Guest speaker: Thoughts on the Riots in Paris

If you’ve been following the news lately you would have seen reports of rioting outside Paris. Unfortunately due to the language barrier it’s harder to get a feel for what the *French* actually think about these events. So I wanted to find someone who could give a better perspective on how the events are being presented in the French media.

These thoughts are from someone who you could only describe as a francophile. If there was anyone who was simply born in the wrong country, he would be the man. As such he is a fluent French speaker and follows French news very closely. So I asked him to give his opinion of the current situation… here is what he had to say.

What I’ve seen from reports on France 2, Liberation, Le Figaro and le Monde is that in one of the “sensitive” suburbs of Paris, two youth might have committed a robbery and were hiding in a transmission/transformer site, got into the equipment and were electrocuted. Some people said they were fleeing the police and were the victims of police harassment. As is often the case, little seems to have been established about the original accident, but whatever happened, the residents of the neighbourhood were upset, and as sometimes happens, some of them took it out on anything and everything that fell to hand: burning cars seems to be a favourite. Into this cauldron of discontent stepped the Interior Minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, who is hoping to ride a law and order platform to the presidency in 2007. Everything he said seemed to inflame the situation. There is large-scale discontent throughout the country as people see life getting more difficult, and the successive governments of Jean-Pierre Raffarin and Dominique de Villepin have done nothing to improve the situation as they move ahead with the privatization of major state companies and do nothing to prevent the layoffs and off-shoring of jobs that have become part of the global economy. The suburbs of Paris are often composed of high-rise low-cost housing that has fallen into disrepair and has become a hotbed of Islamic discontent and gang activity. Unemployment is high and many of the jobs on offer are low-paying, have few or no benefits and offer little in the way of security. Life is not comfortable for the residents of these areas and there is little opportunity to move elsewhere or to find better work elsewhere. It reminds me very much of riots in Watts, in Detroit and of recent outbreaks in Ohio. I believe we also saw something not too different in Manchester, in England. There were also similar incidents in Strasbourg last winter.

My own reading of this is that it is part of a pattern of frustration at dispossession and disenfranchisement, especially when governments speak of employment being the highest priority, and then cutting taxes on the rich and on large corporations. It is frustration at seeing a gap develop between haves and have-nots in what was once a more egalitarian society, in a country where the majority consistently polls a desire to have a strong program of social spending and where the government does the opposite. Strange, it sounds a lot like Canada! The difference is that we have yet to reach the stage of slum development that seems to have overtaken England and France over the last thirty or forty years, but it surely looks as though at least Toronto is headed in that direction with its newfound love of gunplay.

Most of us tend to think of Paris as being that fabulous area within the boundaries of the old walls of the city, the Seine, Notre Dame, the Opera, the Grands Magasins, the Latin Quarter and the like. But there are kilometers and kilometers of urban blight all around that gem in the center, and parts of that blight are starting to look like the slums of the American rust belt, often for what looks like many of the same reasons. Hence the reaction to the death of a couple of young men and the callousness of the Interior Minister.

You can read more of what Danneau has to say at his website.

9 replies on “Guest speaker: Thoughts on the Riots in Paris”

  1. More food for though regarding French minority muslim population and the culmination in these ongoing riots:


    Below comments on above article from

    “If you read to the botton of this article, you will discover that part of the underlying reason for the riots at this point in time is a reaction to a recent attempt at a general police crackdown on crime in these neighborhoods by the new interior minister, Sarkozy:

    Sarkozy, who returned as the interior minister in late May, began a new crime offensive this month, ordering specially trained police to tackle 25 problem neighborhoods in cities throughout France.

    Opposition politicians say he has made things worse.

    Laurent Fabius, a former Socialist prime minister and also a potential presidential candidate in 2007, mocked Sarkozy’s frequent visits to areas such as Clichy.

    “When he announces that he’s going to visit such and such a commune or suburb every week, that’s not how we resolve those problems,” Fabius told Europe 1 radio.

