IT cannot have been easy for President Chirac to admit in his televised adress to the nation that 18 nights of urban violence had revealed a “profound malaise” in French society. On the other hand, to have described it in any less serious a way would have been to ignore the reality of what is happening. Relations between Britain and France being what they always are, fractious and envious, it is natural that on this occasion some British opinion thinks that the French are getting what they deserve for their general air of arrogance over the superiority of their way of life. However, some of the mean comments in the British press have been uncalled for since Britain has faced similar, if less widespread, rioting by immigrants in the past and may well do so again in the future. What distinguishes France's current embarrassment is that it is causing the country at large to examine the place that immigrants who have been in the country for as long as half a century and raised families have achieved for themselves. There is not a single member of the French parliament of north African or black African origin and ethnic minority faces are hard to find on television, in the media and in business. President Chirac was presumably referring to this when he spoke about “discrimination which saps the fondation of the republic” and the need for the French media and political class to “better reflect the reality of French society”. Without crowing about it, Britain can certainly claim to have done rather better in these regards than France, although the successes are often fragile. Meanwhile, as always happens in such circumstances, the government is worried about its image abroad. An official spokesman has complained about headlines such as “Is Paris burning?” Perhaps he was a young man who did not know the origin of that potent question.


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