One of the things I recall most strongly about the occasions I visited Paris is that they had three kinds of police - and all of them were pricks. You could be arrested if you were caught without ID, and my more romantic illusions about Paris parks were dispelled when I was told by a gendarme to pack up and move on with my book, bread, cheese and bottle of vin ordinaire.
On one occasion, I was in a car with a couple of Senegalese guys and we got bailed up and required to show ID. It was creepy, in part because I had a New Zealand passport and things weren't going too well between us and France at the time, but the black guys were quite clearly the greater subject of attention.
I should note that we had in fact recently scored some pot (I shoved it down the back seat), but we had not presented any obvious threat to security that I can think of. Everyone's papers were in order, so to speak, and we were eventually allowed to go on our way. It had been a textbook case of driving while black, and I got the impression it wasn't so unusual.
I've been thinking about that this week as I scanned the news of rioting in parts of French cities. Would the coverage have had a different tone and intensity had the riots been happening in America? I think there's no doubt about that. The winger tendency has been complaining along those lines since the troubles began - but they have also been trying very hard to depict this as a clash of civilisations.
Close to home, Sir Humphreys pointed to a link from the racist Little Green Footballs blog to a video in which a couple of rioters yell "Allah Akbar". Someone in the comments links to this column from the reliably fact-free Mark Steyn in which Steyn, on the basis of no apparent evidence, declares:
Some of us believe this is an early skirmish in the Eurabian civil war. If the insurgents emerge emboldened, what next? In five years' time, there will be even more of them, and even less resolve on the part of the French state. That, in turn, is likely to accelerate the demographic decline. Europe could face a continent-wide version of the "white flight" phenomenon seen in crime-ridden American cities during the 1970s, as Danes and Dutch scram to America, Australia or anywhere else that will have them.
Another piece being passed from hand to sweaty hand by the wingers is Paris Burning: How Empires End, by Pat Buchanan, in which he declares that "The soaring Muslim population is a Fifth Column inside Europe," and goes on to warn: "Nor should Americans take comfort in France’s distress. By 2050, there will be 100 million Hispanics in the United States, half of them of Mexican ancestry, heavily concentrated in a Southwest most Mexicans still believe by right belongs to them."
So now it's the Mexicans too? Aren't they, like, Catholics?
Then there's this fatuous Tapscott post about the "Muslim youth riots" in France:
But thanks to the media's politically correct blinders, it's almost impossible to find a news story explaining the rioters' theological motivations. Why isn't the Bush White House demanding the media report all the facts about the Paris riots, including the evidence that they are anything but spontaneous, and pointing out the links to the War on Terror?
Similarly, democracy is moving strongly forward in Iraq and so is that nation's economy. In fact, the latter is booming. And the number of insurgent attacks in Bagdhad and elsewhere are declining drastically as the Iraqi security forces become more proficient and confident through U.S. training.
Er, hello? October was the worst month for violent deaths in Iraq since January. Since the accidental electrocution of the two French youths that sparked the rioting, there has been one death in the French disturbances. I did a rough count from news reports and worked out that in Iraq there were about 30 conflict deaths on Monday. It would seem a little rash to be making comparisons, let alone comparisons favourable to Iraq.
However politically correct it might be, it simply seems incorrect to characterise what's happening in France as "Muslim" rioting. Gwynne Dwyer observes:
The low-income housing estates that ring Paris and other big French cities are the dumping ground for everybody that hasn't made it in the cool 21st-century France of the urban centres, and they include the old white working class as well as immigrants from France's former colonies in Arabic-speaking North Africa and sub-Saharan black Africa and from all the poorer countries of Europe. Unemployment there is often twice the national average of 10 per cent. But they are not Muslim majority communities, or even non-white majority.
This story makes the point more clearly:
"It is nothing to do with radical Islam or even Muslims," says Olivier Roy, research director at the French National Centre for Scientific Research and one of the world's leading authorities on political Islam.
He says that although many rioters are from Muslim backgrounds, "these guys are building a new idea of themselves based on American street culture. It's a youth riot — they are protesting against the fact that they are supposed to be full French citizens and they are not."
While black Americans in the 1960s objected to police use of the word "boy", today's young French rioters have a similar demand: they want police to stop insulting them with use of the familiar form for you: "tu".
They're not mullahs: they're gangstas.
This is not to suggest that the unrest won't be exploited by extremists, still less to let the French off the hook. But the real problem may be not the French embrace of multiculturalism, as the wingers allege, but the old French state's determination to insulate itself from ethnic and cultural reality, just as it has tried to insulate itself from economic reality. This Guardian editorial puts it thus:
Finally, France will need to look again at its uncompromising policy on assimilation. It has never had any time for Britain's multi-cultural approach. Indeed, as our French correspondent reports today, it is illegal in France to gather or hold any statistics on ethnicity or religion. Yet without these, little progress can be made on affirmative programmes. British policy on community cohesion - preserving and celebrating our diverse cultural backgrounds - has been taking a battering in the wake of recent inter-ethnic riots in Birmingham. But what has been happening in France, reinforces the correctness of our current goals. Meanwhile the best political message has been from banners held by residents of Clichy-sous-Bois: "No to violence" and "Yes to dialogue".
This might be a good time to revisit Jonathan Freedland's thoughtful column for the same paper earlier this year, in which he suggested that Europe could learn from America's approach to identity:
It seems there are two ways to fill the identity vacuum. The French model of citizenship, which asks people to shed their differences to become French. Or the American, which allows people to keep their differences - and become American. Hooper points out that while the French government banned the wearing of Muslim headscarves in school, the US justice department recently backed an Oklahoma girl's fight for the right to wear one in class.
Britons' instincts would probably lean towards the American approach. Britain, like the US, is built on difference. Our crypto-federal structure, welding Scots, English and Welsh, allows for that; successive waves of immigrants have added to the mix.
But here's the difference. America works because it emphasises not only diversity but the ties that bind, too. It encourages a hyphenated identity - think Italian-American - but insists on both sides of the hyphen.
Elsewhere, Lindsay Perigo has a good piece on Rod Donald.
Simon Grigg looks at the Festival Mushroom Records sale and conjures some history. Well worth reading.
It emerged recently that should you be foolish enough to put one of many Sony BMG CDs in your Windows PC and try and play it, the CD will - without telling you - install a rootkit. That is, a back door to your computer. Every time you play the CD, the software will attempt to phone home to a Sony server. Worse, it can be used by malicious hackers to hide code. PA reader Kent Dustin points out that there is one hack already taking advantage of the rootkit. Kent points out that such CDs are on sale in New Zealand, and says:
There has been nothing in the media warning people that installing Sony's software from the CD will put a hacker-friendly concealed rootkit on their PC ... and despite the negative publicity making the rounds, Sony Music's local website is completely silent on the issue. This is a worry, given that it appears there is no way to uninstall the malicious software without explicit permission and tools from Sony. Neither the information nor the tools seem to be available locally.
If a black-hat hacker community were to target New Zealand and succeed in installing hidden rootkits on a large number of PCs, there would be a media uproar. But if Sony do so, through CDs legitimately purchased by unsuspecting users, there's complete silence. Astounding.
Furthermore, Kent points out that under proposed changes to the Copyright Act, it would be a breach to remove the Sony malware from your computer. That in itself would not trigger the proposed new criminal (rather than civil) remedies, but it's still extremely undesirable.
And finally, there's another episode of Off the Wire being recorded tonight in Auckland, at The Classic comedy club at 6.30pm. I'm not in this one, but some funny people are. To claim a place in the crowd, call Linda at Radio NZ on 367 9320 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.