November 14, 2005

Ireland can learn lessons from fires in France

Posted in People · 11 comments ·

Could it happen here?

Could we have race riots in west Dublin, Parnell Street or Shandon?

What lessons should we learn from France, and what does the violence in the French suburbs tell us about Europe, Ireland and the future?

In the past week, three broad explanations have been advanced to rationalise the chaos raging in France. The first is the �official’ line, which borrows heavily from soft-focus economics and sociology. It can also be described as the left-liberal analysis, and claims that the problem is one of social exclusion. The solution therefore, is fairly straightforward – more jobs, more income and a greater stake in France. The only debate is how you achieve that.

The second explanation could be termed the mainstream, right-wing, �nationalist’ view. It postulates that these (mostly Muslim or black) teenagers have not been forced out of French society, but rather have opted out. They are challenging the authority of the French state in France.

This nationalist analysis has been gaining currency for some time. For example, in 2002 at a France-Algeria football match in Paris, many of the 70,000-strong crowd were young North Africans from the Parisian suburbs who booed La Marseillaise.

France’s star player, Zinedine Zidane, who is of Algerian descent, is a role model for success in the �official’ left-liberal way of looking at things, an example of how poor immigrants can make their way out of the ghetto. Yet, on the night, instead of being celebrated for his successes, he was castigated for having �sold out to France’�.

Therefore, the nationalist conclusion is that the rioters are the “enemy within”.

They are threatening the state and, as French citizens, they have to be brought to heel like anyone else.

Then there is a third idea doing the rounds. Let’s call this the extreme-right or McCarthyite view, which sees al-Qaeda behind everything. Like McCarthyism in the US of the 1950s, which saw “reds under the bed”, these cultural/religious commentators see a vast orchestrated Islamic conspiracy every time a person of Muslim origin expresses a view on anything.

As far as this view is concerned, the French riots are just another installment of a “clash of civilisations”, which, if we are not careful, will culminate in our daughters going to school in burkas. The solution for the neo-McCarthyites is to weed out Muslim extremists, and they see this as part of the ongoing fight on behalf of the Christian tradition of France and Europe.

All these views have legitimacy in parts.

Yet possibly a more instructive way to examine France and Europe is through the broad brush of history, seeing events like the riots as punctuation marks.

Taking a bit of altitude and borrowing from the world view of the great British historian Alfred Toynbee, historical movements can be seen as the consequences of the challenges confronting a society.

The role of the elite is to analyse the challenge and find appropriate responses.

If the challenge is tackled successfully, the society progresses and finds a new equilibrium. If the answers are not the right ones, the challenge returns, until such a time as the elite can be replaced (revolution) or the society itself disappears (end of civilisation). This analysis was extremely relevant to Europe between 1860 and 1960, when the challenges were nationalism and Franco-German rivalry. After three wars failed to settle the problem, a new elite (Monnet, Schuman and Adenauer) rose to the fore and came up with European integration.

This tackled the old problems well, but today the obstacle is different. Europe’s problem is certainly not the old Franco-German rivalry with Britain arbitraging.

Today’s challenge is demographic and sociological. How do you make an old and rich society co-exist with young, poor and desperate societies in the same countries?

How do you do this in the knowledge that there can be no military solution?

How do you do this when you know that the white, ethnically European population is falling, relative to the non-white, immigrant numbers? The implosion of social welfare systems, immigration, internal troubles, deteriorating educational systems – all of these problems are rooted to some extent in the demographic collapse of western Europe.

Polishing up the old solutions of further European integration (as is now happening in Brussels) that worked for the purpose of keeping Europe at peace, will do little to solve today’s challenge.

The EU constitution is dead, not because it is wrong or bad, but because it does not ask the right question. It is irrelevant. So where do we go from here?

In the case of recent French and European history, it is highly likely that we are seeing a punctuation mark of the same magnitude as the 1968 student riots. The 68ers – as they are known on the continent – came to dominate intellectual, political and economic life in the EU with their cocktail of multiculturalism, individual liberty and collective economics. It is a �United Colours of Benetton’ world, with a big liberal state and high taxes.

