Rattling the cage: Sympathy for the mob

There are two kinds of liberalism - one that's reasonable and open-minded, another that's mindless.

larry derfner 88 (photo credit: )
larry derfner 88
(photo credit: )
There are two kinds of liberalism - one that's reasonable and open-minded, another that's mindless, knee-jerk and politically correct. The first says society bears a healthy measure of responsibility for those who aren't making it, the second says - automatically, regardless of the particulars - that those who aren't making it bear no responsibility for their predicament whatsoever, and only a heartless society is to blame. I'm sorry to say that the liberal reaction to the French riots, as seen in the news coverage by the major Western media like The New York Times, Washington Post and CNN - not to mention the leading French media like Le Monde - is of the second type of liberalism, the mindless, knee-jerk, PC kind. I'm afraid this "enlightened" reaction to the French riots is giving enlightenment a bad name. From following the news, you would think Paris 2005 is like Birmingham, Alabama, 1931 - a racist city of white ignoramuses where nobody of a different color, religion or nationality better show his face. Remember Paris? One of the most diverse, cosmopolitan cities on earth, whose current mayor is a Tunisian-born homosexual, where blacks, whites, browns and yellows are friends and lovers and have babies together and nobody thinks anything of it? Remember France? One of the most generous welfare states in the world, and the most pro-Arab, pro-African country in the West? Yet, to believe the media, it's all mean old French society's fault that thousands of Arab and African teenagers in Nikes and tracksuits, communicating by cellphone, e-mail and Internet blog, are burning down their heavily rent-subsidized suburbs. "The French republic's famous promise of liberty, fraternity and equality has failed these young people," intoned CNN's Christiane Amanpour. A Washington Post headline dug below the surface: "Rage of French youth is a fight for recognition - spreading rampage in country's slums is rooted in alienation and abiding government neglect." The New York Times editorialized that in France "the truth is that everyone is not French, nor equal... The old approach [to integration] gets in the way of real affirmative action or community outreach." THE LAUGHABLE part is how these young rioters explain themselves to earnest news correspondents in the same terms they've heard used by the earnest news correspondents, analysts and sociologists on TV. "People here don't feel like they're a part of the political system. Their only recourse is to violence," said an Algerian fellow named Mehdi to The New York Times. "We want to change the government. There's no way of getting their attention. The only way to communicate is by burning," an 18-year-old Ivory Coast boy told The Washington Post. It's a closed loop. Not that the enlightened media are justifying the riots, or don't want them to stop; on the contrary, they're bashing the government for failing to restore order. It's just that these liberal critics won't go along with any tactic that might upset all the disenfranchised, alienated Third World victims of French tyranny. With France under siege after two weeks of epidemic anarchy, Le Monde found it appalling that the government was going to enforce curfews in the suburbs under a law once used, unsuccessfully, to put down the Algerian revolt. "Exhuming a 1955 law sends to the youth of the suburbs a message of astonishing brutality," the newspaper protested, "that after 50 years France intends to treat them exactly as it did their grandparents." So that's why these agonized youth are burning and shooting and beating - they're still mad over the French occupation of Algeria. They've got a real historical perspective, these 16-year-olds with the headphones, their political awareness is so sharp. Such self-willed blindness, such crap. You would think all communities of poor, non-white, non-Western immigrants have no choice but to riot in France, and in every other Western country for that matter. So what's the "progressive" explanation for the Indians, the Pakistanis, the Chinese, the Filipinos and so many other Third World immigrant groups that succeeded, and continue to succeed, in the West? And how do liberals explain the masses of Arab and black African immigrants who made it out of the French suburbs and into the French middle-class? And finally, what do they have to say to the Arab and black African immigrants who are still living in the French suburbs, and whose cars have been torched? Whose children's schools have been destroyed? Who work damn hard and drum it into their children's heads to get an education and stay out of trouble, to get on the path out of the ghetto, and who are now sitting frightened and agitated in their apartments, praying for the police to finally put away these fashion-crazed, gadget-mad arsonists, thieves, drug dealers and muggers who are destroying their families' lives? WHY AREN'T the liberals in the media and elsewhere standing up for these immigrants? Aren't these people the true innocent victims of this story? I actually thought Western liberals had learned something from America's experience with urban black crime in the mid-Sixties through the Eighties. In those days liberals - myself included - explained black ghetto crime and violence as the inevitable result of entrenched white American racism. The police in the ghetto, we agreed, were the worst of the problem. Then we discovered something - that black ghetto criminals struck almost always at black ghetto victims, and that there were a lot more victims over there than criminals. When the black silent majority finally spoke up about how they were being terrorized by local teenage gangs, they weren't interested in understanding these predators - they just wanted them swept off their streets. Whatever their bitterness over incidents of police brutality, it was black working people - the huge majority in the ghettoes of America - who led the call for law and order on their streets. Their echo can be heard today in France. "What are they doing, torching classrooms where their cousins go to school and cars their neighbors use to go to work? Stoning buses that are the only other way off this place?" a middle-aged man in Aulnay-sous-Bois told a reporter for The Guardian, which editorialized and opined about France's "outcast generation" and so on. "It's time for it all to stop - now - we're tired and frightened," a young mother in that suburb pleaded. Some 3,000 Aulnay-sous-Bois residents braved the vengeance of their marauding young neighbors and marched for an end to the riots. These are the genuine "huddled masses," the decent, working immigrants and children of immigrants whom liberals ought to be sympathizing with. There was a time when they would have. Today, watching the fires spread across France, liberals are giving their sympathy to the mob.