Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Chirac's Shakespearean crisis

The French drama has played through two acts, and we hardly noticed it.

Act I has been going on for decades. This 2002 article by Theodore Dalrymple in City Journal describes the ordinary world -- the growing discontent in the housing projects of France. Unemployment, discrimination, lack of opportunity, and bored youths who comfort themselves by affiliating with a foreign ideology that would give them power and status in a world that gives them every material necessity, but no dignity. In the growing conflict, French authorities have dealt haphazardly with rising anti-Semitic violence and have formed foreign policy around their own "Arab street."

Inciting incident: two boys think they're being chased by police, run into an electric substation and die.

In Act II, riots erupt and spread. A disabled woman is set on fire. Rioters respond to police, fire and ambulance crews with rocks and firebombs. At Day 12, a man dies.

The rest of Europe trembles, as cars are set on fire in Brussels, Belgium, and Berlin and Bremen, Germany.

The longer it goes, the more intense Chirac's crisis will be. If he had dealt with the issues years ago, with firm law enforcement and economic and social status for the peaceful immigrants, the riots would not be happening now. But instead, in typical post-modern fashion, the French authorities have treated the innocent and the guilty exactly equally -- with economic handouts on the one hand and discrimination and disrespect on the other -- which has the same effect as punishment for the innocent and reward for the guilty.

Soon we will arrive at Chirac's Shakespearean crisis: Will he do a Petain, following the 20th-century marshal who turned France over to the Nazis, or a Reno, following the U.S. attorney general who in 1993 stormed the compound of an offbeat religious sect, eventually causing a fire that killed all 76 members of the cult, including 27 children.

Either way, France is likely to be a very different place in Act III. The change will be more gradual if he goes Petain, but the radicalized Moslems will have increasing control over the government policies, as the authorities retreat and retreat to keep the same thing from happening again.

If he goes Reno -- and France has shown itself capable of brutality when French monuments are not at stake -- there will be blood in the streets and a period of active warfare with an uncertain end.

Europe will never be the same.

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