Monday, December 12, 2005

From November, an interview with Dr Theodore Dalrymple about the Paris riots (for El Espectador)

-You’ve visited French slums, and you’ve also seen Latin American slums. Are they basically the same kind of thing?
No, not at all the same kind of thing. Quite obviously the physical conditions are very different, and also I think the moral conditions are different, the psychological conditions are very different. The French slums, as you call them, aren’t really slums in the sense that they’re terrible. They’re not very beautiful but they’re physically adequate for life.That isn’t the problem, really.

-What is the problem? What do think is cau sing this violence?
The people are completely dependent, there is no economic activity in these towns apart from drug trafficking, really, and other forms of trafficking. There’s not much hope that things are going to change for them. Up to 40% of people under the age of 25 are unemployed, most of them are probably never going to get employed, if they do get employed they’ll be employed not earning very much more than they get for doing nothing, so they feel very aggrieved, and I think that’s a large part of the problem. The situation that’s going on now is fundamentally not very different from what’s been going on for a long time. It’s true that the riots are much worse than anything before, but there’s actually been quite along history of these riots, precipitated by events very similar to the ones that are going on now, though not on such a large scale, obviously.

-Do you think this is something like the Brixton riots or the LA riots that will flare up and disappear, or do you think it’s the start of something new?
In some ways it’s worse, more serious. I was thinking about this, I was thinking about the difference between the situation of Muslims in Britain and these mainly Muslim people in France. I lived in Birmingham where there were a large number of Muslims, and they lived in Victorian terraced houses, a more social form of housing, but also there were substantial numbers of people there who had businesses, and in those areas you would see whole rows of shops and in particular restaurants, which meant that of course there was a group of people in those areas who the last thing they would want, would be a rampaging mob coming through the streets smashing their businesses. There were whole areas devoted to restaurants, and ordinary white people would go there so that there was at least some connection between the communities, they were not completely alien to one other. The fact is that I imagine most Parisians would have no reason to go to the places where these riots are taking place, would never actually have been to them.

-What percentage of the people in these areas are from north Africa?
I would imagine it’s something like 60%, and 30% would be black Africans, there’s a very small number of whites. There’s a very much higher percentage of young people, double the national average.

-You said the time you went there you felt physically threatened.
Yes. I think almost everyone who goes there tends to feel that menace, and also the great hostility towards you which is greater than I’ve experienced almost anywhere. I’ve been to South Africa’s. I didn’t feel any menace at all in Guatemala.

-You never felt threatened in the same way in South America?
I don’t remember ever feeling that. In Colombia one felt in danger because of the kidnapping, but I didn’t feel hostility from ordinary people. The last time Iwas in Bogota, when the concierge tells you not to take any old taxi, you have to order it in advance so that you’re not kidnapped, that does lead you to be nervous, although I can’t remember feeling any hostility of any Colombians to us… If you went to cites around Paris I don’t think it would take youvery long to pick up the notion that you weren’t welcome there, and so in that sense it’s worse, it’s far worse.

-Under what circumstances should European countries accept immigrants?
My view is that one of the problems in France is the very rigid labour laws, which protect people who are already in jobs, but make it very difficult for people without jobs to get jobs. I think it’s a difficult problem. I’ve often thought about the question of people who are illegal, and I’m fairly relaxed about that provided those people find work, and if they findwork and don’t commit any offences, I don’t really mind them coming. But that of course means that you have to have an open economy.

-Do you think there’s any prospect of that in places like France and Germany?
I think there’s possibly more chance in Germany. In France they have to try and square the circle. When the French government attempts to reform there are huge protests from people who are more powerful than these rioters. In a sense the choice is between offending their core population or having riots which from time to time they will have to repress. I don’t think there’s much hope of openness of the French economy because the French population is actually against such openness, as far as understand it. That’s a fundamental contradiction which the government willhave to try and resolve and I don’t think that it’s got much will to do it. It would have to be very brave to do it.

-Why do you this is happening specifically in France? Do you think it could also break out in places like Holland and Belgium and Britain?
I think no country can afford to be complacent. Mitterrand said, during the Los Angeles riots, that we’ll never have riots like that in France because we have so much social security, where in my view it is social security that causes the riots, is the ultimate cause of the riots, not the solution to the riots. SoI don’t think one can be complacent. I don’t know enough about the way that people are living in Belgium and Holland, I don’t know whether the same situation exists in Belgium and Holland with regard to the concentration of these people in areas, and where theyare both geographically separate and economically separate. I don’t think it’s as bad in England, but of course you can’t be complacent in England after the bombings of the seventh of July, so far as I understand it Britain is becoming slightly more segregated along French lines rather than less. I went to Bradford and it is quite segregated. The difference is that until fairly recently Britain had a much more open economy than France. And so people were able to start businesses, which I think is absolutely crucial here, but of course in Britain Mr Brown is doing everything possible to go in the French direction, which I think will be a disaster both economically and socially.

-How many times have you been to Colombia?
Three or four times. I like the country very much, I think it’s a wonderful place.