Paris Is Burning
What can a young person expect, born in a soulless neighborhood, who lives in an ugly building, surrounded by more ugliness, grey walls upon a grey landscape of a grey life, enveloped in a society that prefers to turn away and intervenes only when it believes must clamp down and prohibit? François Mitterrand, 1990.
You can't do social integration on the cheap.
For the 10th night in a row, fires burn on the perifery of Paris. Crowds of angry first and second-generation largely Muslim youth from the Mahgreb and Africa have torched hundreds of cars per night (last night 1,295 vehicles) and occasionally schools and shopping centers. Meanwhile French police have arrested scores of rioters. The riots have now spred to other big French cities: Rouen, Lille, Toulouse, Nice and Marseille.
In the departements on the periphery of Paris, (Val-d'Oise, Seine-et-Marne, Yvelines, Hauts-de-Seine) parts of the the fading industrial towns of St. Denis, Noilly le Grand, Evry, Grigny and Corbeil-Essonnes, as well as others, have become predominately segregated African barrios, with illegal squats and dormitories. The denizens don't feel especially French.
Already a dicey cohabitation proposition, matters have been worsened by budget slashing by the conservative French government now in power. Funds for neighborhood police, jobs for youth, social and cultural clubs and housing assistance have been drastically reduced. 310 million euros reserved for these urban entitlements have been pared from the 2005 budget. The exasperated leaders of French Mayors' Forum for Urban Safety have demanded the restoration of the money yet Paris has remained deaf. A neo-liberal recipe for France's immigrant population is not going to cut it.
The riots began the night of October 27 in Clichy-sous-Bois, when three kids, running from police, hid inside an electrical transformer shed. Two, aged 15 and 17, were electrocuted. On the 29th, a peaceful memorial march took place. Demonstator wore T-shirts saying, Dead for Nothing.
The violence might have ended there, but the hard-ass Interior Minister and presidential wannabe Nicolas Sarkozy made a public zero tolerance remark with a nuclear, racist component: his use of the word, scum to refer to marginalized immigrant youth. Very bad move. Equal Opportunity Minister Azouz Begag attacked Sarkozy: You can't tell kids that they are some kind of scum, and that you're going into their communities with the police. Sarkozy took the bait, and demanded the resignation of one of the few Muslim officials in government. Ultra bad move. Now things really heat up.
It seems that unless you scare the pants off the authorities, you can expect no change (for the better) in your situtation. Especially when there is no moral angle embedded in the free-trade economic system. This was the lesson learned by the 19th and early 20th century unions. Their massive show of force in street demonstrations and parades caused the bossses to tremble.
Chirac's government is really over a barrel. No one is interested in belt-tightening when the economies realized produce nocturnal violence across France. The majority is in trouble.
Fear of social unrest among the large Muslim population in France with scenes such as these doubtlessly contributed to Chirac's decision to distance himself from the USA and the British over Iraq. DeVillepin and Sarkozy should have thought twice about budget slashing. But their worldview do not permit it. As Argentinian President Kirchner suggested on Friday, neo-liberal solutions for societies are archaic, perverse and distabilizing.