This 40-year-old consensus is being challenged by the riots. The elite’s response can be more of the same, or it can revert to the very Gaullist response that the 68ers rallied against.

The evidence in France, the Netherlands, Denmark, Austria and Italy suggests that voters have had enough and want a traditional nationalist response of the sort General de Gaulle stood for. This means that, in the same way as the 68ers saw the old elite swept from power, they themselves will now be swept away and replaced by neo-conservative leaders like Nicolas Sarkozy in France, who will not tolerate a challenge to the authority of the state.

This may make the majority of people feel safer on the streets, but it still does not answer the big question posed by second-generation French teenagers booing Zidane for playing for France. How does France get these people to willingly sing La Marseillaise? You can’t make them love, or even identify, with France or Europe by beating them.

And this is perhaps where we in Ireland can learn something. We are absorbing immigrants at a breakneck pace, and most of them will stay here. There is more to a society than a labour market, so one of the great imponderables is how will we all get on at a social, emotional, philosophical and cultural level in 20 years’ time.

What will Ireland mean to them, and what will it mean to us? We can’t coerce someone into being Irish, so how do we ensure that everyone has a stake in it and a shared sense of a common project?

By far the most important gauge of this will be economic opportunity. Enough said. But what about adding to this free-market mix a little bit of state-directed national solidarity?

One very unfashionable idea that might help is some sort of national service. Not military service, but social service undertaken by all of us – not just teenagers. It sounds outdated, and could be seen in some quarters as an affront to personal liberty, but the idea is about simply giving something back to society. For the sons and daughters of immigrants, it could serve to construct an allegiance to the country that is not the land of their ancestors.

At the moment, what we are doing with young immigrant kids is what we did with the Irish language revival movement. We are putting the entire onus on the education system. The classroom is now the melting pot. This can be very effective, but it can also be highly divisive and, ultimately, primary teachers can’t be expected to teach easy sums and good citizenship at the same time.

Given that the biggest social issue we are facing is the one that has exploded on the French streets, a little bit of big thinking now when we have the chance might not go astray.

David McWilliams’ book The Pope’s Children, published by Gill and Macmillan, will be in the shops from Thursday, November 17.

  1. Dan Hayes


    You’ve come a long way compared to your previous
    Panglossian gushing over the attributes of immigration to
    Ireland. For example, on 13/06/2005 you had never quite got
    around to stating as you did today that “there is more to a
    society than a labour market.”

    This is a big problem. I don’t have a simple solution. But
    one that is balderdash is your proposal for some type of
    national service.

    I am afraid that the best that we can do for now is to
    recognize the fact that multiethnic societies are
    inherently unstable. Once we recognize this fact, then we
    can take whatever measures are possible to alleviate the
    malady. Note that I did not say cure, but alleviation.

    We in the West have made a faustian bargain, now the bills
    are coming due! We in the West are incapable of cutting off
    or even rolling back the source of this problem, as we have
    become addicted to unfettered immigration.

    Enoch Powell’s prediction of rivers of blood has not yet
    literally materialized, but just wait!

  2. john bennett

    We are storing up big problems for the future. To go from
    zero immigration 10 years ago to around 100,000 a year now
    is too much too quickly. I think we have to bring in yearly
    immigration quotas like they have in australia. Because the
    population of ireland is around 4 million, i think the
    appropriate quota should be not more than 50,000 per year.
    Yes immigration is good but it is the level of immigration
    relative to the size of the irish population that is the
    problem. Afterall when emmigration from ireland was at its
    height the most that left the country in a year was 40,000.
    (of course many more than this left during the famine but
    they were fleeing a disaster rather than emmigrating).
    I also agree with your analysis that the liberal politics
    which became fashionable after 1968 looks like being swept
    aside. It looks like we are entering another conservative
    era. Liberal politics does not have any answers for the
    problems the world is now facing because it is still stook
    in 1968.

  3. Paul

    Quote of the week on this topic must go to Jay Leno last
    night. ” following the riots in Paris I see that the
    French government have decided to pull out of France”

  4. adrian

    Lookin’ fo a job thick mick, can’t you read…
    No Irish – No Blacks.

    We’ve come along way and its all about human respect.

