Thursday, November 03, 2005

French Riots

Steve Donohue has posted about the ongoing riots around Paris. There have been snippets of this appearing here and there in the US media, but a strange paucity of real information. The bare bones of the story is that two "youths" (15 and 17) in a Paris "suburb" ran from the police and hid in a power station. There they accidentally electrocuted themselves. Since then there has been nightly rioting, many cars burned, live ammunition fired at police, a tear gas cannister fired into a mosque and spreading violence. The ethnicity of the dead youths and of the rioters has been obscured rather than clarified in MSM reports, at least those here in the US.

I have been to France twenty-some times over the past 25 years, and Mrs. Abe is French. We spent most of that time outside the Paris area, but I do know more about France than the average tourist.

First of all, "suburbs" in this case are nothing like "suburbs" in the American sense. These are in fact small cities that were created as "housing projects" for the poor. Like Co-op City in New York and other US housing projects, these became ghettos, the purview of criminals, and the French authorities have long been afraid to enter them, let alone police them effectively. See this post linked by Steve for more about the situation and insight into the possible implications.

This problem of the lawless areas has been around for many years, with no one in the successive governments really willing to touch it until Interior Minister Sarkozy. Although, he is in the same party as Jacques Chirac and Dominique de Villepin, they are rivals more than allies.

This problem is what the French were talking about with "law and order" issues in their last elections. This is the problem that the far right wing National Front party has long been focused upon. The NF is primarily nativist, and not too fond of the US either.

The two "youths" who were electrocuted were of "Malian and Tunisian origin" according to a story on the Al-Jazeera web site (apparently largely from AFP). Although, as previously noted, this is not widely reported.

The inhabitants of the cities/ghettos/housing projects where the riots are taking place overwhelmingly of North African extraction, i.e. the Muslim countries along the Mediterreanean where France has extensive connections. Some, but fewer are from the former French colonies in Sub-Saharan Africa. A large portion of the immigrants from North Africa have not assimilated fully into French society even to the second or third generation, unlike immigrants from other European countries, China, Vietnam, etc. People in these housing projects are generally the ones who have not assimilated into French culture.

Thus it is almost certain that the rioters are Muslims, many of them French citizens, but not "French" in outlook.

There have been flare ups in these kinds of places before, particularly in Marseilles several years ago. France also has a tendency to sporadic lawlessness in other areas. It seems nearly every year when we are there a strike or two will paralyze some area or industry. The strikes are often illegal and frequently involve some violence, which never seems to be punished. An anti-American group has burned some geneticly modified (GM) crops, destroyed a MacDonalds, and wreaked other havoc in "protest" against "globalization." Even when arrests are made, not much punishment results in the end. In the 60's a French government was brought down by a "student strike." [What do students stop doing when they strike?]

It possible that calm will return on its own. Sarkozy may be losing the political battle to take back control of these areas. It that is not done now, it will probably be harder later. Clearly it needs to be done, but appeasement and scapegoating Sarkozy may be more attractive to the government.

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