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Three Cheers for French Riots!

In the end it was hard for me to figure out which was worse: What the riots said about France? Or what our reaction said about us.
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Anyone remember those scenes on MTV’s “Beavis and Butthead” show, where Beavis would either see—or be playing with—some form of fire and he’d inevitably erupt into orgasmic ecstasy, screaming wildly, “Heh, heh, heh, Fire! Fire! Fire!

Am I dating myself? (Or just revealing that I watched too much MTV as a teenager…)

Well, I couldn’t get Beavis’ fire fetish out of my mind as I watched the reaction by many Republicans to the recent (and now dissipating, if not entirely dissipated) riots in France.

As I read coverage and analysis, I couldn’t escape this very real, palpable sense that many on the right were downright giddy to see France in flames. You could almost hear them screaming, “Fire! Fire! Fire!”


Bill O’Reilly said that the riots were proof of “karma,” thanks to France’s refusal to join the U.S.

“[T]he Chirac government and the French media have consistently undermined America's War on Terror…But now the tide has turned, hasn't it? France is under bitter siege by Muslims. And the weak Chirac government has been exposed in front of the world. For nearly two weeks, Chirac has allowed the insurrection to build in ferocity, refusing to use his military, allowing anarchy in the streets. This makes Hurricane Katrina look like a comic boo.”

Or Rush Limbaugh:

““[T]he French of course thought that they had purchased an insurance policy against all of this by standing up for Saddam and against the United States and they’re finding out that it didn’t help them at all.”

But, O’Reilly and Limbaugh are too easy: They can always be counted on to say something dim and foolish. So how about some others…

The Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto titled one blog post “Les Poulets Come Home to Roost.”

Or consider the gotcha tone in this Ralph Peters column in the New York Post:

“Utterly devoid of self-awareness, the French cherish their image of America as racist. But minorities in the United States have opportunities for which their French counterparts would risk their lives. Our problem is that demagogues convince the poorest of our poor to give up on getting ahead. In France, the non-white poor never have a chance of any kind.”

Same here in the New York Post’s editorial on the subject:

Ever since America reacted to 9/11 by declaring — and vigorously prose cuting — a worldwide War on Ter ror, the usual suspects in the punditocracy have been smugly predicting that sooner or later the "Muslim street" would explode in anger and outrage.

Well, it's finally happened — not in the Mideast, but in the suburbs of Paris.

France, of course, arrogantly took the lead in opposing virtually every meaningful U.S. initiative in the War on Terror, especially Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Said Mark Steyn:

“Unlike America’s Europhiles, France’s Arab street correctly identified Chirac’s opposition to the Iraq war for what it was: a sign of weakness.

The National Review’s John Derbyshire published thoughts from a friend of his on The Corner blog:

“The Iraq war: as I had noticed very strongly in Tunisia a little more than 2 years ago, the opposition of France to intervention in Iraq has been perceived as a sign of weakness, and French are since considered as Dhimmis.”

You get the point. A very real subtext of glee accompanied much (but, admittedly, not all) of the right’s analysis of the French riots. It was next to impossible to miss.

Beyond the obvious sickness implicit in taking such sinister glee at the misfortune of others, we have to ask ourselves… “Why the joy?” Why did some Republicans turn into real life Beavis’, watching in delight as France went up in smoke?

It’s no surprise that the right has never held the French in high regard. For them, the French are viewed as snobbish, intellectual lazy doves—and that’s when the right’s just going easy on them.

But the French riots gave some right-wingers other reasons to smile.

1.) The riots—coming on the heels of Hurricane Katrina and more unsettling scenes emerging out of Iraq—were a nice distraction from American troubles and suggested that chaos doesn’t only happen to Americans. Further still: We’re not the only hated ones out there.

2.) Although grossly misleading, the Muslim angle to the riot’s story enabled some to connect the dots in such a perverse, inaccurate way as to suggest (as noted above) that the riots were a direct result of France’s refusal to join the “Coalition of the Willing.” (Such twisted logic might also lead one to believe that, since the majority of the rioters during the L.A. riots were black, the riots were about lack of U.S. aid to Africa).

3.) The uncovering of France’s poor and unassimilated underbelly provided Republicans with another opportunity to denounce welfare assistance and the French government’s strong hand in the country’s machinations. There is, in fact, a lot of merit to the analyses made here and the criticisms leveled against France on this point. Still, one had to wonder if Republicans were making their point to help the French in their home country? Or to exact political gain here…

It’s true that there was lots of serious and good Republican analysis of the French riots, analysis that spoke truth to a little-known (and oppressive) power in France. Still, it was hard to take the bulk of pundits seriously, when one got the impression that they were downright giddy over the entire thing.

In the end it was hard for me to figure out which was worse: What the riots said about France? Or what our reaction said about us.

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