Wednesday, November 09, 2005

A Transatlantic Conversation on France

Opinio Juris recently posted a comment on an editorial by Mark Steyn. This sparked a lot of controversy because of the bitter attitude of Steyn towards French social problems.

I have few comments on this issue:

Firstly, it is really good fun to have a transatlantic conversation on socio/political issues. Comparative politics, as much as comparative law, are immensely fascinating.

Secondly, it teaches something very important on how to judge foreign experiences. Chris Borgen, for example, insists on the importance of fairmindedness, at any price, even if your interlocutor does not show much of it. Being fair, in other word, does not have to be reciprocal, it may simply be unilateral. In the long run, it is the winning strategy.

Thirdly, as a consequence, shadenfreude (that is, taking pleasure at somebody's else misfortunes) is not a fair attitude. Of course, it does not matter at all who is the receptacle of the shadenfreude (can be France, US, UK, Italy is always unfair).

Fourthly, on the idea of an 'Arab street in Europe': this is not a discovery, I am afraid. But it should be put in context. Europe in general is failing to 'empower' immigrants. This is not a new issue, it is a very old problem that has very many layers; it partly goes back to our colonialist past; it is also due to strong class divides (the best book on this issue is P. Bourdieu, Noblesse d' Etat).

The religious issue we christian/ their muslim is not what this story is all about. If you're poor and christian, and you leave in one of those suburbs, you're very likely to end up burning cars in protest, notwithstanding the religious difference.

It is mainly the Vatican that is insisting on that issue. Srdjan and I discuss that problem in the Oxford Journal of Legal Studies.

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