Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
DOUBLE YOUR DONATION!
We don’t run corporate ads. We don’t shake our readers down for money every month or every quarter like some other sites out there. We provide our site for free to all, but the bandwidth we pay to do so doesn’t come cheap. A generous donor is matching all donations of $100 or more! So please donate now to double your punch!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Paris is Burning

In late 1991, after violent riots between youths and police scarred the suburbs of Lyon, Alain Touraine, the French sociologist, predicted: “It will only be a few years before we face the kind of massive urban explosion the Americans have experienced.” The 11 nights of consecutive violence following the deaths of two young Muslim men of African descent in a Paris suburb show that Touraine’s dark vision of a ghettoised, post-colonial France is now upon us.

Clichy-sous-Bois, the impoverished and segregated north-eastern suburb of Paris where the two men lived and where the violent reaction to their deaths began, was a ticking bomb for the kind of dramatic social upheaval we are currently witnessing. Half its inhabitants are under 20, unemployment is above 40% and identity checks and police harassment are a daily experience.

In this sense, the riots are merely a fresh wave of the violence that has become common in suburban France over the past two decades. Led mainly by young French citizens born into first and second generation immigrant communities from France’s former colonies in north Africa, these cycles of violence are almost always sparked by the deaths of young black men at the hands of the police, and then inflamed by a contemptuous government response.

Four days after the deaths in Clichy-sous-Bois, just as community leaders were beginning to calm the situation, the security forces reignited the fire by emptying teargas canisters inside a mosque. The official reason for the police action: a badly parked car in front of it. The government refuses to offer any apology to the Muslim community.

But the spread of civil unrest to other poor suburbs across France is unprecedented. For Laurent Levy, an anti-racist campaigner, the explosion is no surprise. “When large sections of the population are denied any kind of respect, the right to work, the right to decent accommodation, what is surprising is not that the cars are burning but that there are so few uprisings,” he argues.

Police violence and racism are major factors. In April, an Amnesty International report criticised the “generalised impunity” with which the French police operated when it came to violent treatment of young men from African backgrounds during identity checks.

But the reason for the extent and intensity of the current riots is the provocative behaviour of the interior minister, Nicolas Sarkozy. He called rioters “vermin”, blamed “agents provocateurs” for manipulating “scum” and said the suburbs needed “to be cleaned out with Karsher” (a brand of industrial cleaner used to clean the mud off tractors). Sarkozy’s grandstanding on law and order is a deliberate strategy designed to flatter the French far right electorate in the context of his rivalry with the prime minister, Dominique de Villepin, for the 2007 presidency.

How can France get out of this political race to the bottom? It would obviously help for ministers to stop talking about the suburbs as dens of “scum” and for Sarkozy to be removed: the falsehoods he spread about the events surrounding the two deaths and his deployment of a massively disproportionate police presence in the first days of the riots have again shown his unfitness for office.

A simple gesture of regret could go a long way towards defusing the tensions for now. The morning after the gassing of the mosque, a young Muslim woman summed up a widespread feeling: “We just want them to stop lying, to admit they’ve done it and to apologise.” It might not seem much, but in today’s France it would require a deep political transformation and the recognition of these eternal “immigrants” as full and equal citizens of the republic.

NAIMA BOUTELDJA is a French journalist and researcher for the Transnational Institute

 

 

 

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
October 19, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jason Hirthler
The Pieties of the Liberal Class
Jeffrey St. Clair
A Day in My Life at CounterPunch
Paul Street
“Male Energy,” Authoritarian Whiteness and Creeping Fascism in the Age of Trump
Nick Pemberton
Reflections on Chomsky’s Voting Strategy: Why The Democratic Party Can’t Be Saved
John Davis
The Last History of the United States
Yigal Bronner
The Road to Khan al-Akhmar
Robert Hunziker
The Negan Syndrome
Andrew Levine
Democrats Ahead: Progressives Beware
Rannie Amiri
There is No “Proxy War” in Yemen
David Rosen
America’s Lost Souls: the 21st Century Lumpen-Proletariat?
Joseph Natoli
The Age of Misrepresentations
Ron Jacobs
History Is Not Kind
John Laforge
White House Radiation: Weakened Regulations Would Save Industry Billions
Ramzy Baroud
The UN ‘Sheriff’: Nikki Haley Elevated Israel, Damaged US Standing
Robert Fantina
Trump, Human Rights and the Middle East
Anthony Pahnke – Jim Goodman
NAFTA 2.0 Will Help Corporations More Than Farmers
Jill Richardson
Identity Crisis: Elizabeth Warren’s Claims Cherokee Heritage
Sam Husseini
The Most Strategic Midterm Race: Elder Challenges Hoyer
Maria Foscarinis – John Tharp
The Criminalization of Homelessness
Robert Fisk
The Story of the Armenian Legion: a Dark Tale of Anger and Revenge
Jacques R. Pauwels
Dinner With Marx in the House of the Swan
Dave Lindorff
US ‘Outrage’ over Slaying of US Residents Depends on the Nation Responsible
Ricardo Vaz
How Many Yemenis is a DC Pundit Worth?
Elliot Sperber
Build More Gardens, Phase out Cars
Chris Gilbert
In the Wake of Nepal’s Incomplete Revolution: Dispatch by a Far-Flung Bolivarian 
Muhammad Othman
Let Us Bray
Gerry Brown
Are Chinese Municipal $6 Trillion (40 Trillion Yuan) Hidden Debts Posing Titanic Risks?
Rev. William Alberts
Judge Kavanaugh’s Defenders Doth Protest Too Much
Ralph Nader
Unmasking Phony Values Campaigns by the Corporatists
Victor Grossman
A Big Rally and a Bavarian Vote
James Bovard
Groped at the Airport: Congress Must End TSA’s Sexual Assaults on Women
Jeff Roby
Florida After Hurricane Michael: the Sad State of the Unheeded Planner
Wim Laven
Intentional or Incompetence—Voter Suppression Where We Live
Bradley Kaye
The Policy of Policing
Wim Laven
The Catholic Church Fails Sexual Abuse Victims
Kevin Cashman
One Year After Hurricane Maria: Employment in Puerto Rico is Down by 26,000
Dr. Hakim Young
Nonviolent Afghans Bring a Breath of Fresh Air
Karl Grossman
Irving Like vs. Big Nuke
Dan Corjescu
The New Politics of Climate Change
John Carter
The Plight of the Pyrenees: the Abandoned Guard Dogs of the West
Ted Rall
Brett Kavanaugh and the Politics of Emotion-Shaming
Graham Peebles
Sharing is Key to a New Economic and Democratic Order
Ed Rampell
The Advocates
Louis Proyect
The Education Business
David Yearsley
Shock-and-Awe Inside Oracle Arena
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail