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Special Report

What Are the Root Causes of the Rioting in France?

This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from Nov. 7, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BERNARD FRANIO, ESSONE POLICE CHIEF (through translator): They really shot at officers. This is real, serious violence. It’s not like the previous nights. I’m very concerned, because this is mounting.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIT HUME, HOST: In France, rioting in 274 cities and towns, thousands of cars burned, Paris itself affected, and there’s more trouble tonight. Similar outbreaks now occurring in Germany.

Much of the violence occurred in heavily Muslim neighborhoods, but is Islam a factor in this? Why now, and what next?

For answers, we turn to Charles Kupchan, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, who specializes in European studies. Welcome.

CHARLES KUPCHAN, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Glad to be here.

HUME: What’s going on here?

KUPCHAN: Is it Islamic in nature? Yes and no. It is in the sense that the violence is coming primarily from Islamic youth, Muslim youths, who are disaffected; they don’t feel that they have entry into the social mainstream. It’s not, however, being organized by mosques or in any way supported by the broader community of Muslims within France.

HUME: And so there’s no radical clerics that are egging these kids on or anything like that?

KUPCHAN: No, it is not an ideological thing. It is a mix of hooliganism, kids who are just hanging out unemployed and getting into trouble, with this kind of seething sense of here we are, Frenchmen, we have French passports, we’re French citizens, but we are treated as second-class citizens.

HUME: And by and large, are these youths French-born?

KUPCHAN: Yes, for the most part we are talking about people whose parents immigrated to France, largely from North Africa. They are French-born, gone through the French education system, but feel that they’re bumping their heads up on a ceiling socially.

HUME: So these are what, late teens, early 20s?

KUPCHAN: Most of them are in their teens, yes.

HUME: Well, if they’re in their teens, why aren’t they in school? I mean, what does employment have to do with it?

KUPCHAN: Well, some of them are post-high school. Some of them are in the stage in which they’re ready for employment, but there’s nothing for them to do. In some of the communities, we are talking about — have unemployment of 60-plus percent.

HUME: What is life like for unemployed French youth? I mean, are you deprived? Are you — do you live a very mean existence, or not?

KUPCHAN: No, the French welfare state is pretty comfortable, and given that they’re French citizens, and not illegal immigrants, many of them have access to the welfare state. So this is not necessarily about people who have no clothes, no home, no food. It’s more about a sense of alienation and disaffection.

HUME: Now, why do we not have a problem in this country? We have not as significant a percentage, certainly, but we have a large number of people who are from these immigrant communities — and why is it different here?

KUPCHAN: I think it’s because this is not just a question of deprivation. It’s a question of social polarization. The United States is an immigrant country from the very beginning. People come here, and regardless of religion, skin color, their homeland, they are integrated into the social mainstream. And that’s because we have a civic definition of citizenship. If you’re here, you participate, you’re an American.

In France, on the books, you have a civic definition of citizenship, but deep down inside in people’s minds, ethnicity still matters.

HUME: So this is a racial matter then?

KUPCHAN: It’s racial, and it’s a mind-set. For example, someone would say that these immigrants are Frenchmen, but they would not say that they’re Francais de souche, which means of French stock. And it’s that difference.

HUME: Well, that’s really — we’re talking about the kind of ethnic attitude that if this were happening in this country, and there were these attitudes, people would be calling this racism.

KUPCHAN: It is a form of racism, and it goes to the heart of what the nation means to Europeans.

HUME: How likely is this, in your judgment, given the attitudes in other parts of Europe, where the social system is similar — I guess the unemployment rate is similarly high or — and — that we’re likely to see more of this? We had a little taste of it in Germany now.

KUPCHAN: Yes.

HUME: How likely is this to spread elsewhere, in your judgment?

KUPCHAN: I think it is unlikely to spread like wildfire. Could it spread in an isolated fashion? Yes. Why? Because the European countries that we’re talking about — Belgium, the Netherlands, Britain — all have the same fundamental problem, difficulty integrating Muslims into the mainstream.

HUME: Does this speak to our own immigration policies and policies that relate to things like whether — the English immersion teaching, for example?

KUPCHAN: Well, these are some of the things that the French need to do better. They need to make sure that immigrants speak French.

HUME: Do these immigrants, by and large not — or do they speak French?

KUPCHAN: Most of them do, because they’re French-born.

HUME: I understand.

KUPCHAN: But if you go to some communities in France or in the Netherlands, for example, they will not speak the native language, and that means that the French have to invest much more, and the Dutch and others, in vocational training, in language training, in the education system.

And Dominique de Villepin, his speech tonight did suggest that not only are they going to try to crack down through curfews, but they’re going to invest in these communities, in the education system, to try to improve the situation.

HUME: So you regard this as essentially social, as opposed to political as we know it?

KUPCHAN: Yes, I think it’s probably the toughest challenge facing the Europeans, because they have a declining demographic situation, pension systems that are going to go broke. What do they need? Immigrants. They need to make sure that when those immigrants arrive, they feel comfortable and are integrated into the mainstream.

HUME: Charles Kupchan, thank you very much for coming.

KUPCHAN: Pleasure.

HUME: We are going to take a break here to put our sponsors on the air and update the other headlines.

Watch "Special Report With Brit Hume" weeknights at 6 p.m. EDT.

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