Krauthammer on the ‘clash of civilisations’ in France

What the uprising generation wants

By Charles Krauthammer

Time, 13 November 2005

The gendarmes have weapons. The kids they face in the street have mostly stones and Molotov cocktails. It is a mismatch. But it’s the cops who are the heavy underdogs – the cops and the France that the cops alone represent in those burning godforsaken ghettos where most Frenchmen dare not go.

On the one side are the protester-arsonists, many if not most of them Muslim, whom the Interior Minister called racaille (rabble) – young, restless, violent, vibrant, angry, jobless, envious and fecund. And on the other side is an aged and exhausted civilization, the hollowed-out core of European Christendom, static, aging, contented, coddled, passive and literally without faith. Who would you think will win in the end?

If you needed a snapshot of the balance of forces in this civilizational struggle taking place in France, consider only the incomprehension and inertness of the official French response. The President didn’t say a word for 10 days. The state of emergency wasn’t declared until Day 13. Meanwhile, the Interior Minister and Prime Minister offered dueling slogans and empty promises, with an eye more on their upcoming presidential contest than on the fire this time.

The best way to know the future is to look at simple demographics. There are an estimated 5 million Muslims in France. Of course, no one knows for sure, not just because of the uncounted illegal immigrants but because in France the government is prohibited by law from even asking about ethnicity and religion. It is not surprising that you don’t deal with a problem whose very contours you refuse to see or even inquire about.

France thus is approaching 10% Muslim. But things do not stand still. Even if there were no further immigration, which is a pipe dream, birth rates alone will soon drastically alter the balance. Muslims have the highest birth rate – three times the rate of non-Muslims – of any demographic group in Europe. The most common name for a newborn in neighboring Brussels is Mohammed. Childbearing rates among non-Muslim Frenchmen are well below replacement levels. The old French, like the rest of Europe, are literally disappearing.

“With current trends,” Professor Bernard Lewis has said, “Europe will have Muslim majorities in the population by the end of the 21st century.” The future? “Europe will be part of the Arab west, of the Maghreb [Muslim northwest Africa].” Today’s rioting youth are just a bit ahead of their time in claiming their upcoming patrimony.

The ethnic underclass, jobless and futureless, warehoused in sterile and isolated block housing, has been seething for decades. France has responded with willful blindness (even before this intifadeh, France was experiencing dozens of car arsons a night, but you did not hear about it because official France just accepted this as the norm) and pacification, creating a lavish welfare system to keep its angry youth well clad, well fed and well provided with cell phones.

But they want more than cake for eating. They want a future. The rest of France has for decades been wanting only a present – just a few more years of fine wine and steady work in a superregulated, 35-hr.-workweek, cozy social compact that makes it almost impossible for a worker to be fired and almost impossible for the offspring of immigrants to be hired.

The only possible way out for France is to undertake the kind of self-reformation that America did in the 1960s, when it finally began welcoming African Americans into mainstream society and spent two generations pursuing that goal. But the prospects for success in France are far fewer, because even if France changed, woke up and welcomed those it had once invited, it is very late. The grandparents who first came would have eagerly accepted the invitation. But their young have grown up in an alienated monoculture that has contempt for the godless decadence of French secularism with its empty churches, sexual license and existential ennui. France doesn’t want them. They don’t want the France they are throwing rocks at. But they are not leaving. And they are growing.

France always thought it had one last resort, one ready strategy for fending off the rage of its Arab street: beyond avoidance lay appeasement. No country in the West has done more to cultivate world Arab opinion, to appease Arab terrorists, to ostentatiously oppose American Middle East policy (Iraq above all), to champion the signal Arab cause of Palestine. It was no accident that Yasser Arafat chose Paris as his place to die – Paris, after Jerusalem, his second holiest city.

Paris burns anyway. As the French seem to learn every 70 years, appeasement does not work. It merely whets the appetite. And the angry alien young were already hungry.