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nov.092005

Do not gloat at France's suburbs - tomorrow it will be your problem [EN] (9/11/05)

Today, I posted a comment to Matthew Turner's posting on the A Fistful of Euros Blog on the French suburban events of the last 14 days.

AFOE has been desperately looking for independent, non-mainstream, opinions on the suburban rage in France. There is perhaps a need for people who are connected to the southern half of the EU at afoe. Turner takes a denigrating commentary in the London Daily Telegraph as an occasion to ask attention for another way of looking into those events, i.e. considering them primarily as an outrage coming from people who feel that they have been betrayed by authorities who promised them integration into French citizenship and the respect that goes with it.
Here is my comment, leaning on Olivier Roy's opinion article in today's New York Times:

Dieu merci! Finally, AFOE lives up to its usually balanced views on what happens in Europe and in the World. Of course, what happens in France since 13 days, is no islamic, nor even ethnic, conspiracy to destabilise the French state or the European Union.

Olivier Roy, writer of an authorative book on the Western roots of islamist radicalism("Globalized Islam" in its English translation), analyses as follows what is happening, today in the OpEd contributors section of the New York Times (09 Oct 2005):

” …the reality is that there is nothing particularly Muslim, or even French, about the violence. Rather, we are witnessing the temporary rising up of one small part of a Western underclass culture that reaches from Paris to London to Los Angeles and beyond.”

And Roy continues:
“They express simmering anger fueled by unemployment and racism. The lesson, then, is that while these riots originate in areas largely populated by immigrants of Islamic heritage, they have little to do with the wrath of a Muslim community.”

 

Solutions, i.e. emancipatory trajectories, exist and have proven their viability, in France and in other parts of Europe, but they are not market-driven (although they drive the market, create new ones) and they take usually more than 5 years of intervention into the areas by independent task-forces. This kind of destructive and hopeless rebellions will continue to occur, in Europe and elsewhere, as long as generations of people are being socially marginalised, because of their temporary uselessness in the actual industrial conditions. Roy:

“Just look at the newspaper photographs: the young men wear the same hooded sweatshirts, listen to similar music and use slang in the same way as their counterparts in Los Angeles or Washington. (It is no accident that in French-dubbed versions of Hollywood films, African-American characters usually speak with the accent heard in the Paris banlieues).”

 

They are, what was called in the 19th century the “Lumpen Proletariat”, i.e. those who destroyed from time to time new machines that needed less human labour, in their own workplaces. Nothing new under the sun. Roy describes this as follows:

 

“Nobody should be surprised that efforts by the government to find “community leaders” have had little success. There are no leaders in these areas for a very simple reason: there is no community in the neighborhoods. Traditional parental control has disappeared and many Muslim families are headed by a single parent. Elders, imams and social workers have lost control. Paradoxically, the youths themselves are often the providers of local social rules, based on aggressive manhood, control of the streets, defense of a territory. Americans (and critics of America in Europe) may see in these riots echoes of the black separatism that fueled the violence in Harlem and Watts in the 1960’s. But the French youths are not fighting to be recognized as a minority group, either ethnic or religious; they want to be accepted as full citizens. They have believed in the French model (individual integration through citizenship) but feel cheated because of their social and economic exclusion. Hence they destroy what they see as the tools of failed social promotion: schools, social welfare offices, gymnasiums. Disappointment leads to nihilism. For many, fighting the police is some sort of a game, and a rite of passage.”

 

In France, at least theoretically, exists (like in the U.S.A.) an egality of citizens by law. Elsewhere, this notion is less clear. In Holland, for instance, full citizenship has been made dependent on “integration”. But, those who fulfill the conditions and actually f e e l integrated, are, like in France, not accepted as such, in spite of their efforts. This capture within a no-win situation, causes rage and nihilism. From an economic view on sustainability, a relatively small investment into coordinated support of social emancipation, should be considered as an extremely sure and beneficial expense.

But, every time these kind of rebellions happen, authorities launch expensive window dressing programmes of huge investments into local hardware and/or into security measures of a repressive kind, that irritate the inhabitants, destroy local small economic initiatives and are abandoned midway for other priorities. Leaving behind people who feel all the more frustrated and destroying any social networks and local knowledge and know-how that may have been accumulated.

These problems of modern economy are too sensible to be left in the hands of people who are motivated primarily by their short term political ambitions, like Sarkozy in France. Nor to his rightwing opponents, who are only motivated by a desire to get rid of this populist, and not to seek a sustainable solution to this “fracture sociale”, although (as an editorial in “Le Monde” pointed out two days ago) this fracture sociale was a top priority of presidential candidate Chirac in 1995.

More sensible policies are being proposed by local mayors, left- and right-wing confounded, and one can only hope, that they will be heard, this time.

Posted by: Huib, Brussels at November 9, 2005 10:31 PM

[Edited: 24/3/06 by the author. Originally published on: At Home in Europe.]

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