Dave Schuler at The Glittering Eye gets it almost exactly right:
Once again, I think it’s important to understand the actual nature of the problems. The two young men who were killed in the collision that touched off the rioting were said to have been of North African descent. We don’t know where they were born. In all likelihood their grandparents emigrated from Algeria or another French department. We don’t know if they or those who’ve been rioting are Muslims. Nominally, they probably are but we have no idea if they were particularly religious.That's pretty much it - but it's the grinding poverty and bigoted discrimination attendant on their status (by deliberate if unstated policy) that creates a recipe for violence. Pretty much the same recipe that gave rise to the U.S. riots of the 60s or the UK riots of '81, 85, '95 and '01.
This is not about religion; it is not about culture. That’s not at the root of the problem here. There is a problem and it’s not unique to France but one that will be of increasing significance to all of the (traditionally) ethnic states of Europe. How are those who’ve lived in France all their lives but aren’t Français de souche to be considered? Right now they’re neither fish nor fowl.
That’s why I’ve emphasized the importance of our birthright citizenship over here. It at least has a chance of giving the descendants of immigrants a stake in the country that’s the only one they’ve ever known.
Some European wingnuts are calling for the French military to be used to put down these rioters, who it is reported have used shotguns against police in some instances. It's unclear, however, that the army could accomplish any more than the 25,000 paramilitary riot police of the well-trained and equipped CRS and the Mobile Gendarmerie are doing already. France has a long history both of protest riots and of putting down those riots, which is why it has these units already. It's ludicrous to suggest that current events are anything more than a law enforcement problem in that respect - it's certainly no war. Treating the underlying causes would be more of an option than sending in the tanks.
Update In an excellent post BJ at Northman's Fury worries, as do I, that tough-guy Sarkozy is the wrong person to deal with the underlying causes:
I don't envy the French police the job they have ahead of them to get order restored once again, but I'm fairly sure they'll be able to do that without putting tanks onto the streets. That's when the real work should begin.However, I'm encouraged that, so far at least, Sarkozy is far more soft-touch in his handling of the situation now that he actually is the guy in charge than his rhetoric back when he simply wanted to be the guy in charge suggested. I'm sure the wingnuts are equally as disappoined as I am encouraged.
They have to find a way to make the people there trust them; to make them feel like they're being treated in a fair manner and not like some second-class citizens. Find some way, some fashion, to properly integrate the immigrant-descended population into the rest of society. Given the current French leadership, I'm not so certain there will be any attempt to do so, which is unfortunate.
Because when your only response is to use force to keep a population under control, the amount of force you need to use keeps rising, as do the costs and retaliations.