Poor France

By Lex, On Sun – July 11, 2004


I mean that seriously. What a mess.

When I was just an ensign, immediately after my graduation and commissioning from the US Naval Academy, I was offered a language scholarship in France for a summer.

It was simply wonderful, and I fell in love with the countryside, and the people. It’s a little harder to fall in love with Paris. Paris is a big city, very much like New York, and loves itself enough that it doesn’t need your help. Oh, you could try to love Paris – it just wouldn’t love you back.

Still the trip was the highlight of my life until that point.

Traveling from my home for the first time, I was immediately struck by how politicized the young people were – this was back in the era of SS-20’s and Pershings, and everyone had an opinion to vent in smoke-filled rooms, often at the tops of their voices. The US was very often the bad guy of course, even when a grudging admiration was admitted to our standard of living, it came with it a qualification on the ignoble nature of our national cuisine – something which, to be quite frank, I had never spent much time thinking about.

Oh – but there were the accusations of racism. Actually, not accusations – just you know, the commonly understood and acknowledged reality of racism in America.

Now I’m not blind, I agree that slavery was our original sin, and I know that racism persists in this country to this day. I’ll admit that the accusation had probably more merit back in 1982. But then, as now, you’ve kind of got to go looking for it in all the right places, and most people wouldn’t present themselves as bigots to a stranger. But even back then, it was a dirty word, and I admit that I resented the implication.

Especially when I contrasted the lot of all the people of color I saw in the streets of France – they were begging on street corners, or selling homemade wares while sitting on the sidewalk on blankets. I saw few in the university I attended, in the cafe’s I frequented, and none at all in the night clubs. The lot of blacks in France seemed to me much more marginal than their actual and potential lot in America. When I pointed that out to my interlocutors, there was only that Gallic shrug – “There’s no racism in France.”

From the BBC:

Many French city suburbs are becoming ethnic ghettoes, a report has warned.

The study by the French domestic intelligence services found many areas were populated by poor, young French of north African immigrant backgrounds.

The report, leaked to Le Monde newspaper, found at least half of the 630 suburbs it looked at had already become separate ethnic communities. The report warned the ghettoes, cut off from mainstream French society, could encourage radical Islam to take root…

For decades, France had hoped that its immigrants and their children would simply integrate into secular French society. Instead, it seems, the opposite has been happening, with the divide becoming ever greater.

And the impact of such marginalization?

Also from the BBC.

…(a) 23-year-old woman was on a train just north of Paris on Friday morning, with her 13-month-old baby. Six men – described by French media as of North African appearance – surrounded her and rifled through her bag. According to police, they found papers referring to the wealthy 16th district of the capital, and said: “There are only Jews in the 16th.” Police said the woman was not Jewish and no longer lived in the district. The attackers reportedly shoved the woman, used a knife to cut her hair and her shirt open, and drew swastikas on her stomach with a marker pen. The baby was apparently tipped out of its pram in the melee…

Jean-Paul Huchon, president of the Ile-de-France region surrounding Paris, despaired of the lack of reaction from fellow passengers. He recalled the French deportation of Jewish children during German occupation in World War II, saying: “And now, we let people be attacked like this without reacting, without doing anything.”

Poor France. Has it really come to this?

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Filed under Best of Neptunus Lex, Carroll "Lex" LeFon, Carroll LeFon, Lex, Politics and Culture

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