November 11, 2005
Is the world burning yet?
As World War II was ending Hitler gave orders that Paris
be set afire, a scorched earth policy he wanted followed as
the Reich died so that when the victors came there would only
be the smoldering embers of a dead world for them to enjoy.
Fortunately for Paris and the rest of the world's the German
general in charge of giving that order failed, deliberately,
to do so and led his troops quietly out of Paris in the slow
retreat that ended with the closing of the war. Paris did
not burn and was left for thousands of romantics to enjoy
for more generations.
During this past week I had dinner with friends who have
an apartment in Paris and they watched fearfully as the rioting
and burning cars began to edge toward their section of the
city. We ate a French café and they discussed, in French,
the state of affairs in Paris with the owners.
Paris was burning now, in a series of flash riots that began
almost two weeks ago when two children, of Muslim parentage,
hid from the police in a power station and were electrocuted.
Since that night, every night has been lit by the fires of
burning cars coupled with the sounds of a disaffected population
rioting and looting.
The rioters are primarily of Muslim background, poor, living
in the urban ghettos of a country that accepts them with the
anticipation they will become as French as the French as that
is the only way to be in France.
Apparently, it is not working. "Equalite,"Liberte"and
"Fraternite"were the cries of the French as they
led their aristocrats to the guillotine in the tumbrels but
now, two hundred plus years later, France is finding that
many of its residents donâ€t feel equality
is theirs â€ and these last two weeks decided
to let the world know through fire and frenzy that they were
not going to be quiet. While some, mostly foreigners, are
squeezed into tiny rooms, like immigrants in many places,
they see on television that there is another, much more comfortable
France inhabited by the French born and they are letting everyone
know they want some of that baguette.
And while France burned during the night, several individuals
strolled into western hotels in Amman, Jordan and blew themselves
up, killing dozens and wounding many more dozens. Jordan,
which has been a relative haven of stability in the Mid East
for the last twenty or so years, now finds itself plunged
into the river of blood that the region is rapidly becoming.
In this case it was Muslim killing Muslim, for nearly all
the dead are Jordanian. Al Qaeda claims responsibility and
the Jordanian born Zarqawi, leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, seems
to have been given a measure of revenge by his minions for
the 2004 death sentence given him by the Jordanian courts
â€ in absentia, for the 2002 murder of an
American diplomat in Jordan. He was off busy killing other
people in Iraq and couldnâ€t find the time
to come home for his execution.
The staccato drumbeat of death and destruction continues
in Iraq; it is hardly front page news anymore, so regular
are the events and carnage.
More friends of mine are saying to me that they cannot bear
the news and do not read the papers nor listen to television
news or to anything on the radio but music. We are living
in a world of bad news and the weight of it is causing people
to retreat from the real to the fictional, it being easier
to watch the unfolding of ancient politics on HBO's ROME than
to dissect their reflections in todayâ€s
events or ponder the avalanche of bad news from all over the
Yet, for all its horribleness, it is more important now than
ever to study our world and determine how we will react, individually
and as nations, to the variety of crises that are washing
over us as our actions and reactions, individually and as
large groups, will determine the road our children will have
to tread and the bed in which we will sleep when we are old.