Paris could have seen it coming

Posted in Society, Travel at 12:13 by RjZ

I met my friend, Sayed, while living in Holland. Sayed and his family had emigrated from Afghanistan to escape the Taliban. On the way to the west they destroyed their passports so that when they had finally arrived the Dutch would be forced to seriously examine their case. Sayed is confident that if they had been forced to return, his father and maybe others in his family would have been murdered.

The Dutch authorities put him and his family in an apartment complex with many other asylum applicants while their application is processed. They were in limbo while the bureaucracy decided what to do. The apartments are densely populated but they were given enough to eat and the opportunity to begin Dutch classes. Sometimes this process can take a year or more. When they were approved they were offered a charming place to stay in southern Holland. Unfortunately, they weren’t offered any choices about where this home could be, if, for example, they had friends or business contacts elsewhere in Holland. Once Dutch classes are completed Sayed could try to get a job.

I can only speak for Holland and Germany from my personal experience, but I am familiar with France and the rest of Western Europe. To a varying degree, Western Europe doesn’t have nearly the career mobility that the U.S. does. In Holland for example, potential employees need to have an education for nearly every position conceivable. Doctors and lawyers obviously require university education which is available free to the Dutch, but you must qualify for the university while still in grammar and high school. Graphic designers need to go to school. Even secretaries have secretary school and jobs are all but closed to those without the right credentials. The government even requests entrepreneurs to go to school before they can work for themselves. The result of all this is that Sayed couldn’t really get a job unless he went to school but the Dutch government didn’t give him enough money to pay for school. They will pay for some schooling for him though. Which ones? Excellent professions for an individual who speaks six languages like, say, truck driving.

Sayed worked illegally making pizzas and studied on the side. He took any entry level position he could find at various companies trying to move into a position that he studied for. He had little success and the economy in Weert, the small town in which we lived, is hardly accommodating to a wide range of opportunity. Even though the kind and generous government housed and fed him, all Sayed really wanted was to take care of himself.

This isn’t the only problem either. Western Europeans are rightly proud of their long and rich history. There is a well-deserved ethnocentrism in Europe that differs from the U.S. American version. In the U.S., for the most part, being born here is sufficient enough to grant you the ethnocentric term “American.” Europeans are much more stingy with French, German or Dutch. Even in the U.K. they still joke about how their king was a German. Society is more insular in Europe. Sure, people are friendly and asylum seekers are treated well, but they aren’t Dutch , German or French and the majority of their friends won’t be either. I noticed this difference too, while trying to make friends with the Dutch. One could barely tell the difference between me and the average Dutchman (I’m much shorter and have a funny accent) but there were still frustrating obstacles to making friends. But try going into a department store with Sayed who is more obviously not Dutch and you could practically feel the eyeballs on your back following you around the store perhaps trying to make sure you and your buitenlander (foreigner) friend didn’t steal anything. Virtually every foreigner living in Holland with whom we spoke shared this view with us. In Holland the foreigners are strictly distributed around the country which likely mitigates the ghettos that have developed in France but the separation is there either way.

So what’s going on in France? Are Muslims really rioting because two young men, broke the law by running from the police and then trespassing in a dangerous place and killing themselves tragically? Probably not. Is the rioting because foreigners have refused to integrate with society? In some cases they haven’t, but deciding not to integrate is an easy choice given how difficult it is to assimilate in European society. Are the foreigners afraid that the police cannot be trusted to deal with them fairly? They do feel harassed and that’s not right, but it’s probably an overstatement to claim that the French justice system has collapsed and is convicting people without evidence based only on their background or religion.

The rioting in France appears to be spreading and I am not surprised because the problems I’ve described in Holland are similar in France, Germany and Belgium and probably elsewhere as well. The government provides money, housing and food but no choice. One problem is the rigidity inherent in many European societies which requires young people to decide what they will do with their careers and make choices about them that they will have extreme difficulty changing later before they even graduate high school. The Dutch have to deal with this just as much as the foreigners do, but they’re at least used to it, perhaps. Foreigners, on the other hand can’t find satisfying jobs or afford to live where they’d like. They sit at home, take money from the government and grow to hate them for it. Foreigners are generously provided with everything they need except perhaps the only thing they want–freedom.

Families and friends that upon emigrating split off to go to Europe while the rest go to Canada or the U.S. all seem to share the same experience. Life is easy in Europe and they can’t wait to get out to get to the land of opportunity and choice in Canada or the U.S. Meanwhile, new American citizens are given little money and less support when they arrive but all the opportunity their hard work can generate. We’ve described to Sayed how hard life can be for new immigrants to the U.S. There will be no free house and terrible health care. You will have to struggle just to feed yourself in the U.S. But, if you work hard and have skills you will be able to find a job. If you perform well in that job you will earn more responsibilities and more salary. No guarantees, except that you can quit and try again somewhere else. It’s amazing to see how enthusiastic he is about losing his house and welfare checks just for the opportunities here.


  1. pat said,

    November 12, 2005 at 9:33

    The Wall Street Journal had two editorial page columns with the same conclusions. It’s not a Muslim problem, it’s a problem with Europe’s policy of “compassionate control”.

    So where does this leave us? In the heartless American system, people have the freedom to fall through the cracks or to become the next Bill Gates, while in Europe people are comfortable but less free. What nation provides another alternative?

  2. Traveling Hypothesis » Too happy or too tired to riot said,

    August 31, 2011 at 12:56

    [...] there was rioting in Paris. At that time disenfranchised youths primarily drove the rioting, that I claimed could have been traced to the treatment of immigrants. Now there has been rioting in London; was it the same inevitable policy decisions that drove young [...]

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