November 07, 2005

Lets Get Physical… I Mean Political

*EDITED- I should have already said this but I posted late last night. I stand by my statements and I stand by the right of any and every reader to comment. But there are ground rules I as Benevolent Dictator over here have established. We can agree and disagree respectfully. I like the exchange of dialogue, but it is MY blog so I will decide what is and isn't respectful. Don't like it... move along, there will be a post about a sweater tomorrow. FURTHERMORE I have decided that I have the huevos to say my opinion, and thus you should too. I don't like hypocrisy. So if you want to say something for this post, I am only going to leave comments with Blogger IDs or names and email or website links incorporated in the text. This post only has one comment at this stage. And in an action I am sure will inflame the rioters, after much thought and writing my response... I am going to delete the comment. If the person who posted it wants to email me their identity, it (in original form) and my response to it will go back up.*

OK I don’t do this very often… I haven’t sung Olivia Newton John for years nor have I been political on this blog. As much as this blog is a knit and rant blog … I try to keep politics out of it. Not because I don’t have an opinion or am afraid to say it. God knows I shout from more than one roof top, but I deal with the stuff on a daily basis. I am a political scientist, and these topics can be explosively divisive. But I figure I have a mostly Anglophone following (if I have any following) and talking about the current situation in Paris isn’t going to divide the world like Bush would. Moreover, I am trying to give this blog a Parisian side (or at least I am in the redesign, context conceptualisation and new blog platform I am working on :) so here goes…

Keep in mind: Yes I do bleed red and here in France I fall into the Socialist Party. However I am respectful of all, put blame on all and am intentionally not putting a right v. left spin on things (for many a reason including that left and right in France are not similar to left and right in the US/UK etc). And I am trying to say them as clearly as possible. In as many words as I can :) But these words are mine and only mine.

To those who are wondering about Parisians safety, as evidenced by the call on Sunday at god o’clock from Mama Mao screeching about explosions and fires and wondering if my windows had burst in the blasts (reminiscent of her freak out about the “fall of government” in Norway- like the Weegies were rioting outside my door?? These are the people who plan their strikes a year in advance… I am not in the Democratic Republic of Congo MOTHER!!)… Things in town have been fine. While in last night there were incidents within the boundaries of Paris (by République and Nation for the most part), most of what you see on television is going on in the Banlieu (i.e. suburbs).

Currently as most of your footage shows… things are at a turning point, and out of control. The violence is spreading (thus incidents are happening in most major French cities) and it is increasing, with the youth mobilising and organising. Meaning that things could shortly either be crushed (with further violence and sectarianism in the society) or turn into a movement as the student riots of the late 60s did.

Politically this is a smoke out. The opposition parties (primarily the Socialist) are mainly represented at the local level, and due to how the French government is organised, restricted in how they can respond. On almost all of the TV appearances by the Socialist mayors etc, they have decried the central government's “response.” They trying to do their best- but they don’t control the police.

De Villepin and Sarkozy are trying to get the upper hand for the upcoming presidential election (these boys have been pissing in corners trying to mark their territory for the past 3 years, why would it be any different now), each flaming the fires in their own special way (though Sarkozy’s tactics, it must be said, are outright hostile and in my opinion racist, then again for the Frenchy speakers- Sarkozy me fait chier...). Neither is doing what it takes to calm things down nor resolve the underlying issues (this is politics people you don’t deal with the foundations- you deal with the superficial; if you want to survive electorally).

Chirac has been sitting in his tower; because he doesn’t know what to do… he is domestically impotent. Not even Viagra sent by Bob Dole himself is going to help Jacques get it up at this stage. His focus has been trying to get some of his political credibility back by forcing issues at the international level with trade negotiations and cow-towing to French Agro Business (not the individual French Farmer- nor towards helping the developing world, I can point anyone who wants to argue with me to the statistics… I told you I deal with this shit daily)

So what exactly is the deal and what is going on here?? Well the current issues in French society aren’t all that different from what happens in any immigrant nation (like it or not France is an “immigrant” nation of sorts). There is the timeline of issues and then there are the root/foundation issues (some are being slightly simplified and condensed so as to make this a post that maybe SOMEONE will read :)

Before going any further though, I do not want to lead anyone to believe that I find the violence going on to be acceptable. I do however find it understandable and explainable. More importantly I do think it is resolvable, but I am not holding my breath. Unfortunately I do believe it will get worse before it gets better, and I mean significantly worse, if things are to get better- at the foundations.

