French Riots ‘Just the Beginning’ of Greater Civil Unrest in Europe: Political Scientist
French Riots ‘Just the Beginning’ of Greater Civil Unrest in Europe: Political Scientist

By Bill Pan and Jan Jekielek

The riots in French cities are the latest manifestation of the country’s inability to integrate millions of young Muslim immigrants, but that problem is not limited to just France, according to Soeren Kern, a political scientist specialized in Middle Eastern and transatlantic geopolitics.

“What we’re seeing really is the the end of multiculturalism as we know it,” Mr. Kern, a Cold War U.S. Air Force veteran-turned geopolitical analyst, said in an interview for EpochTV’s “American Thought Leaders: NOW.”

“French policymakers have been bringing in migrants from North Africa and the Muslim world for almost 50 years,” Mr. Kern told host Jan Jekielek.

“What is happening now is that, after many decades of having these people come in and not being integrated, there is tremendous social friction between the police and many of these immigrant groups who live in the sidelines of French society, particularly in the slums or in the large cities of France.”

This month’s violent protests in France were triggered by the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Nahel Merzouk during a police traffic stop in the Paris suburb of Nanterre, home to tens of thousands of African and Muslim immigrants.

With thousands of protesters arrested so far, the police are bracing themselves for July 14, Bastille Day that could see tensions flare up again. The French government has temporarily banned the sale of fireworks, a staple of the day, which celebrates the violent overthrow of the French government in 1789.

A burnt tram following violence and protests the previous night in reaction to an officer-involved shooting, in Clamart, southwest of Paris, on June 29, 2023. (Emmanuel Dundand/AFP via Getty Images)

Not Exactly Like George Floyd Riots

Some observers have been quick to compare the killing of Merzouk with George Floyd’s death in the custody of Minneapolis police, which sparked widespread unrest across the United States in the summer of 2020. Mr. Kern, however, said there are important differences between the two events.

“The riots around the George Floyd killing were organized by Marxist groups in the United States,” Mr. Kern explained, referring to the radical leftist Black Lives Matter organization and anarco-communist Antifa. “The difference is that these riots in Europe are clearly spontaneous.”

“They’re not organized by any Islamist or Marxist groups,” he continued. “It’s just hatred: intense hatred for the French people and for the French state among a large number of youths who are unemployed and have very few prospects of having a normal life in France. When you have these cases of police brutality, you have this resentment that really gets out of control.”

It doesn’t mean that the French radical left is not taking advantage of the chaos to push an anti-police agenda, Mr. Kern noted. On the other hand, the French far-right has also expressed anti-immigrant rhetoric, labeling all immigrants as rioters and trouble makers.

“The truth is somewhere really in between,” the Spain-based political scientist said. “You have a segment of these Muslim migrants, particularly from North Africa, who just have no prospect of integrating. Their parents or grandparents came to France maybe 50 years ago, who integrated well and are moving to the French suburbs—a move up in the social ladder. Now you have these second- and third-generation migrants who are no longer linked to their parents, but they’re also not really accepted by France.”

“They were born in France. They have French citizenship. But they’re really what I call ‘stateless citizens,’” he continued. “They really don’t identify with the French state. They don’t identify with the land of their parents. And for them to be living in the slums is not a way up. It’s sort of a dead end. I think that this is really the problem.”

Men sit on their mattresses in the illegal immigrant camp in the Stalingrad district of Paris on July 12, 2023. (Julien De Rosa/AFP via Getty Images)

Realities of Immigrant Neighborhoods

When asked about the behavior of law enforcement in European neighborhoods where Muslim immigrants became the majority, Mr. Kern said the top priority of police officers there is to simply survive.

“You’re finding this in a lot of the large French cities, the larger German cities, and to some extent, in Madrid, on the outskirts of the capital, where you have very, very large numbers of immigrants where the native Europeans are now in the my own minority,” he said. “What happens is, essentially, that the norms of the countries of the migrants are the law of the land.”

“For the police, fire departments, ambulances—any sort of representative of the state—there’s a reluctance of these people to go into these areas because of the danger that presents them,” Mr. Kern added, noting that when Mr. Merzouk refused to stop for the traffic check, the police reacted to his evasion by shooting him.

“The problem is that the police, when they’re working in these areas, their number one perspective is survival,” the expert in Islamism said. “They’re assuming that everybody in these neighborhoods is a criminal. The immigrants see these attitudes of the police as xenophobic and discriminatory, and that just creates more hatred towards the state.”

Although Mr. Kern believes that radical Islamists didn’t play a significant role in this particular incident, he did note that Islamist elements have been taking roots in many of these neighborhoods.

“In some cases, particularly in Germany and in France, you have the Islamists that are taking advantage of the despair of the youths, and they offer them a brighter future through the future of Islam. So there’s a radicalization that takes place,” he said. “These people then obviously try to enforce Sharia laws in their neighborhoods and barrios.”

Diluted National Identity

The French, as well other European governments, are unable or unwilling to create effective integration polices, and that has a lot to do with a particular sentiment in the demoralized post-World War II Europe, according to Mr. Kern.

“After the end of the Second World War, there was a general feeling that nationalism is the cause of wars, and that if you can dilute what it means to be German and dilute what it means to be French—I mean, really mix up what it means to be a German person, it would reduce the chances of for war in the future,” he explained. “So really, these failed policies and these failed premises have been going on for at least 50 years.”

“It’s not just limited France. It also extends to Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, some of the Scandinavian countries, and here in Spain, to some extent, particularly around Madrid and some of the southern cities,” Mr. Kern added.

Even if the European policymakers start to acknowledge the failure of multiculturalism, there’s no quick fix of the issue under the current European Union legal framework, Mr. Kern said.

“There’s really nothing that can be done to my mind at the moment, because these people are European citizens,” he said. “They were born here. They can’t be deported. And even if they were deportable, European Union and human rights laws make it almost impossible.”

The problem with illegal immigrants, who came into Europe in their millions over the past decade, is not any easier to solve either.

“They’re committing crimes because they can’t provide for themselves in normal jobs. So they go into drug dealing, purse snatching, and all sorts of petty crimes,” Mr. Kern said. “These people are arrested and let go and arrested and let go, because European human rights laws make it almost impossible to deport these people.”

“So what we saw in France is just the beginning, I think, of a great civil unrest here in Europe.”

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