Thursday, June 01, 2006

Riots Redux

Clashes in Paris Suburbs Recall Riots of Fall

By Molly Moore
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, June 1, 2006; Page A12

PARIS, May 31 -- Small gangs of youths pelted riot police with rocks and set cars and garbage bins ablaze late Tuesday in a second night of unrest in the Paris suburbs, raising fears of a return of the disturbances that inflamed 300 French towns and suburbs last fall.

The violence of the last two nights -- in which youths attacked police cars, government buildings and riot police -- was sparked in part by mounting resentment toward the mayor of the northeastern Paris suburb of Montfermeil, who in recent weeks imposed a law prohibiting 15- to 18-year-olds from gathering in groups of more than three and requiring anyone under 16 to be accompanied by an adult on city streets after 8 p.m.
The French government last fall promised to improve living conditions and job opportunities in suburbs heavily populated by immigrant families and where unemployment is rampant, but little has been done and the government's main initiative -- a youth jobs bill -- ended with this spring's politically disastrous student demonstrations.

At the same time, police have said crime has increased in poor suburban neighborhoods, and frustration with the government has continued to fester.

"We have the painful sense that nothing has been fixed," Francois Hollande, leader of the opposition Socialist Party, said in an interview on France-2 Television.

At 9:30 Tuesday night, an estimated 15 young people threw rocks and projectiles at police patrolling an apartment complex area. At 11 p.m., youths tossed a makeshift explosive into a police car. The officers inside barely had time to escape before the vehicle exploded in flames.

Marauding youths set afire about a dozen private cars and torched numerous garbage bins in Montfermeil and the adjacent town of Clichy-sous-Bois, where last fall's three weeks of violence began when two teenagers were electrocuted as they tried to hide in a power substation. They believed police were chasing them.

Muhittin Altun, a third youth who survived with severe burns in that incident, was arrested Tuesday night on charges of throwing rocks at a police car. He was later released, according to French news media.

Six police officers were reported slightly injured and 13 youths were detained in Tuesday night's incidents.

In Montfermeil, a suburb of high youth unemployment and government-subsidized housing projects, young people have been growing increasingly angry at Mayor Xavier Lemoine's attempts to crack down on gang violence. Although a local court earlier this month overturned his effort to limit youth gatherings, he vowed to seek other measures.

On Monday, residents said, police roughed up a woman who protested police efforts to arrest her son, a suspect in the beating several weeks ago of a bus driver. Police ended up arresting both the mother and son, according to police.

Monday night, hooded youths hurled stones and other projectiles at Mayor Lemoine's house and at City Hall, and the police who responded were attacked with baseball bats. The clashes lasted three hours and seven police officers reportedly were injured.

French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, whose characterizations of rioters as "scum" inflamed last fall's violence, visited police officers who had responded to Monday night's incidents. "More than 100 hooligans set upon you -- masked and carrying weapons," he said. "We are confronting not a spontaneous revolt, but hooligans who have only a single purpose -- to create the most damage and injure as many people as possible."

Transportation Minister Dominique Perben, of the ruling Union for a Popular Movement party, described the incidents as a "reminder" of last year's violence.

"The question of the suburbs is a question for the entire political class," Perben told I-tele television. "We must have the courage to look things in the face."

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The Illusion of French assimilation

The ideal of the French republic: that everyone is equal and indistinguishable in the eyes of the state. No matter what their creed or where they come from, all French citizens are identical in their Frenchness is obsolete and no longer relevant in today's global community. This approach to integration, based on the concept that everyone is equal in the eyes of the republic, was also the basis of Napoleonic imperial ambitions and France's colonial ambitions in the 19th century. This idea would last until the end of the second world war with the advent of independence wars in Indochina and Algeria.

For Britain, the independence of her former African colonies was the signal for a clean break. But for France, blinded by that particular gallic arrogance, derived from memories of the French revolution, Napoleonic despotic grandeur and her alleged "mission civilatrice", independence was a humiliation, the ingratitude of populations upon whom she had conferred French citizenship and la civilisation Francaise. Hers was a "mission civilatrice," not simply a vulgar commercial venture the likes of the British East India Company. Its rejection was a rejection of her civilisation. Many Africans believed this myth and flocked to France to fuel her post-war economic boom, to sweep her streets and do her dirty work that no french citizen wanted to do(these are the men and women whose grand children are now rioting because they feel excluded from Frenchh society trapped in the bleak concrete high rises where they live).

Independence was just an excuse for France to revise her relationship with Africa, where she has remained commercially and politically engaged ever since. She turned to Africa for cheap labour in the 1960-70s. The French have been quick to intervene militarily to prop up African despots like Mobutu Sese Seko in Zaire, and Omar Bongo in the Gabon. To overthrow dictators out of its favour like Badel Bokasa in the Central African republic. Or to support and finance a genocidal ethnic dictatorship like the Hutu regime in Rwanda in 1990-94. Several former African French colonies share an artificially overvalued common currency, the CFA (communaut? financiere africaine) franc, controlled by the Banque de France in Paris. French car manufacturers, oil companies, and construction companies retain a virtual monopoly in Francophone Africa. Kickbacks skimmed from economic aid to Africa, are used to fund French political parties.

This French neo-colonial edifice, appropriately named Francafrique by the late Francois-Xavier Vershave, but officially known as "La Francophonie(y?), was built by Jacques Foccart, eminence grise of Gaullist diplomacy. And in whose control it would remain up to his death in 1997. With the secret services and the army at its disposal, Gaullist African policy, like the french atomic bomb, served to maintain country's "rank" among super powers. Post-war french demands for a multipolar world and not one split between two big powers were all attempts at salvaging the remains of past imperial grandeur of a nation weakened and humiliated by defeat and occupation at the hands of the German "boche" before being liberated by the lifelong "Anglo-saxon" enemy. Without a Franchophone neo-colonial empire, De Gaulle and all his succesors feared and still fear, that France might not have a "History" in the twenty first millenium. The present riots by young African immigrants around the country and the gloomy economic prospects are proving these fears true... Now that the barbarians are in the frech midst, "the fire next time!"