I have a relation in France, and I asked her for the French viewpoint on the current riots, seeing as the American Media does not have a great track record with interpreting foreign events. It's an interesting email, and I thought it may interest somebody, donc, voila:
Riots? We were in Paris day before yesterday and things were as usual, beautiful and elegant, but indeed it is true that in the suburbs things are "chaud"!
The US embassy has even sent out a notice to US residents in France and US vistitors to avoid taking the subway in from the CDG airport because it passes by those suburbs.
M. de Villepin was on the television this morning talking about the problem but as I told your grandfather yesterday it is rather like the race riots of '68 in the states..;there is no racism about color in France but certainly about culture. Young Magrehbins or "arabes" have a hard time getting work, live in those dismal towers in the suburbs of Paris and have no hope but to embrace their own culture since the French population seems to reject them. Young women who choose to were normal "French" clothes in those "cités" risk harassment or worse so they often choose the traditional way just to get on with their lives. Often the parents have tried to become "French" and the children have seen that they haven't really had much success.
The traditional French in many ways have a hard time accepting them. You can say but aren't they Frenchtoo but it's more than that. Many even change their names from Mohamed Habedi to Marc Dupont just to have a chance at a job interview. And the amazing thing is it works...just until the employer sees their face and their address (the famous 93 postal code). Pure prejudice but I can understand both sides. There is a surplus of young people looking for jobs and why take a chance on a possible delinquent when you have a Marc Dupont from the nice side of town. In France there is a separation of State and church...but the french revolution asked that the population embrace the State essentially as their religion and that feeling continues today in the legislation and educational system etc. There is an interesting "arrangement" with the Catholic schools where most are under contract to the State...but I am not sure that is the case with Muslim schools. Many of the Catholic schools now welcome the better muslim students because the schools are more "accepting". All goes back to the foundations of Catholic education which is based on a philosophy of acceptance of ones differences but an acknowledgement of a higher authority (non specific,but other than the state) in terms of moral judgement.
So where do we go from here. I think one just has to change the very opiniated typical Frenchman who is more than willing to accept a Black Catholic Antillaise as an in-law but give them someone who is Jewish or Muslim and they close ranks. But then so do those two groups also. To be fully integrated one needs to accept the social reality...France even though they are mostly non-practicing is an old Catholic Society and is a meritocracy where despite what anyone says the Old Boy network is alive and well. All the top politicians and business leaders for the most part have gone to ENA (the school of Administration where the State pays the students to attend) where they prepare to go on as prefets, ambassadors etc. and they all know each other. That is one of the joys of Sarkozy in that he is not "part of the club" although he was mayor of the chic suburb of Neuilly in Paris and knows all the right people (but his parents were imigrants and he doesn't recite poetry like de Villepin!). The French revolution was two hundred years ago and supposedly was the downfall of the aristocracy but another "elite" took their place. Napoleon created an empire which still has great repercussions on everyday life here. But that is a whole book...if you have more questions I will try to answer them but I think this is just an indication of a real problem in French culture that needs to be dealt with. Your uncle, for example, is very against a sort of French "affirmative action" which has been put in place for the "grands ecoles" (the top schools) but I think that is precisely what is needed. The "meritocracy" is not bad in itself as long as all the players have an even playing field. I read "A Hope in the Unseen" which is a look at one specific example of the top student at the worse high school in Wash DC and his struggles and success with school. He was accepted at Brown essentially under an affirmative action program and when you read the book you certainly understand why he is perhaps not as well-prepared for an ivy league eduation but certainly why he should be given the chance. I would be interested to know what happens to those kids later. I am sure a fair number of them go on to become politicians lobbying for better chances for he under priveledged that they were.
It would seem the conclusion is that it's "culturalist" based violence, showing how essential it is that everyone is given equal opportunities in life.