In the Caribbean, the phrase `nine nights' usually betokens a period of mourning. France's nine nights of rioting started in the Parisian suburbs and spread to other cities, including Marseille, Dijon and Rouen. They were triggered by the deaths of two French teenagers of North African extraction, who were fleeing the police, no doubt fearing the routine harassment meted out to black and Arab youths in France's ghettoized banlieue.
The hundreds of cars that have now been burnt in French streets are pyres that mark the passing of a French delusion that the incantation of liberte, egalite, fraternite would somehow mask the reality of life for non-white French men and women -- repression, discrimination, segregation.
The French establishment, which a generation ago exiled immigrant workers to the doughnut of miserable new towns around Paris, is in full panic mode. French Prime Minister Dominique Villepin called emergency Cabinet meetings, met the bereaved parents and urged a moderate response. His rival for the presidency, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, having denounced the rioting youths as `scum,' ordered a police lockdown. Whoever wins this power struggle will instantly become the frontrunner for the top job.
ILLUSTRATION: YU SHA
France is not alone.
The Netherlands, which most of the world had marked down as the ultimate in relaxed, progressive cosmopolitanism, is gripped by a vicious anti-Muslim backlash. Both reactionary Christian conservatives and anxious liberal secularists talk openly and sometimes approvingly of the virtues of `black' and `white' schools which inoculate the Dutch from the `toxin' of Islam.
Across the Atlantic, the issue of race, ghettoization and neglect has also penetrated mainstream politics. The sight of thousands of poor, elderly African-Americans left to fester in a sports stadium, sheltering from Hurricane Katrina, ripped away the mask created by celebration of black success in entertainment, sports and politics, to reveal a nation that remains deeply divided by ethnicity. The government's faltering response marked the moment that US President George W Bush's presidency started its slide into disrepute.
Everywhere, smugness about the state of race relations is being punctured. This is no longer the patronizing `be kind to blacks' territory with which politicians of the past and minority leaders may have felt safe. It is big politics on which governments will stand or fall.
In the 1970s and 1980s, industrial relations marked a tense dividing line in Western societies. Disputes periodically erupted into dangerous and violent confrontation that menaced and sometimes brought down governments. Race relations threaten to become a similarly potent battlefront in the first part of the 21st century.
In the UK, we passed, 40 years ago this week, the first serious anti-discrimination laws in Europe. A generation ago, we set up what has become a network of local race equality councils, involving several hundred full-time workers and tens of thousands of unpaid volunteers. Their patient work at the local level has often prevented tensions flaring into open conflict, but the face-off in Birmingham two weekends ago shows we still have to be smarter and work harder.
We cannot afford to hope that everything will come right with time and goodwill.
There are two big mistakes we could make. The first is to imagine that racial conflict is caused only by the sort of foul white supremacists convicted in the UK last week, or by the sick bigots (who may have been white or black) who desecrated a Muslim cemetery in Birmingham. The million or so who voted for British National Party councilors last year aren't all knuckle-dragging racist apes. Many are ordinary folk frightened by the pace of change in their communities who can be persuaded that somehow this must be the fault of people who do not look like them.
The other error is to believe that regeneration of areas in which poor minorities live will overcome all differences. Yes, the poor need jobs and better homes, but this will not be enough. In New Orleans, the left-behind blacks complained of being neglected.
In Paris, when asked what they want, young people say, "Stop addressing us as tu," a bit like the French equivalent of being addressed as "boy" in pre-civil rights America.
In Birmingham, African-Caribbean and Asian community leaders talk about a lack of mutual respect. So, alongside equality of material things, we have to instil other kinds of equality, starting with equality of esteem between different communities.
Another missing equality is that of power. Why is it that in all the countries involved there are still so few minority politicians who have clout?
Even the much-vaunted American success story can only boast one black senator. Britain, which should be able to count more than 60 members of parliament from minority communities, can muster just 15.
Finally, we need equality of interaction. The far right thrives on our residential segregation, which allows them to scare people about communities they do not know and understand. And when we have the chance to mix with people not like ourselves, we increasingly fail to seize it.
At the UK's Commission for Racial Equality, our integration agenda -- more equality enforcement, new targets for government, better scrutiny of new laws, more diverse public appointments -- is designed to meet this challenge. But there is only so much we can do.
This is a job, above all, for politics. And so far, politics seems distressingly comfortable either fighting old race battles or celebrating our imagined happy diversity.
Our French neighbors are giving us the loudest alarm call they can. Wake up, everybody.
Trevor Phillips is chair of the UK's Commission for Racial Equality.
Chinese strongman Xi Jinping (習近平) hasn’t had a very good spring, either economically or politically. Not that long ago, he seemed to be riding high. The PRC economy had been on a long winning streak of more than six percent annual growth, catapulting the world’s most populous nation into the second-largest power, behind only the United States. Hundreds of millions had been brought out of poverty. Beijing’s military too had emerged as the most powerful in Asia, lagging only behind the US, the long-time leader on the global stage. One can attribute much of the recent downturn to the international economic
Taiwan has for decades singlehandedly borne the brunt of a revanchist, ultra-nationalist China — until now. Ever since Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison had the temerity to call for a transparent, international investigation into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, Beijing has been turning the screws on Canberra. This has included unleashing aggressive “wolf warrior” diplomats to intimidate Australian policymakers, enacting punitive tariffs on its exports, and threatening an embargo on Chinese tourists and students to the nation. A tense situation became more serious on June 19 after Morrison revealed that a “sophisticated state-based actor” — read: China — had launched a
Asked whether he declined to impose sanctions against China, US President Donald Trump said: “Well, we were in the middle of a major trade deal... [W]hen you’re in the middle of a negotiation and then all of a sudden you start throwing additional sanctions on — we’ve done a lot.” It was not a proud moment for Trump or the US. Yet, just three days later, John Bolton’s replacement as director of the National Security Council, Robert O’Brien, delivered a powerful indictment of the Chinese communist government and criticized prior administrations’ “passivity” in the face of Beijing’s contraventions of international law