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American Muslims Not Like Those of France

Arab American News, Commentary, Ali Moossavi Posted: Nov 30, 2005

DETROIT As France burns and the heat of its fires are felt across the European continent, the recurring question isn't the issue of racism or equality, or of the inevitable outbursts from the cesspools of the have-nots that mark the inherent established order of the modern nation-state. The issue, according to the media and statesmen, is integration.

Much has been made about the student uprising of 1968 that almost brought down the French government, which saw a similar revolutionary approach and coordination throughout the country. But the comparison is inappropriate. Ideas did not motivate these young Arabs and Africans to burn cars, but rather a socio-economic malaise of racism and poverty that betrays the Republic's revolutionary promise of Liberte, Egalite, Fraternitie.

What happened in France would never happen here, not because the United States is less racist, but because the class and demography of the Muslim community here bear almost no resemblance to its counterpart in Europe.

There are working class Muslims here and middle class Muslims over there, but a better comparison to make with the communities over there would be with the black and Latino communities here. Today's ghettoes and barrios are the legacies of American colonialism and disenfranchisement, both in the slave trade and in the continuing neo-colonial relationship with Latin America. It is here that the appropriate comparisons can be made.

The youth who are wild in the French streets are the legacies of European domination of North Africa.

Part of the brutal rape, the dark continent suffered for almost two centuries; North Africa witnessed mass murder in Libya by Mussolini's Italy before World War II and the Algerian war of independence from 1954 until 1962, leaving one million dead Algerians in its wake.

It was this conflict that forever destroyed the idea that Algeria was a part of France, and perhaps the second-class status of post-colonial immigrants was the country's revenge against defeat.

That defeat in the idea of French superiority also led to the rise of neo-fascism, where former army officers and torturers like Jean-Marie Le Pen formed the Front Nationale to ensure that non-whites are okay as long as they're controlled. The reaction that followed was logical.

It was as logical for North Africans to rebel against police brutality, poverty and inequality in the French banlieues - French projects - as it was for African-Americans and Latinos in Los Angeles in 1992.

One reason is the simple fact that Muslim youth in America aren't ghetto youth; they lead middle class lives with the means to fulfill their middle class dreams. As a Lebanese friend remarked to me during a Palestine solidarity march in Dearborn four years ago after I jokingly suggested that these Arab youths start rioting, "That'll never happen; this is a middle-class community."

This is, of course, the American dream and it's exactly why our parents and we moved here in the first place. As the saying goes, however, it's a mixed blessing.

While we can afford nice houses and cars and give our kids a future, it also blinds to the reality that we are people of color, with foreign ways and funny names that will always doom us to some form of discrimination. With every election, with more funds gathered and the occasional politician bothering to show up and say a few words, we delude ourselves into thinking, "Our time is coming soon. We'll alter Washington's pro-Israel bent and assume our rightful place in the American mainstream."

All we did was help put Bush in the White House in 2000 and wasted our time with Kerry in 2004. Not only are we nowhere nearer to this goal, but we also have suffered setbacks the Patriot Act, Iraq invasion, covert regime change, etc.

We lack the financial clout of the Jewish lobby and we lack the voting numbers of the Christian Right. The same corporations that sell weapons to Israel and the dictatorships, control Congress, the Pentagon and the White House also control Hollywood and the media, which continue to portray us as terrorists and morons, influencing American social and political attitudes.

Another difference between here and there is the symmetry of the conflict. The Muslims of Britain, France, Russia and Spain, for example, are the ghosts of their particular colonialisms, a haunting reminder of these nations "glorious" pasts.

Hence, the "Eastern question," much like the Jewish question of old, figures prominently among these ruling elites and the old colonial wars Russia's current occupation of Chechnya being the exception are still played out on the streets and everyone there knows it.

It can be seen in the curfew declared on Nov. 9 from a law passed in 1955 dealing with unrest related to the Algerian war, according to the New York Times. It wasn't used during the 1968 uprising, and that almost brought down the French government. It was in effect, however, when a massacre of Algerians in Paris occurred shortly before the end of the war in 1962.

Bosnia's bloodletting 10 years ago may be a portent of what is to come.

And it's precisely this reality that Muslim youths in Europe are aware of - the reality of their oppression. It's this reality that moved them to ignite the streets in fire and it's the reality Americans fool themselves into thinking doesn't exist here.

Ali Moosavi is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to The Arab American News.

Related Stories:

As Flames Die Down, Young People in France Exhale and Organize

The Fire Seen Around the World

Letter From a Young Argentine -- We All Live in Paris Now

French Unrest -- Arab Media Report Riot Manifesto, Recall Algerian Revolution

Riots and Unrest -- A Spreading European Reality

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