France, Riots and the Poverty of Marxists

by Geoffrey Clarfield (September 2012)

On August 14, 2012 the BBC filed this report on the latest burst of urban violence in France:

Most of the explanations that are now flooding the media emanate from the academic Marxists or Marxist inspired left. They are only minimally persuasive. Let us look at them and see if we can dig deeper to find more satisfying explanations for this social unrest, as do archeologists when they are excavating a site.

The first is that of the politics of resentment. France managed to conquer and dominate most of North Africa for more than one hundred and fifty years. In doing so it established functioning colonies and provided Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia with a modern administration, modern roads, railways, communications, ports and hospitals. Along came Arab nationalism and French doubt in the justice of its colonial empires and presto, North African countries were free to be the authors of their own destinies. They joined the Arab league and countries like Algeria, who were left with an advanced oil exporting economy and billions of dollars in cash surpluses, descended into corruption and a recent civil war, which is a sign of their inability to modernize. Now all three are falling into the grips of radical Islam as best exemplified in the former moderate Arab state of Tunisia.

Ultimately, the regimes of these three countries have returned to their pre industrial patron client economies and any economic well being that had come with or from the French has declined, triggering a growing immigration to France where at least there was and is a chance of employment. The resentment triggered by this string of development and modernization failures must trigger a fair amount of anger directed against the former colonial power, which has managed to flourish economically without its former North African colonial territories.

The fourth is the heritage of the Barbary Corsairs (pirates of North Africa who raided western Europe for slaves that were brought back to north Africa). These immigrants are the descendants of a people who once terrorized the coasts of France. Psychologically the role reversal and stigma of working for the European must be great indeed.

Finally there is the Islamic explanation. That is to say, for the first time in its history France has an immigrant minority who do not want to blend in with the secular values of the majority. They do not want their women to live in freedom and they often attack other religious minorities. They hope that Spain will be reconquered, that the humiliation of the Battle of Poitiers will be reversed in the 21st century and that Europe will once again fall under the authority of Islamic rule as it once was in medieval Spain.

During the height of the civil rights struggle in twentieth century America, African Americans suffered far more discrimination at the hands of white Americans than North Africans have experienced so far in France. They regained their civil rights through peaceful protest and much personal sacrifice. There is now a growing and prosperous African American middle class in the USA. Despite the superficial analyses of the left, the North African immigrant gangs would do well to study the success of the African Americans. It is worth imitating.

Geoffrey Clarfield is an anthropologist at large.

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