Pascal Bruckner in The New Republic:
France, they say, only reforms under the cover of revolution. Here, rebellion precedes dialogue, strikes precede negotiations, and recourse to violence is systematic. This is a country where authority has always assumed the face of the Jacobin state–of a paternal figure who reacts only to threat or attack. In this way, the young rioters in the French suburbs are far more French than many commentators presume. The troubled suburbs are not foreign lands within the Republic, but rather are increasingly a mirror of all French passions, the best as well as the worst–a reserve of talent and energy, but also a melting pot of racism, homophobia, machismo, and anti-Semitism. That is the enigma: These towns behave as if they are under siege by France, which herself behaves like she is under siege by the world.
The juvenile rioters–some are barely twelve or thirteen–are French-born; they want to make something of themselves but feel trapped on the wrong side of an invisible window as they watch their compatriots succeed, work, and travel. They don’t burn cars out of hatred of capitalist society, as the children of the bourgeoisie did in May 1968. Rather, they do it because they want into that society–they want one of those BMWs or Mercedeses they see around the city, and they cannot afford one. The very vehicles they burn symbolize social mobility, and their lack of it.