Two years on; France’s suburbs

To mark the two year anniversary of the deaths of two-youths Clichy-sous-Bois, Claude Dilain, the Socialist mayor, held a memorial calm memorial service to mark the events. While improvements such as increased voter turnout, funding for housing and infrastructure, and increased educational partnerships, many of the banlieues troubles remain. Unemployment is around 20% – more than twice the national average, overcrowded housing is still a problem, and a police station to help deal with the high crime rate, won’t be completed for another estimated three years. Many residents express disappointment when asked about comparisons between two years ago, and now.

Riots Point to Racially Divided France

Hundreds of French riot police were deployed on Wednesday night to help quell the violence in tense Paris suburb of Villiers Le Bel, after the death of two boys in a motorcycle accident triggered violent clashes last week. Despite isolated incidents of a few burning cars, the suburb returned to a general calm as security and law enforcement increased their presence. French officials pointed to a host of causes in the eruption – including poverty, unemployment, the influence of criminal gangs, and racism. Most of the rioters come from immigrant and Muslim backgrounds, and while most of them are simply described as youth, their vulnerability to poor living conditions is of significant concern. Anger and distrust over racial profiling fuel already brewing tensions in many of Paris’ suburbs.

Sarkozy’s government faces test in the French suburbs

PARIS (AFP) – President Nicolas Sarkozy’s government turns its sights on the troubled suburbs this week, launching a nationwide drive for a new plan that would give immigrant youth a stake in changing France. Nearly two years after the “banlieues” exploded into rioting, Sarkozy has tasked his urban affairs minister and outspoken rights activist Fadela Amara with drafting a set of measures to address joblessness and discrimination. The daughter of Algerian immigrants who grew up in one of France’s rundown housing projects, Amara has released a rough draft of what she has dubbed an “anti-loafing” plan to prevent bored and excluded youth from rebelling.

Record Number of Muslim Candidates Run for French Parliament

At least 250 minority candidates, many of North African origins, are running for the National Assembly this year in continental France, compared with little more than a dozen five years ago, according to figures compiled from party records and associations that represent minorities. Precise figures are difficult to obtain because election authorities are not allowed to designate a candidate’s race. While those figures remain only a small percentage of the 7,639 candidates seeking legislative office, political analysts say they represent a seismic shift in French politics. The increasing number of minority candidates shows that a political revolution is underway, said Nordine Nabili, 39, a sociologist and chief of Bondy Blog, one of the most popular political blogs among young minorities in the heavily immigrant Paris suburbs. People who live in the suburbs are questioning the system. Unlike traditional politicians, they speak their minds – they are like republican kamikazes. For Jean-Claude Beaujour, the UMP candidate in Paris’ multi-ethnic eastern district, this year’s crop of diversity candidates is just the beginning.

Les musulmans français sont plus tolérants que leurs voisins européens

Criticized by the American press to the moment of the riots of the fall 2005 in the suburbs, the French model of integration is rehabilitated by an investigation published by the Pew Research Center, the one of the opinion institutes the most renowned ones of the United States. According to this investigation, realized in the spring with Muslims of four European countries and of which the complete results were published August 17, the France Muslims have not any integration lesson to receive of their European neighbors.

