According to Gérard Larcher, France’s employment minister, polygamy is one reason for the large-scale rioting in his country. The minister told the Financial Times that multiple marriages among immigrants lead to anti-social behaviour among youths who lack a father figure. This makes employers wary of hiring ethnic minorities. “If people are not employable, they will not be employed,” he explained. Bernard Accoyer, a leading parliamentarian of the governing UMP, told French radio that children from large polygamous families have problems integrating into mainstream society. He said polygamy leads to “an inability to provide an education as it is needed in an organised, normative society like in Europe and notably France.”
Polygamy in France is illegal but authorities tolerate the existence of an estimated 30,000 families in which there is more than one wife. As these are large families, up to 250,000 people may live in such a family. Most of them come from North and sub-Saharan African countries such as Algeria, Mali and Senegal, where the practice is legal. The French authorities freely granted visas to family members of immigrants until 1993, when former interior minister Charles Pasqua, who was decried as a “hardline rightwinger,” banned visas for more than one spouse. Many wives, however, continued to enter illegally, while the government relaxed its stance after protests.
Polygamous immigrants abuse the social security system by collecting state benefits for several wives. As residency was only granted to polygamous families if the two wives do not live at the same address, these families claim double social housing, family allowances and other social benefits. According to the FT “Mr Larcher’s comments could further fuel the debate and are likely to outrage Muslim and anti-racism groups.” The minister’s comments come as the government considers tightening rules for granting visas and a possible clampdown on polygamous families. The FT fears that “a clampdown, if enforced, could affect families that entered the country before 1993.”
Meanwhile, interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy – another alledgedly “hardline rightwinger” – has started procedures to expel ten rioters from France. Last week Sarkozy announced that foreigners who engage in rioting would be deported. The measure does not apply to minors or to foreigners who have lived in the country for more than 13 years or who have “strong family ties” with France.
The unrest abated further last night. 163 cars were torched and a church was partly destroyed by fire. Police arrested 50 rioters. Brussels, too, claims a “return to the normal situation.” Only three cars were set on fire in Belgium last night. The riots seem to be petering out. As John O’Sullivan commented “Rioters are invariably young men – and usually young men who have not been taught by schools and parents to control their impulses and think ahead. They enjoy rioting. It gives vent to their animal spirits and allows them to loot goods that might otherwise be outside their price range. Political or social grievances give them an excuse to riot; liberal hand-wringing by politicians and the media over those grievances gives them permission to do so. Eventually, however, even rioting gets old.”
Maybe in a few months' time, when rioting will regain the appeal of a novel pastime, they will be back, “giving vent to the animal spirits” which their fathers, with their multiple wives, have never taught them to control.