One immense difficulty France will have in coming to grips with the November riots is that whenever someone comes close to telling the truth about them he is likely to be sued for incitement to racial hatred. Anyone can bring such a suit, and what happened to Alain Finkielkraut—France’s most prominent philosopher—is a chilling example of what can now happen not only in France but in many European countries.
Aside from nationalists who have been predicting just the kind of explosion France has seen, Mr. Finkielkraut has come closest to a realistic understanding of the greatest destruction France has seen since the Second World War. In a Nov. 15 interview in the French newspaper Le Figaro he pointed out that young thugs are burning cars and buildings because they hate France. “How’s this for a charming rap couplet?” he asked: “ ‘France is a bitch/Don’t forget to f**k her to exhaustion just like a whore/Have at her, man!/Me, I piss on Napoleon and General de Gaulle.’ Rather than being outraged by the horrors of burned schools, people pontificate on the hopelessness of the arsonists. Rather than pay attention to what they are saying—’F**k your mother! F**k the police! F**k the state!’—we transform their calls to hatred into appeals for aid and their destruction of school buildings into demands for education.”
He went on: “They don’t want more schools, more daycare centers, more gymnasiums, more buses; they’re burning these things. They are rising up against every institution, every delay, every obstacle to the things they want: money, cars, women. They are children of the remote control; they want everything right away.”
Two days later, he gave an even more hard-hitting interview to the Israeli paper, Haaretz (click here for the complete text):
“It is clear that this is a revolt with an ethno-religious character. Everyone actually understands that. But if you talk about the ethnic origins of the rioters that is considered racist, but at the same time, the unanimous reaction to the riots is to denounce discrimination against non-white minorities.”
He heaped scorn on people who try to “understand” the violence: “I have been horrified by these acts, which kept repeating themselves, and horrified even more by the understanding with which they were received in France. These people are treated like revolutionaries. This is the worst thing that could happen to my country.”
Many intellectuals claimed the riots were a reaction to insufficient “openness to the other,” but Mr. Finkielkraut said the problem was too much openness: “No one’s holding them [the rioters] here. And this is precisely where the lie begins. Because if there were neglect and poverty, they would go somewhere else. But they know very well that anywhere else, and especially in the countries they came from, their situation would be worse, as far as rights and opportunities go.”
He also noted the double standard: “When an Arab torches a school, he is a revolutionary. When a white guy does it, it’s fascism.”
“Sure, there is discrimination and there are certainly French racists, French who don’t like Arabs and blacks. Well, they will like them even less when they realize how much they are hated by these people. . . The generous idea of a war against racism has gradually transformed itself into a monstrous ideology of lies. In the 21st century, antiracism will be what communism was in the 20th.”
This was perhaps his most trenchant line: “The question isn’t what is the best model of integration, but just what sort of integration can be achieved with people who hate you.”
In the interview, Mr. Finkielkraut even joked about how you can go to jail in France for talking about race. He said there had been much self-congratulation when a mixed-race French team won the soccer World Cup in 1998, but that it would probably be a crime to point out that the “national” team is now virtually all black.
Mr. Finkielkraut should not have been surprised, therefore, when on Nov. 24 a busy-body organization called MRAP (Movement Against Racism and for Friendship Between Peoples) promptly announced it would file a civil suit charging him with “incitement of hatred.” There was a good chance MRAP could win damages; Brigitte Bardot has paid large fines for milder remarks. Mr. Finkielkraut immediately went on television to grovel:
He claimed he had been a “victim of an enormous misunderstanding,” and that the Haaretz interview amounted “an assemblage in which I do not recognize myself.” “I apologize,” he added, “to those who were wounded by a person that was not I . . . The lesson I have drawn is that I should give no more interviews, especially not to any publication I do not control and when I have no control over translations or over what happens to the story.”
Mouloud Aounit, Secretary General of MRAP, is of the same North-African origins as the rioters. He decided to withdraw his suit, even though—with some justification—he “doubted the sincerity of Mr. Finkielkraut’s apology.” He called the interview an example of “astoundingly violent racism,” and made a formal appeal to the French television authorities to keep Mr. Finkielkraut off the air. [M. Finkielkraut s’excuse pour ses propos dans le quotidien israélien “Haaretz,” Le Monde, Nov. 25, 2005.]
The rioters’ more respectable co-ethnics can thus intimidate anyone who strays beyond the official explanation that “racism” caused the riots. The French have no one to blame but themselves. It is they who passed the laws that allow immigrants to muzzle them.
Another prominent French scholar, historian Hélène Carrère d’Encausse, also went to the foreign press to say things about the riots she could not have said in France. As she explained to the Moscow weekly, Moskovskie Novosti, “It’s true that the Russian television follows Putin step by step. But French television is so politically correct it is a nightmare. We have laws Stalin could have thought up. . . People cannot express an opinion about ethnic groups, the Second World War, and plenty of other things. You’ll be quickly convicted of a crime.”
So far, Mrs Carrère d’Encausse has not been sued, but anyone tempted to speak his mind about the riots will have to wonder whether it is worth the risk of a court case. By giving minorities the legal means to control what they say, the French have given them the power to block realistic solutions to their race problem.