    Its been hard for the French Arabs to earn respect and take
    their rightful place in french society when France looks
    down upon them.Its important to humanise people and not to
    de-humanise via racial prejudice.
    Dirty Arab, cottin’ pickin’ nigger, Abo, jewish pig,
    theivin’ gypsy b**tard, not forgetting…thick paddy. All
    commonly remembered terms of abuse that are no longer
    In Ireland here some valuable work has been done reducing
    prejudice, showing the human face of the travelling
    community.Theres a long way to go but in-roads are being
    made.If you don’t believe me check out the local Odeon for
    Pavee Lackeen.
    In the u.k Coronation Streets Dev, Sineeta and Scooter put
    a very nice human face to the Asian community, and aren’t
    there a couple of black girls working in underworld!

    Tribalism is a natural human tendancy, the old Irish Clans
    had manys a tribal feud and we’re finally ACTIVELY moving
    to resolve the last few. (Thanks again John Hume.)

    Our government must remain active on the guard against
    racism. Information broadcasts are helpful. Irish televised
    drama has a role to play in introducing and humanising our
    new arrivals.

    Who will be our first president of Travelling Irish

  5. Bob Moore

    I think the government have got it broadly right on
    immigration. You can come here to work but you can’t get
    benefits for 2 years is a good strategy. That way we get the
    good determined immigrants.

    Our contnuing growth would have stalled back in 2001 if not
    for the continuing influx of immigrants.

    I live by the principle that people, regardless of
    background have my respect and it is up to them to lose it
    rather than the other way round. Try talking to “immigrants”
    instead of seeing them as a problem or as a threat – you
    will be pleasantly surprised most of the time. This strategy
    has served me well and would serve society well too.

  6. Paul Rux, Ph.D.

    David, you quoted British historian Alfred Toynbee. His
    name was Arnold Toynbee. You however have captured the
    essence of his Study of History. This as always is a
    great analytical essay. In the end, a society must affirm
    its values and believe in them, or it will go under. The
    multiculturalism will get us nowhere, as France shows.

  7. Tom Farrell

    Can we have a reality check please!
    – Start of rant –
    Do you really believe that political leaders in this
    country (from any party) can deliver an insightful long-
    term vision for Irish society AND back it up with short-
    term courage in decision-making? If so, you are truly
    deceiving yourself. Most of our neighbours experienced
    similar economic and social developments over the past
    decades with far more complex societies and far higher
    populations, i.e. we have a tremendous opportunity not to
    repeat the mistakes of the past for a challenge that is
    much smaller in scale/complexity. Are we demonstrating this
    ability to learn from the past? Of course not. Look no
    further than policies and decisions on road building,
    stadium building, transport planning, urban and rural
    planning, hospital management, elderly care, child care,
    immigration, lobbying by industry vested interests, etc.
    The list goes on. Doubtless, there have been advances, but
    overall, the level of leadership/insight pales compared to
    the pace of unmanaged change in society. Why? Because the
    political elite in Ireland have always been myopic – it
    stems from the “shur, ‘tis good enough” mentality that
    condones mediocrity and status quo so well. Rude awakenings
    occur from time to time but it is always an externality
    that kicks them out of the comfort zone, e.g. rip-off
    Ireland publicity mocking the Groceries Order, someone
    dying on a hospital bed, children being raped by those in
    authority, etc. Again, the list goes on. It was ever thus.
    – End of rant –

  8. mark

    Immigration is being used to maintain high property values
    (as yesterday’s article in the Independent gleefully noted
    the eleven thousand migrants a month are not only
    preventing a price collapse but are sufficient to also
    support the construction of75,000 housing units p/a ).
    That Fianna Fail are the political wing of the
    construction industry is beyond doubt, but the cannier
    elements in the party – most especially the devious
    leader – are knowingly following a darker purpose. The
    idea of a nation is an anathema to these creatures, and in
    one generation their goal of creating a populace so
    fragmented that it cannot unite, therefore the most
    malleable to the tyranny of industry.

