to come to a head at some time or other. They confront the same thing in their communities, in their ghettos.”
For Italian centre-left senator Andrea Manzella the French riots revealed a “social fragility”.
In Italy, where immigration is a recent phenomenon, “we took France as an example of success in that area,” she said.
“It has lost that prestige,” in the eyes of Italians, “but we understand that it is criss-crossed with deep social and ethnic divisions”.
Belgium was “concerned and horrified” at the situation in neighbouring France, says University of Liege philosophy professor Edouard Delruelle.
“The no-go zones, this type of incipient civil war, the de facto ghettos… create an image seen with a certain amount of fear,” said Delruelle, a former Belgian rapporteur on intercultural dialogue.
There were one or two cars torched in Belgium during the French riots, but the problem didn't spread.
“Of course there are problems in Belgium, like the rise of the extreme right, but also a strong rejection of the security policies incarnated by (French Interior Minister Nicolas) Sarkozy,” who famously described the young French rioters as “rabble”.
“I think that the crisis in the suburbs was terrible for France's image. Not so much in Belgium, because we are very near and we know that the country wasn't consumed by fire and blood, but undoubtedly in more distant countries”.
Further afield, US national radio talk-show host Glenn Beck sees Europe, and America, in denial over a suburban “civil war”.
“The Muslim extremists who have been lying in wait in Europe will rise up and wage war. It's on the verge already. In fact, in France the interior ministry has said that nearly 2,500 police officers have been wounded this year alone,” he said over the weekend.
“Europe is in full denial mode and so are we. A war is already going on, but it's a silent war that nobody wants to deal with,” he added.
Across the former iron curtain, Fyodor Lukianov, chief editor at the “Russia in Global Politics” review, said parallels were drawn between what happened in the French suburbs “and what could happen in Russia if we don't seriously face up to our own problems of integration”.
In Russia, unlike France, a need is still seen to limit immigration and insist on the assimilation of immigrants, he argued.
This tendency has grown in recent months with anti-Caucasian riots in the the northern Kondopoga area and by an anti-Georgian campaign in Moscow.
“But we must not forget that building a mono-national society in a multi-national country is very dangerous,” he warned.