France is on fire again. For over a week, rioters in urban centers across the country have looted and torched stores, public buildings, and vehicles. French law enforcement has cracked down on the destruction, arresting thousands of the rioters.
The death of Algerian 17-year-old Nahel Merzouk triggered the riots, after police shot him. The corporate media have done their best to stress that Merzouk was a generally good kid who didn’t have a criminal record, liked to play rugby, and was studying to become an electrician. Yet he attended a school for troubled kids. The police knew him, and he had a history of driving away from traffic stops. Although neighbors attest that “he was never violent,” he also seemed to have a bad habit of skipping school and joyriding in other people’s cars.
The riots forced French President Emmanuel Macron to cancel his trip to Germany — though not before enjoying an Elton John concert. In his remarks, he seemed less interested in commenting on Merzouk’s death than in blaming social media for mobilizing the mob so quickly.
According to government spokesman Olivier Veran, these arsonists and looters “are generally laughing their heads off” as they film their vandalism, and he notes the “extremely young age of a number of perpetrators.” For this reason, Macron’s administration is working with social media companies to censor videos of the riots. As David Harsanyi notes in his book Eurotrash, freedom of speech has ceased to be a priority for Western Europeans.
Naturally, many Americans following the situation are asking if France is having a “George Floyd moment.” Although it is true that there are many parallels, there are also key differences. Americans should learn from them if they want their cities to avoid the same fate.
The first difference concerns the rioters themselves. Some of them claim solidarity with Merzouk and protest allegedly bigoted law enforcement, but their grievances stem from a general marginalization and lack of opportunity for French immigrants. The majority of these people are crammed in the banlieues, crowded suburban slums with some of the ugliest architecture imaginable. Similar to the urban ghettos in the U.S., these communities suffer from high unemployment, rampant crime, and general decay. One could find many boys like Merzouk growing up there.
Because many of the residents come to France for its generous welfare system, they feel little need to integrate into the economy and find work. With each generation, this makes them ever more dependent on public assistance and more unpopular among French natives who pay into the system. Violent uprisings and riots in the banlieues are fairly common as are aggressive crackdowns by the police.
Unlike the George Floyd riots, which were largely led by well-funded activist groups like Black Lives Matter and Antifa, the riots in France are mostly a grassroots phenomenon. Macron has some reason to take issue with social media because users have encouraged other restless young people to take to the streets and burn down something. Before social media and high-speed internet, these outbursts of violence usually took place in sundry neighborhoods of Paris and seldom spread beyond. Now they have become TikTok challenges that go viral.
It would be a mistake to conclude that France is systemically racist. Almost all of this has to do with immigration policy and assimilation. Facing a demographic crunch, elites in France and the rest of the European Union have chosen to import cheap labor from North Africa and the Middle East to clean their hotel rooms and run their souvenir stands.
Not only does this force French citizens to pay much higher taxes for social services, but it also undermines their power in the workplace. As policy scholar Micheal Lind explains in Hell to Pay: How the Suppression of Wages Is Destroying America, business owners profit enormously by underpaying low-skilled immigrants from faraway lands. For people who want to earn more than minimum wage and live comfortably, they must earn a plethora of credentials and rely on their social network to find the rare office job that pops up.
While something similar happens here in America, the problem is much worse in France. I see this in my own family, where my French millennial-aged cousins are forced to jump through hoops to find a decent job that will allow them to afford a place outside the banlieues. Most of them marry and start their families later, if at all, often living like frugal college students well into their 40s.
At the same time, this “credential arms race,” as Lind calls it, effectively prevents poor unassimilated immigrants from moving up in society and keeps them trapped in the banlieues. On the flip side, keeping out of the credential arms race seems to allow the majority of them to have more children than native French people.
Besides the periodic riots that disturb the peace, the natural result of France’s immigration policy has been an increasingly polarized and proletarianized society that clashes with its ruling elites. As conservatives rush to support the officer who shot Merzouk and fund his legal defense, and leftists call out economic inequality and racism, everyone ignores the actual source of the problem: a class of businessmen and political authorities who drive the globalist status quo, control the narratives, and remain blissfully insulated from the consequences of their selfishness and folly.
At some point, people in France and the rest of the West will come to realize that the global order that has served them since the Cold War has become unsustainable. In order to safeguard their abundance and social stability, governments will need to restrict immigration as well as empower their working classes.
This will involve accounting for the cultural differences and working to assimilate immigrants, not just paying them off with more welfare. Until this happens, we can expect to see more riots, more public resentment, more cultural decay, and more incompetent authoritarian regimes listening to pop music while their country burns.