Friday, November 30, 2007

FRANCE: Troubled Suburbs Erupt Again

FRANCE: Troubled Suburbs Erupt Again

By Michael Deibert

Inter Press Service

VILLIERS-LE-BEL, France, Nov 29, 2007 (IPS) - The police station is a smouldering abandoned ruin, its roof gone, its walls charred black, and tiles scattered about its courtyard. From behind its locked gates the pungent stench of burned wood and plastic is carried on the wind into the street.

The commissariat of this town 10 miles north of Paris was ransacked and burned Sunday by rioters enraged by the deaths of two teenagers -- killed when the motorbike they were driving collided with a police cruiser.

Police say that they aided the two youths -- neither of whom was said to be wearing a crash helmet -- while some local residents maintain that police are at fault for leaving the scene before treating the boys. The boys have been identified as Laramy, 16, and Moushim, 15.

Pitched battles between police firing rubber bullets and tear gas, and masked and hooded rioters attacking with Molotov cocktails, bottles, and -- in a potentially lethal escalation of force -- firearms, continued Monday night.

According to police officials, by Tuesday morning over 80 officers had been injured -- some seriously -- and at least 63 vehicles in Villiers-le-Bel and neighbouring communities had been set aflame.

Residents have been left wondering whether there would be a repeat of the riots that shook the nation for weeks almost exactly two years ago.

"The commissariat was burned on the first night of the disturbances," Chanay Mahalinsnam, a Sri Lankan immigrant who runs the small Ocean Tropical supermarket just up the street from the destroyed building, told IPS.

Read the full article here.


Ana said...

Other European Countries have large and diverse immigrant populations. I believe they live under similar conditions to those in France and somtimes much worse. Why are riots a French phenomenon?

Michael Deibert said...

Hello Ana, and thanks for your post. Your question is an interesting and important one.

I think, unfortunately, when it comes to the experience of many immigrants and their children, the notions of liberté egalité and fraternité in France are conceptual at best.

To start, France’s economy is in a bit worse shape than some other country’s in the region. France's jobless rate has not dipped below 8% for 25 years (measuring 21.5% for the under-25s and nearly 50% in some housing projects) and its GDP growth was just 2% last year. That is compared to around 8 percent in neighboring Spain, and 4 percent and 3 percent in Ireland and Britain. There is also the matter of the physical isolation of the banlieues which, are, in my experience traveling to some of the more impoverished ones, very poorly served by France’s public transportation system. Relations between the some of the population of the banlieues and the police are quite bad, and I also think that Nicloas Sarkozy has been, at times, a terribly and unhelpfully polarizing figure in the public discourse regarding the problems in the suburbs. And there is the matter of the institutionalized prejudice, as the Adia study I referred to in the article.

I am not seeking to bash France, because as one of the nearly 50 million American citizens without health insurance, I can look on the country’s state healthcare system, for example, with noting but envy, but these are some of the issues that immediately spring to mind.

Ana said...

Thank you for your prompt response. I agree with all your comments. However I do not feel that the sum of all your points gives the whole answer.

These 'immigrants children' have been through the French Educational System and are often highly qualified but because of, as you so rightly point out, high unemployment and institutional racism, unable to find jobs. They have no voice. No outlet and no choices. Unlike the children of the 'French' Middle Classes attending universities who strike to maintain the status quo.

Once again thank you for your erudition and insight.