One has to applaud Manny Macron for getting his priorities right. He puts culture above the little problems of life, which strikes a chord in my heart.
As riots spread to the centre of Paris, with shops torched (and presumably looted) in the elegant rue de Rivoli, Manny was last night partying with Elton John after the latter’s farewell concert.
As far as one can judge from the photographs, the party was à quatre: Manny, his foster mother Brigitte, Elton and his ‘husband’. (The moment I put quotation marks around that last word, I realised I could be arrested for such punctuation – but decided it was a chance worth taking.)
The venue for the festivities was located in Bercy, not exactly the most salubrious part of Paris, and hence a likely arena for riotous self-expression. Yet I’m sure Manny was protected well enough for his cultural quest to proceed unimpeded.
Thus safeguarded, he pinned a Légion d’honneur ribbon on Elton John’s shell suit, and I’m sure that wasn’t the first time a hideous, talentless creature received such an accolade. But I shouldn’t impose my aesthetic tastes on you – let’s stick to the rioting.
As Manny hobnobbed with Elton, the police all over France were battling frenzied mobs, with both sides taking casualties. So far over 650 arrests have been made, and an unspecified number of policemen injured.
The rioting proceeds under the slogan of ‘Vengeance for Nahel’, the 17-year-old Muslim shot dead by a policeman when refusing to stop his Mercedes AMG as ordered. That gave rise to the conflagration and to the silly pun popping into my head: ex nihilo Nahel fit.
The usual phrasing of rioting slogans highlights justice, rather than vengeance, and the difference is telling. Justice can be served by trying the trigger-happy cop and, if he is found guilty, putting him in prison for a long spell. He has already been charged with voluntary manslaughter, which is a logical step in that direction.
Vengeance is something else. Unlike justice, it’s open-ended. If justice can be denominated in so many years of imprisonment, it’s impossible to say how many torched cars, burned buildings, barricaded thoroughfares and trashed shops it will take for vengeance to be deemed adequate. Basically, it’s whether or not the rioters run out of steam before the police run out of tear gas.
Remarkably little has been reported about the victim, other than his name, age, the car he was driving to deliver pizzas, and his mixed Algerian-Moroccan origin that doesn’t sound all that mixed to me. The French papers mentioned in passing that Nahel “was known to the police”, which vindicated my wild guess: most Mercedes-driving youngsters who refuse to obey police orders must have a reason for being so stubborn.
Could it be that Nahel had borrowed the car without the previous owner’s permission? All we can do is guess.
Now Manny has reconfirmed his commitment to culture, even at its lowest, I wonder how he assesses the progress of France’s commitment to diversity. An outside observer like me may get the impression that French multi-culturalism is no more successful than ours. Race riots certainly are a more regular feature of French life than British.
We could discuss the face value of multi-culti diversity till the social workers come home, but that would be a wasted effort. As with most distinctly modern practices, face value doesn’t even come into it. What matters is subtext not text, connotation not denotation, ideology not ideas.
French civil servants tend to be clever and well-educated, at least they were back in the 1960s, when the massive influx of North Africans started. Hence I doubt France’s interior ministers and their staffs were confident in their ability to integrate millions of Muslims seamlessly into a residually Christian and predominantly secular society.
Educated at France’s elite grandes écoles, the mandarins and other fruits knew some groups can adapt to a new culture better than others, and some can’t adapt at all. The issue is indeed cultural rather than racial, as Britain illustrates. For example, immigrants from Trinidad or Barbados adapt well, whereas those from the adjacent Jamaica don’t.
Some Muslims can fit into Western societies as easily as some Westerners can feel at home in Arabia (remember Lawrence?). But ‘some’ is the operative word. It’s unrealistic to expect millions of Muslims to feel they belong in a culture they find alien and detestable.
It was entirely predictable, and I’m sure French officials did predict, that those huddled masses would end up settling in vast ghettos along the periphery of major cities, with social security cheques being the only part of Western culture they’d appreciate. Proportionally, they’d boost welfare rolls and crime statistics more than they’d swell the labour force.
Had public officials in the West been motivated by the hardnosed weighing of the rational pros and cons, Muslim immigration would have been tightly controlled and severely limited. But the underlying motivation of the officialdom was different. They were ideologically committed to signalling their multi-culti virtue, and bono publico be damned.
Now those alien chickens are coming home to roost, and there is no end in sight. France has thrown 40,000 policemen into battle (twice as many fighters as the Wagner Group has altogther) and so far they are acquitting themselves reasonably well. But the future can’t be too remote when the balance of power will swing away from the police, when rioters will be able to overrun them. God save us all when that happens – and not just in France.
However, I am happy to report that, though the drive towards diversity isn’t unfolding without a snag or two, the idea of European homogeneity is thriving. Similar riots have broken out in Belgium, specifically Brussels, whose Muslim suburbs are also engulfed in flames.
The rioters there emulate their French brethren by torching cars, using fireworks as weapons and battling with the police. But they’ve added a few nice sartorial touches by wearing hoodies and masks, which doubtless adds to the gaiety of the nation.
Police forces all over Europe are on alert, expecting impassioned displays of supranational solidarity throughout the EU, certainly its high-rent part. It’s good to see that European federalism works even if multi-cultural diversity doesn’t, not quite.
And it’s especially rewarding to see that the president of France knows what really matters in life: culture comes before social tranquillity. In fact, some of history’s greatest artistic achievements have been known to coincide with the greatest unrest.
The on-going riots don’t quite make it to the greatest unrest yet. But then Elton John’s outpourings don’t quite make it to the greatest artistic achievements – indeed to art at all.