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Civilization Under Siege—The Riots in Paris

“Civilization is hideously fragile,” argued C. P. Snow. “There’s not much between us and the horrors underneath, just about a coat of varnish.”

Snow’s statement takes on ominous overtones in light of the raging riots in and around Paris. Over the past nearly two weeks, demonstrations, rioting, car burnings, and various other acts of violence have spread throughout the suburban enclaves where the city’s ethnic minorities–mostly immigrants from North Africa–are congregated. The violence is not limited to France. Similar violence has erupted in Brussels and other European cities. Clearly, something has gone horribly wrong.

Even as many in the Western media attempt to downplay the extent and nature of this violence, the smoke is spreading, and the debris is mounting. The world has watched as France has been thrown into a state of emergency, with riots, street fighting, and arson enveloping entire neighborhoods. The weak, slow, and confused response of the French government has only exacerbated the problem. Even as the government declared a state of emergency, French authorities still deny the extent of the disorder.

For years now, observers have warned that Europe has put itself in a position of tremendous vulnerability. Even as European birth rates have fallen below population replacement levels, immigrants, largely from Muslim lands, have been eagerly received and put to work. In one sense, many Western European nations built the economic expansions they experienced during the 1960s and 1970s on a base of immigrant labor.

Now, France and its neighboring countries are reaping what they have sown. The economic growth of the 1960s and 1970s has been replaced with economic stagnation and rampant unemployment. The young men now rioting in the streets of Paris represent the second generation of immigrants, and they face a bleak future with little hope of gaining jobs or a chance to obtain the European vision of happiness and prosperity.

Furthermore, they don’t want to embrace that European worldview in the first place. To a far greater extent than their parents, these second-generation inhabitants of minority enclaves want to reassert their Islamic identity and force their agenda upon the nation.

France is now home to an estimated six million Muslims, most of African descent. This Muslim population, the largest in Europe, represents almost one tenth of the total population of France. “The government hasn’t really realized we’re facing a major political crisis,” said Patrick Lozes, president of the Circle for the Promotion of Diversity in France told The Washington Post. “The French social model is exploding.”

Indeed, as The Wall Street Journal noted, “France is the main testing ground of the continent’s ability to bring this rapidly growing minority into the fold.” It’s not going well.

The Europeans have prided themselves on rejecting America’s concept of the “melting pot.” Instead of assimilating immigrants into the larger national culture, France (along with most other Western European nations) has encouraged immigrants to maintain their own identity, language, and culture and has created a “salad bowl” model that now contributes to this civil strife.

Without doubt, the protests are linked to economic realities. Young men who have little opportunity for jobs and economic power can easily opt-out of the entire cultural project–especially when they were never invited to join in the first place. Unemployment among French citizens in their twenties now stands at twenty percent, and the unemployment rate for members of the country’s minority population of the same age is forty percent. This alone is a recipe for disaster.

Nevertheless, the economic explanation is woefully insufficient. The rioters, often identified in the press as “youths,” are agents of violent rage and social anarchy. As observer Mark Steyn comments, the riot is now taking on the shape of “a rather shrewd and disciplined campaign.”

The urban terrorists who are rioting in France have taken their cues from terrorists in the Middle East, where car burnings and similar demonstrations of violence have become a means of routine political protest.

Paul Belien, writing from Belgium, suggests that France is no longer able to defend itself against the forces of barbarism. “Unlike their fathers, who came to France from Muslim countries, accepting that, whilst remaining Muslims themselves, they had come to live in a non-Muslim country, the rioters see France as their country,” he explains. “They were born here. This land is their land. And since they are Muslims, this land, or at least a part of it, is Muslim as well.”

Furthermore, Belien argues that the rioters are not driven by anger, but by hatred. These young agents of disorder do not merely hate their limited economic prospects, but the very civilization that has harbored them. “It is hatred,” Belien insists. “Hatred caused not by injustice suffered, but stemming from a sense of superiority. The ‘youths’ do not blame the French, they despise them.”

Steyn suggests that the widespread outbreak of violence in Paris and beyond represents “the start of a long Eurabian civil war.” Steyn, along with other concerned observers, understands that Europe is heading for a Muslim future. After all, the Muslims are having babies at a rate that far exceeds native Europeans. Furthermore, they are driven by a clear political agenda, deep Islamic conviction, and a clear and coherent concept of what they want the culture to be–an Islamic state.

The French, on the other hand, while possessed of an enormous sense of cultural superiority, no longer possess a clear or coherent concept of what it means to be French. They stress tolerance, but have embraced forces of radical intolerance.

As Thomas Sowell explains, “In the name of tolerance, these countries have imported intolerance, of which growing antisemitism in Europe is just one example. In the name of respecting all cultures, Western nations have welcomed people who respect neither the cultures nor the rights of the population among whom they have settled.”

Steyn’s concept of “Eurabia” also points to the links between the violence in France and the simmering hatreds of the Middle East. For the last several decades, France has attempted to appease its Muslim citizens by supporting Arab governments, criticizing Israel, and offering financial assistance to radical groups such as Hamas. Presumably, the frustrated Muslim youth of France were to be thankful for the French government’s support of Muslim extremism in the Middle East. What possessed the French to think that the extremism would remain outside its own borders?

The unrest in France should serve to underline the deep cultural commitments that are fundamental to civilization. No society can withstand the threat of rampant anarchy from within. Civilization is always an achievement–a work and project embraced and supported by the vast majority of citizens, who enter into a social compact for the common good.

France has struggled with these ideals ever since the French Revolution. Unlike the American Revolution, which was established upon an inherited Christian worldview and the conservative streams of the Enlightenment, the French Revolution was radical, violent, anarchic, and highly secular.

Indeed, secularism has been an official French project for most of the last two centuries. Even as the French revolutionaries replaced the cross on the altar of the Cathedral of Notre Dame with a likeness of the goddess Reason, the French have prided themselves on the highly secular nature of their cultural experiment.

From one angle, this experiment appears to be a radical success. After all, only a small minority of French citizens consider themselves active Christians. Christianity plays almost no public role in the nation and its public culture. On the other hand, it is now apparent that this secularism, so eagerly embraced as a national project, has left a huge vacuum in the soul of French civilization. Even as nature abhors a vacuum, a secular vacuum will not long survive. The Muslim youths now rampaging through the streets of Paris want to fill that vacuum with Muslim rage.

Writer Theodore Dalrymple speaks of “barbarians at the gates of Paris.” Those who honor civilization and understand, like C. P. Snow, that civilization is “hideously fragile,” must look to France with concern and soberness. Will European civilization soon be a thing of the past?