The timeline of the past 2 weeks starts with a tragic situation where mistakes were made on all sides, leading to the death of two teenagers (and injury of a third). That escalated with the accompanying anger that the deaths provoked over already tense relations (foundations issues). There were slight openings at this stage for dialogue and quelling of the issue, but politicos refused to meet when people were protesting with minor violence at night (I call throwing a rock or starting a fire in the garbage can minor- in the US they would have had guns from the get go... flame away).

The police responded to the protests over these deaths with tear gas. As someone who has been tear gassed (I worked the WTO Seattle Ministerial and was trying to leave the building) I can politely say, it is not fucking pleasant. In this case it was intentionally throwing vodka at the fire and saying "Oooohhh look at the fiery red colors." The gassing happened during Ramadan prayer in a Mosque and trapped the women in their prayer room. This is one of the primary issues, that I believe, allowed the violence to start popping up in other communities. No longer just an immigrant/citizen issue of the us V. the police- but them attacking our religious sanctuary.

Think of the situation at this stage like a fire, the wind takes a flame and lights up the path that the wind blows. This is an issue MANY communities have in common and can rally solidarity around, particularly as the politicos (especially those at high levels- Chirac, himself, made his FIRST comment on the issues only last night) did not denounce this action like the towns muezzenine (sp?) making the call to prayer. And in France solidarity is a well and alive concept (I am sad to say it is not in the US- again flame away). It means something and is applied here.

There were denials and acceptances that this gassing happened via the hands of the Police, but at the same time Sarkozy (who is an elitist populist and has VERY scary immigration ideas) started saying inflammatory things. Here is where most people say the catalyst explosion took place. He was shut out for 2 days because it was that bad. The families of the killed teens refused to speak with him de Villepin had to get involved. Politically this was bad for Sarkozy, he is supposed to control the "interior"… but for some odd reason he broke them down and was let back in. I cant explain or understand that one.

In my opinion that aggravated an already pissy group of the citizenry and told them to notch it up a bit to get attention, which is what these violent actions are about. What he said in translation really doesn’t sound nearly as bad as it is. The connotations and societal inflectations are simply not translatable. What he called them wasn’t just thugs… it was worse and had racist inflections. Furthermore I am sure he was well aware that these kinds of comments would provoke the violence and unrest. They were not aimed at calming the protesting youth or reestablishing order… they were aimed at the elites and gaining their approval. Sarkozy was the former Mayor of Neuilly after all (a VERY rich suburb in the affluent "Banlieu," and ironically- not too far from where I work).

Slowly but surely every night since then the cauldron continues to bubble, and the violence continues to expand. The governments “responses” do nothing to stop this, though thankfully they have not provoked another catalyst explosion. But buildup is still growth. Over the past few days the numbers of vehicles set afire has increased exponentially, a lab for making bombs has been found and the first injuries have started to be tallied up.

None of this was unpredictable; most French sociologists would tell you it was a matter of when not if. Why? Foundation issues. If there is one thing I do as a political scientist it is preach about the foundational issues. Process means more than product! The seeds of what you see on the television today were sown many moons ago. And the responses bandied about are only superficial. Pointing fingers will get us nowhere as both sides of the divide (Socialist and “Gaullist/UMP”) have been involved.

Something that might not be immediately apparent from the coverage is that most of those kids on the streets taking part in the protests and violence, they are not immigrants. They are first and often second generation French kids. Despite the French immigration proverb “once in France everyone is French,” and this magical wand that is supposed to be waved over each and every French citizen; these are citizens who have been relegated to the outskirts of society. And rightly so feel like they are considered second class; their parents are the cleaning people who throw away my water bottles, and want something better for their children (and as a child of immigrants… I feel this point). But these kids, they were born here, they go to school here, they take the same damn bloody Bac as the “French” kids do and they should have every right that anyone else does. But reality stands that they don’t, and in the Banlieu it is smacked in their face on a daily basis. France is a country that doesn’t integrate their own all the time.

