Saturday, November 12, 2005
Gallia est omnis divisa in partes duo
As has been amply highlighted by the recent riots, France faces a demographic problem similar to most of the "western" world, Japan faces the same problem so the better adjective is developed, an aging population putting ever greater demands on a social welfare system. France's problems are magnified by (a) the generousity of their retirement benefits and (b) by the fact that France's young are increasingly Muslim, African, and Arab.
France is facing the problem that dare not speak its name. Though French law prohibits the census from any reference to ethnic background or religion, many demographers estimate that as much as 20-30 per cent of the population under 25 is now Muslim. The streets, the traditional haunt of younger people, now belong to Muslim youths. In France, the phrase "les jeunes" is a politically correct way of referring to young Muslims.
Given current birth rates, it is not impossible that in 25 years France will have a Muslim majority. The consequences are dynamic: is it possible that secular France might become an Islamic state?
Because France does not keep statistics on ethnicity it is difficult to know the number of Muslims. Different interests in French society have their own reasons for claiming exaggerated or underestimated figures for the Muslim population. While demographics might point to a Muslim majority at some point in the future that is not France's problem in the here and now.
Integrating the Muslim immigrants who came to France after the second world war has not been a priority in French society. The response seems to have been, "Welcome to France. You are now French." This might have worked if the Muslim immigrants were living in a society that gave them something to do with their time. But a social welfare system that discourages job growth, which tolerates a national unemployement rate of around 10% and much higher for its non-white youth was bound to have social strife. Even with a generous benefits for the unemployed, idle hands are the devil's tools. That is the real problem for France today.
The French Muslims have a good reason to feel alienated. They have been. French society has not done enough to bring them into their world. But anger is not rational and so the riots are without purpose and work to further isolate the French Muslim. Unfortunately, the French government is not likely to take the right lessons from this. Economic opportunity would go a long way towards relieving the tensions in the banluie. A Muslim majority or, more likely, a larger minority need not be a problem for France. As long as they have jobs most people can even live with bigotry.