Religion stories (plural) in France

MapofOutbreaksofViolenceinFranceAbout a year ago down in South Florida, I did a Scripps Howard column about young American Jews visiting Israel. One of the young people I interviewed was a 28-year-old cheeseburger devotee who was only hours away from her flight to Tel Aviv. She had made the decision to move to Israel for good. As always, there was all kinds of interesting material from these interviews that I did not have the space to use. My weekly column is very tightly formatted -- plus or minus 10 words.

I asked her if she was worried about finding work once she got to Israel. Did she have something lined up?

She laughed and said she had no worries whatsoever. She said she planned to continue her work in real estate and, "besides, I speak French."

I replied: "French?"

Yes, she said, French. Behind the scenes, Jews from France were starting to do their homework in Israel -- preparing for the day when their synagogues and homes would start to go up in flames and they would have to move. They wanted to be prepared.

She didn't mention Jews worried about their automobiles.

That is just one story, and there are millions like it as the tensions build on both sides in the changing Europe. Events there are, no doubt, being caused just as much by fierce secularism and native racism as they are the tensions between moderate and radical Islam. Few would dispute that.

In fact, since I raised questions about one of her stories the other day, let me go out of my way to point out the following passage in an excellent report from the front lines by Molly Moore of The Washington Post. This is a major chunk taken from her story that ran with the headline "France Beefs Up Response to Riots." This material begins only four paragraphs into this report.

While many French leaders depict the rioters as simple criminals, political and social analysts and many French citizens see the fires that are burning across the country as reflecting a growing identity crisis in a nation where social policies have not kept up with rapidly changing profiles in religion, race and ethnicity.

"France is in a social and economic crisis," said Michelle Rosso, a 43-year-old music teacher from the town of Bagnolet in the northern suburbs of Paris, where the unrest has been most intense. "It's similar to the U.S. civil rights movement in the '60s. The integration policies of this country clearly do not work."

Most of the rioters are the French-born children of immigrants from Arab and African countries. A large percentage are Muslim. Their parents' generation was invited to France as laborers who were expected to return home but didn't. The new generation is coming of age in the midst of France's worst economic slump in years and during a time when many in the country, which is culturally Christian but officially secular, are increasingly fearful of the growth of Islam inside its borders.

At present, the country has an estimated 6 million Muslims, most of African descent. The fear of losing France's traditional white European identity fueled French voters' rejection of the proposed European Union constitution last summer and has heightened French opposition to admitting Muslim Turkey into the E.U.

In short, says one activist: "The French social model is exploding."

In my opinion, Moore hits all of the right notes in this tense, yet compact, section of a hard-news story. The religious elements in this story are placed in some meaningful context -- on both sides -- and she does not deny the role of racism and economic strife.

Contrast this with this Los Angeles Times report that seems to go out of its way to avoid the religious elements of this continent-shaking story. Read it for yourself.

GetReligion readers who are interested in a roundup of religion stories linked to the riot can go here (hat tip to Andrew Sullivan), where you will find links to all kinds of disturbing reports. Hopefully, this "French Intifada" list will continue to be updated. That's a radical metaphor, but it does seem that the fires are going to rage on for some time.

Note: The graphic featured above is from The Telegraph and has appeared on several news blogs.

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