Monday, November 07, 2005

France's riots are not a social movement

No need to quote any media reports. France (my native country) is experiencing the worst urban unrest since the student uprising of 1968.

I have been mostly away from France for the past 8 years. I could say that I "lost touch" with this country in a way. Yet, I spent most of my youth and my student years in the Paris area.

Urban violence has been widespread for decades. Fortunately, civilians cannot own firearms in France, so this violence is rarely deadly. Urban violence has been such a routine that newspapers don't mention it.

The scale of the unrest seems to suggest that it is some kind of "revolution" with very deep roots. Most media likes to say that North-African and West African immigrants live in low-income housing suburbs where unemployment is widespread. Everything is true yet they are missing the point.

Most French youth of my generation had bad experiences with gangs of teenagers. The first victims of these gangs are their neighbours - who are themselves working-class. The upper class children live in privileged areas and don't suffer much from this form of violence.

I've seen these teenage gangsters assault girls in student parties, I've seen others starting a fight and destroying a disco. Petty crimes are also widespread.

When interviewing some of these teenagers, reporters were surprised to hear that they were "having fun", "playing with the police". They also focused their hatred on Mr. Sarkozy, the French minister of interior. This minister only vowed to deal with criminals, but he also vowed to introduce US-style "affirmative action". He even recently said that foreign nationals who were working in France deserved the right to vote when city councils have to be elected (they can't elect the parliament). He also vowed to deal with unemployment by reforming the French labour market. Does he look like the enemy of ethnic minorities? I don't think so.



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