I haven’t got enough information on the riots in France, to make any useful comment on what’s happening, except an obvious one, that the Chirac government has made an awful mess of things.
In this context, there’s an expectation about that leftists should defend Chirac and his government, and therefore be embarrassed by his failures. The first time this expectation arose was when (thanks to poor performance and co-ordination on the left) Chirac ended up in a run-off against Le Pen for the presidency in 2002. Hence it was necessary for the left to campaign for a strong vote against Le Pen and, necessarily, for Chirac. Then in 2003, Chirac’s government led the opposition to the Iraq war at the UN, by virtue of its permanent membership of the UNSC, rather than because of its great moral standing. Still, the war had to be opposed, and Chirac therefore had to be supported.
But this can only go so far. Much of the reason why French Gaullists annoy US Republicans is that they have so much in common. There’s little doubt that, if Chirac had the kind of global power that Bush does, he’d abuse it in exactly the same way. Australians and New Zealanders, who’ve seen Chirac and his predecessors throwing their weight around in the South Pacific (long used as the site for French nuclear tests), are well aware of this. The same kind of heavy-handedness is evident in domestic policy and seems to have contributed to the riots.