Tuesday, November 08, 2005

parlez vous Tex-Mex?

During the 1930 to 1936 timeframe France constructed its "Maginot Line" fortifications (http://europeanhistory.about.com/library/weekly/aa070601d.htm) to defend its territory from potential German and Italian invasions. This fortress mentality (which today is represented by France's resistance to engage in free trade in agriculture) was obsolete in military terms as the walls were being constructed given the dynamic nature of the German war machine. Once the Nazis were prepared they simply bypassed these fortifications via its blitzkrieg attack plans which included dropping paratroopers behind the Maginot Line. This practice was especially effective since the "French side" of the Maginot Line apparently did not contain weapons.

It has been nearly 70 years since the Maginot Line was completed in France but the "Fortress France" mentality lives on today via a set of "mini-Maginots" that are called "Paris suburbs" in news reports regarding the civil unrest in the (as reported by the media) highly unemployed, disaffected, angry, majority Muslim populations. The rioting and vandalism which began in the Paris suburbs has reportedly spread to Germany and Belgium. Since I live in Brussels, Belgium on a part-time basis I have witnessed this "demographic profile" of the young, militant, disaffected gangs of mostly males in the February 2004 timeframe. I was standing in line with friends at the Havana Club in Brussels when a small gang of teenagers starting attacking us with snow balls (today it is Molotov cocktails, not snow balls, in France so I count my blessings).

I could produce hundreds of words on the reasons for this violence from religious, economic, social, and political viewpoints but for now I will reserve those thoughts for potential future postings. Today I am going to focus on one basic theme -- how a nation-state "processes and integrates" immigrants/minority populations.

One option of course is for the USA to offer the French some "foreign aid" based on our experience with race relations in the form of:

-diversity training courses
-affirmative action guidelines
-trial lawyers
-Jesse Jackson
-LBJ's Great Society
-electronic commerce via the Internet (a truly color blind society)

However, the USA is no perfect model for race relations/minority integration regardless of what every American school child was taught -- at least when I was a student -- about the USA being a great "melting pot" where all cultures merge into one "American culture" and we all get along well. Of course for the "melting" to occur there is always plenty of "heat" (social tension and even violence) to finalize the process.

In one sense the French and American cultures are very similar in terms of their respective ruling elites and "red neck" populations' distaste for new immigrants and minorities that do not fully match the mental image of what an "American or Frenchman" should look like. In my own country this mindset is probably best represented by Pat Buchanan of "CNN Crossfire" fame and author of Right from the Beginning who as a presidential candidate advocated the creation of a long, tall fence (the American version of the Maginot Line?) across the Southwest USA as a tool for keeping Mexicans in Mexico. Granted Mr. Buchanan is much better read than I however I am confident enough to highlight that he has overlooked one aspect of American history especially important given his Irish Catholic (mostly German) roots. This one aspect is the harassment and discrimination the Irish immigrants faced in the USA ( http://www.city-journal.org/html/eon_1_14_03ws.html) until their population became mainstreamed culminating with the election of President Kennedy in 1960. Given the Irish historical experience in terms of discrimination and blatant racism in the USA it is accurate to call today's Mexican immigrants the "modern day Irish" as our nation works to integrate and mainstream our most recent immigrants.

Closed minds and closed borders prevent the development of free trade which historically has led to military conflict between nations. The extension of free trade to the Muslim world and the requisite economic restructuring and democratization that are the byproducts of frictionless markets offer greater potential for racial harmony versus the mobilization of police and military units.



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