  9. Peter

    Its a known fact that multiculturalism has failed in every country in the world and its destined to fail here in Ireland. The media or politicians cant force irish people to accept foreigners if they do not want to accept them. The problem is that multiculturalism is being blossomed by the media without any real honest in depth into its lethality. Irish people cannot become a minority in their own country just to make immigrants happy.

  10. david murphy

    David says
    The fianna fail mafia have sold this country down the toilet
    the religion of this country is not catholicism but fianna failism
    the land,the infrastructure, the health service have been sold by
    the devil in-carnate, ahern and his political elite cronies.
    the bleeding hearts and do-gooders in the media will not
    allow anybody to say anything negative about bogus asylum seekers from
    sub-saharan africa, who have targeted this country for free everything,
    that’s why they keep on coming, one is called a racist because they
    see this going on, and nobody is doing anything about it. Its a rudderless ship
    it set sail will the corruption of haughey and has continued on its way with ahern
    and who-ever this god-father hands the mantle onto. the fianna fail mafia have
    allowed this to happen in order to fill the empty properties built by their ‘cute
    country builder fraternities’. no stone will be left un-turned in the interest of
    profit or greed. The church has suddenly woken up to this, only now after
    90 years, Bishop Martin talks about corruption in 3rd world countries, failing
    to recognise what has been going on in this country sine 1923,we are a first
    world country run by politicians with a third world mentality, its not surprising
    that the arrogance of fianna fail knows no end, they are in-vinicible, they are
    everywhere, the media, the police, all the top jobs, semi-state bodies etc, etc
    its a benign dictatorship, but rotten to the core, as all dictatorships in-evitably are

  11. David R

    Lets not forget that under this government we have 10,000 native Irish in Dublin alone without their own houses altho there are 100,000 houses in the same city laying empty . Since the start of 2007 55 Irish homeless have died on the streets of Dublin and the most of them were under 30 yrs of age. The government leads us to believe that asylum seekers are not getting cars and other benefits although ask many garages and they will show you the cheques from the welfare department, go into bars in town and see the asylum seekers working openly in the toilets (although they are not ment to work) stand outside the sinn feinn office in parnell square in dublin on a Tuesday morning and see 2 coaches pull up full of African women asylum seekers as they go shopping in Arnotts and then get taken back to the old Butlins camp. Why is it that nomatter how much the government get exposed they still get back into power ? surely the Irish people have got a bit of fight left as we are famouse for.
    Dureing july to september this year England deported almost 4,000 failed asylum seekers men women and children (that were born in England), we take in 250% more claims (although having no direct routs to Africa or Asia unlike England) than they do but in the hole of this year have only deported less than 300. We have over 11,000 failed asylum seekers still here in Ireland 7,000 of which are Nigerian dateing over the past 6 years. The day after the romanians were deported this year 24 of those came back in and remain here in tents at the back of pheonix park Dublin each one had their passpots stamped when deported and told not to re enter for a period of 4 yrs. They beg in our streets and shout abuse at tourist that dont want to give them monies cant we just stop them coming in ? when the economy collapses we are going to be left with huge welfare bills that the country cant cope with because the government have taken large payrises. Facts in England show that sudanese people are 7 times less likely to look for work than other immigrants, pakistanies are less likely to get employment, Nigerian women like the sudanese are less likely to ever work. In london England their are over 90% immigrants and 3rd and 4th generation africans still claiming welfare although london has at least 2 jobs per capita of london. Africans in London account for more than half of all welfare payments. Here 33% of welfare goes to non nationals 6% to english people that have moved here and 9% to Nigerians. Many of those non nationals that claim wefare here are getting payments for children that are not in the state this was evident recently when statistics were released by the fraud department that found Chinese and African parents claiming for children that are back in their native lands. And the government doesnt think we will have problems in the future? when the Irish realise they are not as rich as they think and the blurred vision has gone and there houses are being taken by banks and they lose there jobs, its then that they will look at the Immigrants in new cars and houses and see what problems are there. I cant wait for the Irish people to wake up.
    These people are not the new Irish, how can they be as to be new you have to get rid of the old and we havent got any intetion of going anywhere, jsut because a dog is born in a barn it doesnt make it a horse.

    ps sorry for spelling and grammer .

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