Hurricane Katrina stands as a particularly ugly blight on the American
socio-political landscape. It underscored not just the rampant
ineptitude and cronyism present in various facets of American government,
but also the depths of barbarism to which some Americans are
apparently capable of sinking in moments of crisis. Some of the very
same people who were one day acting in a civilized fashion toward one
another were on the next day at one another's throats, violently
attacking rescue workers, looting stores for non-essentials, and
brutalizing their fellow man.
Interestingly, those who were quick to accuse the US of exceptional
guilt in such matters are conspicuously silent at present. I speak of
the on-going riots in France that ignited on the 27th of October and
that still rage to this day. Apparently attainment of the flash point
involved the electrocution of two teenagers of north African descent
who were hiding in a power substation to elude the police. Somehow
this isolated event, an event far more trivial than a hurricane and subsequent flood, has caused things to boil over with riots
spreading across the countryside.
Today for the first time they reached central Paris where youths put
the torch to shops, businesses, schools, and cars. Overnight a
reported 1295 cars were set ablaze across the country, the largest
number since the truculent festivities began over a week ago. Fire
fighters purport to have been attacked with baseball bats, pick-axes
and firearms. A police station found itself under siege. A gasoline
bomb making factory was discovered in a Parisian suburb.
How are such grotesque events possible? Quite frankly, France harbors
a large mass of immigrants that it has failed to integrate into the
social and economic landscape. Immigrants and their children comprise
10% of France's population, and many lack French citizenship and the
right to vote. They suffer the highest unemployment rate and find
themselves constantly at odds with the police. Further exacerbating
things are religious tensions that have come to the forefront of
political debate, an apt example of which would be last year's passage
of a law banning "conspicuous" religious items from state schools,
most notably Islamic head scarves.
France, of course, is not alone in this conundrum. The London
bombings of a few months ago were apparently executed by home grown
terrorists. This delineates a far more insidious problem. These
weren't merely people fresh off the boat who failed to thrive, but
rather people born and raised in England who failed to gain the sense
of national belonging that would prevent most people from blowing up
their fellow citizens. Immigrant related problems have been seething
for years, with 2001 seeing riots engulf northern Britain's immigrant
areas, an official report on which cited alienation, unemployment and
a general lack of opportunity as primary instigators. The latest
response by the government to all this has been to push a plan to
deport extremists, with little accompanying clarification on what
constitutes "extremism", making the USA-PATRIOT act look comparably
Presently amidst a panoply of squishy problems, the world at large
finds itself faced with serious challenges. The difference in quality
of life between first world and third world countries is dramatic,
thus rendering heavy immigration, or at least immigrative pressure,
unavoidable. Third worlders want what first worlders have and will do
nearly anything to get it.
Complicating things further still, the economies of first world
countries are inextricably tied to having large pools of immigrant
labor at their behest, whether it be in the construction, agricultural
or services industries. Most of the migrant laborers in the US aren't
even in the country legally, putting politicians in the awkward
position of balancing the competing goals of enforcing laws and not
wrecking the economy.
One cannot readily ascertain the causation directionality when it
comes to religious fanaticism and desperate poverty. They are distinct
problems, and yet in many ways they are nearly inseparable, feeding on
one another in a vicious cycle of hopelessness and violence, and
appearing throughout the world with alarming correlation. Regardless,
things are apt to get increasingly ugly as cultures
collide. It would be nice if religious inanity on the part of Islamic
fanatics inspired increased secularity throughout the world, but
instead it seems merely to inflame the passions of Christians and
Jews, such that we now have a collection of juggernauts rolling
inexorably toward one another.
The awful unspoken truth in all this is that the world probably
couldn't support a first world life style for all of its inhabitants,
even if we somehow resolved all of our conflicts tomorrow, certainly
not at the level to which America and similarly rich countries have
become accustomed. A large dose of misery is the entry on the ledger
that balances the affluence of the victors in the global arena. This
isn't even to judge said victors so much as to make a statement of
fact. A human's capacity for reason is finite and localized,
concentrated on himself and his immediate surroundings. It's only
when the pain gets ratcheted up on him that he will react.
This is not an American problem. It is a global problem.
Paris is burning.