IT'S harder to ignore the elephant in the living room when the elephant is setting fire to it.
The elephant in France - whose name begins with the dreaded M word journalists dare not mention - hasn't been allowed in the living room. He's been locked in the shed out back.
This gives liberals an excuse to blame the rioting in France - which at this writing has entered its third week - on the standard liberal villains, poverty and racism.
But if racism is a cause of the rioting, poverty isn't. As Theodore Dalrymple noted in a prescient article in the City Journal three years ago (The Barbarians at the Gates of Paris), those whom the media choose to describe as "French youths" have cell phones, cars, boom boxes, and gold chains around their necks. "They enjoy a far higher standard of living than they would in the countries of their parents' or grandparents' origin, even if they labored there 14 hours a day."
The economic part of the problem is a lack of social mobility, compounded by idleness. An idle mind is indeed the devil's playground.
Since the lack of social mobility is a product of the welfare state, the standard liberal "solutions" - appeasement, coupled with great gobs of taxpayer money - are unlikely to be effective.
There is no social mobility in France because the economy is stagnant. Unemployment is high. If French scientists have to emigrate to find work, what chance do those with few job skills have of grabbing a rung on the shrinking corporate ladder, much less climbing it?
For the children of immigrants to have the same opportunities in France that they do in the United States, taxes must be cut, regulations slashed, the minimum wage reduced, trade restrictions eased, labor unions weakened. But no politician in France would dare propose such remedies.
So there is a search for less controversial ones. "We are victims of our architecture," Guillaume Permentier told the Washington Post's Jim Hoagland, referring to the high-rise ghettos designed by the Stalinist architect Le Corbusier.
Looking everywhere but at the elephant gives liberals an illusion of control. A problem "caused" by ugly buildings can be cured by prettier buildings, with skateboard parks to calm the passions of "disaffected youths."
The elephant isn't really there, the media assure us. "The violence in France has not taken on religious overtones," said the New York Times. "Islamic ideology and leaders play no role in the disturbances," said the Washington Post.
But the "disaffected youth" shout "Allahu Akbar" as they toss Molotov cocktails into churches and synagogues. They talk of turning Paris into "Baghdad on the Seine."
French arrogance and racism, and the sclerosis of the French welfare state help explain why the elephant hasn't assimilated. But the larger reason is that the elephant has chosen not to.
Mr. Dalrymple writes that in Le Corbusier's concrete jungles "a kind of anti-society has grown up - a population that derives the meaning of its life from the hatred it bears the other, 'official,' society in France."
The elephant views those who respond to his aggression with offers of skateboard parks as cowards.
"Benevolence inflames the anger of the young men of the cities as much as repression, because their rage is inseparable from their being," Mr. Dalrymple wrote.
"The cops are petrified of us. Everything must burn," said a poster on an Islamic Web site.
"We aren't going to let up," said another. "The French won't do anything, and soon we will be in the majority here."
That Islamist may be right. Though fewer than 10 percent of Frenchmen are Muslims, more than 30 percent of those under age 20 are.
"A vast army of young unemployed Muslims stands at the disposal of the would-be Napoleons of radical Islam, and they have no choice but to lead it," wrote "Spengler" in the Asia Times. "The outcome well might be a new Algerian war, fought on French soil."
Going up in smoke along with thousands of Peugeots are liberal illusions. Multiculturalism is social poison. Toleration of intolerance isn't sophistication, it's suicide. Work, not welfare, is the key to social integration. Making excuses for violence begets more violence.
We cannot corral the rampaging elephant until we see the elephant for what he is. Liberals prefer blindness.