    “We need to act at the same time on prevention, repression, education, housing, jobs … and not play the cowboy.”

    I’m pessimistic about the outcome. I don’t think Western Europeans have a clue how to undo the damage of 30-40 years of exploitation and very little attempt at assimulation of any of these groups.

  2. Dan

    Yes that’s my comment. I believe that the socialist policies of the French have left these 2nd/3rd generation immigrants (and others as well) with no hope of a better life. Sad. Sad. Sad.
    The French will not have the wisdom or the will to change soon enough to avoid further disasters.
    It will only get worse, I’m afraid.

  3. I agree that the French government has left their large immigrant population in a difficult situation with few prospects. However, I would not blame this on their socialist policies. If anything their social policies have not gone far enough to assist these people to fully integrate into French society. Much more effort should be put into social services to help immigrants adjust. Like all people, France’s minorites need education, health care, meaningful employment, and a place in society. Continued privatization and erosion of France’s social systems will only benefit the wealthy.

  4. Immigrants have provided low cost labor to fund France’s socialist policies from which they have, it’s true, received practically nothing. France is for the French.

  5. Let’s see, can we think of any other countries where large numbers of immigrants and their descendants live in poverty in slums and have less opportunity to participate in the civic and economic life of the country? Remeber that Tony Blair is from the Labour Party, but that he has actually outdone Maggie Thatcher in dismantling the social safety net, despite being, at least in name, a socialist. Idem for Gerhard Schroeder. Jospin was the third of the triumvirate, and actually managed to move the social agenda a little ways forward, but without being able to counter the free transfer of capital out of France, along with the jobs it represented (notably by Michelin), largely because of a system that gives pride of place and privilege to capital as opposed to citizens. There hasn’t been a real socialist government in France since 1936. Just a little reminder about glass houses…

  6. Extremely high unemployment (I’ve seen statements of 20% – 30%) among the youth of both France and Germany is bolstered
    by the restrictive labor laws of both countries. You may not believe that neither France nor Germany has a truly socialist government but a market economy certainly doesn’t exist and that fits the definition of socialism for many of us (not to mention
    the huge tax burdens and neverending government welfare programs).

    As for the US, yes their are pockets of poverty in the US. However, most black families in the US have reached the status of middle-class, they educate their children, they attend church, and the pols court their votes. Blacks have made huge strides in the US in the last 50 years. In case you didn’t realize, the majority of the poor in the US are white and are not immigrants.
    Immigrants are not segregated nor deprived of opportunities in the US based on their country of origin or their religion. Millions come here every year from every conceivable location.

    Even the Latino illegals have jobs, homes, and are allowed to live in peace. They work for less than the average US citizen does but these workers are temporary and have no intention of staying in the US indefinetely.

    Like many Canadians and those who believe leftist propoganda headlining your major newspapers, you probably have many misconceptions about life here in the US. A lot of information is left out of the stories you are told. Further, the definition of poverty is very different here than it is in Europe. Most of those who live below the poverty line have all their needs met from many government programs including the fact that they pay no taxes except consumption taxes which in most states doesn’t apply to food.

    I don’t follow Tony Blair’s programs all the much. However, I do know that alone among the major EU nations, the UK has a decent economic growth, a growing per capita income and low unemployment. Not true for Germany and France…each with less than 1% growth, a shrinking per capita income and double digit unemployment.

  7. Forgive me if I double posted. I was given a message that led me to believe that my post didn’t make it. So I corrected all my spelling errors and reposted (as I had saved my comment in my Word program just in case 🙂 )

  8. PS You’re never going to get capitalist investment in France or Germany or Italy to stabalize as long as labor restricts the ability of the business owners to temporarily shrink the workforce when necessary. That and unreasonably protective labor rules will make manufacturing in Europe (and many other countries) go the way of the buggy whip manufacturers 100 years ago. The world demographics are changing, the West has competition and all the riots and protests in the world are not going to stop the force of globalization. Those who survive in Europe or the Americas with a decent economy will adapt instead of clinging to a dead system that ignores modernization.

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