Study: French Riots Not Caused By Islamists

BRUSSELS — The urban riots that shook France to its core last year were not sparked by Islamist fanatics and had little to do with the radicalization of the country’s Muslim youth, says a new report by the International Crisis Group. Instead, the independent Brussels-based grouping blames the violence on political frustration and social deprivation among Muslim communities and the heavy-handed tactics adopted by French police in deprived suburbs. Almost 9,000 cars were torched and 3,000 people were arrested in October and November after two African youths were electrocuted fleeing police officers. The center-right government responded by declaring a state of emergency and imposing a curfew in the worst-hit suburbs. The rioting, which lasted 20 days and nights, was the worst civic unrest in France for almost four decades and led some commentators to declare that the country was teetering on the edge of a civil war between its indigenous population and largely Muslim immigrant communities. “France faces a problem with its Muslim population, but it is not the problem it generally assumes,” says the ICG in its latest report, citing French concerns about the security threat posed by a five million-strong Muslim population mobilized by radical Islam. “In fact, the opposite is true: paradoxically, it is the exhaustion of political Islamism, not its radicalization, that explains much of the violence, and it is the depoliticization of young Muslims, rather than their alleged reversion to a radical kind of communalism, that ought to be a cause for worry.” French interior minister and likely presidential candidate Nicolas Sarkozy caused a storm shortly after the start of the disturbances by describing the rioters as “scum” and promising to clean up one of Paris’ most notorious suburbs with a high-powered vacuum cleaner. French President Jacques Chirac was also pilloried for telling the alienated youth that they were all “sons and daughters of the republic” — despite all evidence to the contrary. The ICG report accuses French politicians and trade unions of failing to deal with the problems faced by the country’s Muslim communities. But it also takes Muslims to task for shying away from politics and not organizing themselves into a cohesive political force. “Muslim immigrant populations are not participating in French politics,” says Robert Malley, Crisis Group’s Middle East and North Africa Program Director. “There is currently a dangerous political void, particularly within the unemployed or underemployed youth in suburban areas. Political frustration is assuming a violent expression, taking the form of jihadi Salafism and riots, and is feeding off precarious social conditions, in terms of employment and housing, social discrimination and the s stigmatization of Islam.” A small minority of rioters were swayed by radical Islamist propaganda, but the vast majority was not motivated by religion, says the ICG, a highly-respected conflict resolution group headed by former Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans. The unrest in the suburbs last year “took place without any religious actors and confirmed that Islamists do not control those neighborhoods,” claims the study. “There were no bearded provocateurs behind the riots, and no bearded ‘older brothers’ to end them.” Rather, the ICG says the rioting resulted from a profound feeling of abandonment among France’s immigrant communities, who often suffer from high levels of poverty and unemployment. Ignored by politicians, living precarious lives in poor tenements, often the victims of virulent Islamophobia and police aggression, some young Muslims see violence as the only means of expression left to them, says the report, which was published Thursday. The theory that alienation, rather than religious extremism, lies at the roost of the rioting, appears to be backed up by interviews with young Muslims from the Paris suburbs. “France has betrayed the young people of the suburbs,” one unemployed 24-year-old told the BBC in a program titled “Europe’s angry young Muslims,” which was aired Wednesday. “When you’re called Ali you can’t get a job. The French don’t accept Islam. Politicians promise us mosques and so on, but at the same time they smear us and call us terrorists.” The study, the first in a series on Islamism in Europe, urges the French government to use less coercive police tactics in deprived neighborhoods, to re-introduce community policing in suburbs that have become no-go areas and to abandon the idea that institutionalizing Islam as a religion will quash the emergence of radical groupings. It also advises mainstream political parties to become more active in underprivileged suburbs and Muslims to set up political parties and local associations to channel their discontent peacefully.

Islam, Ethnicity and the Banlieues

The most astonishing thing about the recent riots was the surprise of the media, in France as elsewhere, at this outbreak of violence. For indeed, violence in the suburbs is nothing new. In the 1980s, the suburbs of Paris and Lyon were similarly set aflame. And in November of 2004, the violence of the suburbs broke out in the very heart of Paris when two rival gangs clashed on the Champs Elysées. Nor is the isolation of French youth a new phenomenon. Since the 1981 “rodeo riots” in the Lyon suburb Les Minguettes, social and economic conditions in the suburbs have only deteriorated, despite the often generous funding of urban development projects. It is not sufficient, however, to attribute these outbreaks of violence solely to factors of social and economic marginality. This marginality is exacerbated by a general context of urban degradation: a degradation, furthermore, which affects a very specific sector of the population. That is, the crisis of the banlieues primarily concerns first- and second-generation immigrants from the former colonies of the Maghreb. This population has frequently been treated as a separate case, not only in terms of the history and conditions of immigration, but also in terms of the politics of integration. This constant exclusion results in the fact that the issues of poverty, ethnicity, and Islam tend to be conflated, both in current political discourse and in political practice. The recent violence is but the direct consequence of the constant amalgamation of these three separate issues.