Riots in France

What the U.S. needs to learn from poor immigration policy.

by Victor Davis Hanson

Tribune Media Services

If the controlled French economy grew at a rate comparable to America’s, then most of the rioting youths of the Paris suburbs would probably have otherwise been too tired to participate after coming home from work.

If France tried to be a multiracial society–more like the United States, whose secretary of state and attorney general are minorities–then there would not have been such a racial component to the class resentment.

If the rioters were not almost exclusively from Muslim backgrounds, then there would not have been yet another extremist dimension to the sectarian tension.

If France were not a post-colonial nation, then there would not be the resentment of third-class immigrants from its former provinces.

Sadly, those are too many ifs–even for what French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin calls France’s “Gallic genius.” In truth, the rioting was a perfect storm whose remedy requires restructuring of the French economy, racial enlightenment, honesty about radical Islam and tough new immigration policies.

Yet we Americans should not console ourselves that we are entirely immune from such failures, as if the rioting in South Central Los Angeles is now ancient history. The United States also is vulnerable to at least some of the same types of French economic and social precursors to violence.

So we should consider the French disaster a wake-up call. A nation cannot exist without shared values and a sense of common mission. We forgot that in the 1960s, when we encouraged racial separatism as a means of rectifying past discrimination. That kind of identity politics has proven a near-disaster. A salad bowl in place of the melting pot will, at the worst, turn America into something like the Balkans and at best ensure separatism along the lines of Quebec–or France.

Instead, the United States should return to its former ideal of a multiracial society under the inclusive aegis of Western culture. True, Americans are enriched by cultural diversity in food, fashion and the arts. Yet our core American values of democracy, human rights, private property, a free economy, an unfettered press and unbridled inquiry are not optional or up for discussion. In other words, we succeed precisely because we are the antithesis of a tribal Mexico, unfree China, intolerant Islamic Middle East–or socialist and statist France.

Yet large areas of central Los Angeles, rural California, New Orleans and Washington have become de facto apartheid communities like the French suburbs, with segregated concentrations of either illegal immigrants from Mexico, unassimilated first-generation Hispanics or impoverished African-Americans.

One remedy is a return to the assimilation, integration and intermarriage of the past that once characterized the success of most immigrants who arrived in the United States prior to the rise of ethnic separatism of the 1960s. Unfortunately, abstract deference in white America to racial tribalism often serves as psychological cover for an unwillingness to live among, or send one’s children to school with, the “other.”

The English language is our common bond. More than ever it is the first bridge between widely diverse immigrants. Bilingual education and a multiplicity of languages in official documents have not only proved wasteful but also eroded first-generation immigrants’ facility in English, the sole language that can guarantee them economic security.

Guest workers are yet another bad idea. We see that from the bitter experience of helots in France and Germany–and our own past. Modern “bracero” temporary laborers will only breed lasting resentment–“good enough to work here, but not enough to stay”–and depress the wages of poorer citizens.

Our immigration policy is in chaos. We have millions of illegal immigrants, thousands of whom are in our penal system. Our borders are less secure than France’s. There is not even a Mediterranean Sea between America and the source of most illegal entrants.

Instead of allowing in so many illegally, and then ignoring them as they fend for themselves, America should take in far fewer immigrants, ensure that all come legally and with rudimentary English and knowledge of the United States. And then we must all work together at rapidly making them into full-fledged fellow citizens.

There is a final lesson from France. Paris might proclaim itself a beacon of global liberality, but beneath that veneer it has been exposed as a simmering apartheid city. So take note: Everyday behavior toward one another–not utopian rhetoric or sloganeering about “diversity”–is all that matters in the end.

The United States is hardly France. But as a similarly affluent Western country where immigrants flock, sometimes fail and then often brood, we run the risk of becoming more like France if we don’t return to the inclusivity that once worked and abandon the separatism that increasingly has not.

©2005 Victor Davis Hanson

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