While it is true that French youth in general do not have an easy way to transition into adult life in France (employment rates for under 26 are appalling and there were stagaire strikes earlier in October because of the way the French employment systems treats “youths”) these are the kids that can’t find a way out. And the kids you see (I do mean kids as they are arresting 13 year olds) are kids that DO NOT UNDERSTAND WHY. They fully comprehend the realities facing them, but they don’t understand why they are less French. And no one politically is giving them a good reason, which is why I can’t bring myself to call them thugs. They are misguided, and desperate; which does not make their actions acceptable but they aren’t responsible for their societal exclusion either. I have compassion for them- Flame me while I look for my flame retardant vest.

It is interesting I find to watch the news coverage nightly. I have made a marked point of being home to do so actually. You hear such alternating stories. The “French” working class that live in the Banlieu say they don’t feel the hostilities; they don’t see the violence in the same way as what they see on the television. They are friends with their neighbors. In short this outburst doesn’t affect them, though it disturbs them.

Yet when the youth start talking… another story appears. The desperation and trodden nature rear their heads. They show you their national ID cards in this dire need to prove to you that they ARE French. In most of the Banlieu and where the unrest is happening- the unemployment rates are astronomical (40%+). And if there is one thing I can tell you, it is that unemployment is the root of many problems (be it the downfall of pension systems or the unrest in a society- unemployment is a VERY bad thing).

For history and explanation of my Franglais-ing, the Banlieu came about after WWII. They initially were ghettos and shanty towns, but their subsequent conceptualisation has been as working class suburbs. In the 1950s the government blew through them and started creating safe and secure housing developments- think project housing. In the mid 60s there were major waves of repatriation- in particular from Maghrebian countries (Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria etc). So those Banlieu project housing blocks and towers grew exponentially.

In hindsight we know integration into society of this nature is like charging the date on a ticking time bomb and setting it under ground as a landmine to blow at the least tremble on the hair line trigger pull. In the 70s (some in the early 80s) the issue was complicated as waves of immigrants came from former Francophone colonies (mostly Africa). These two waves of immigration sowed the seeds of what you see today.

In the Banlieu today you see old decrepit buildings slabs, what one would basically call squats. And people still live there, hell sometimes they are still social housing locations. You see slightly newer towers of apartment housing where little communities have arisen around a central notion, the relation to the homeland. They may be French, but they are Moroccan communities of French people (should that make sense in the way I wrote it).

To integrate people into a society you CANNOT just spout a proverb and say that takes care of everything. Especially when the afflent french are so infamous for that look down their upturned nose. It is evident to me that this approach is what has gotten France where it is today. You have to give people a true chance, that is a basic right of citizenry.

On the immigration level you need to understand how to help those coming in adjust. France was good at this with neither the repatriations of the 60s, nor the recent repatriations of from just last year out of the Côte Ivoire. Even these "white" repatriated families are less French. For true immigrants, you need to put them in housing that is surrounded by locals- it acclimatises both groups. Fact stands you make one tall building and you stick all the Senegalese in it… and they are going to stay Senegalese and they are going to be French too. I understand this cause it was my family life in the US. Inside the house was Spanish, off the boat from Spain Spanish. Outside was American. But only when others didnt know about the Spanish house (mostly because raised in a border state speaking Spanish earned me the nickname Lily as in Lily White Mexican...).

But most importantly you need to provide equality of chance to these French citizens, and particularly a way to work and make a living. These kids need to know what it means to be an adult, and under the current system that is not possible. So when they face the dark shaft- they rebel. they have been looking or waiting for a reason to do so. And when all is going to hell, they don’t feel the same need to not go with that counter flow. That flow that taps built up rage and takes it to the levels of frenzy where rationality cannot exist. At that age the reasoning isn’t such the strong point (go on think of the shit stories you threw at your parents, or your teens might be throwing at you). It goes like this “if they shit on me I am going to shit on them” and it translates into the burning of affluent cars (it ain't the Twingo they are targeting boys and girls).

Now those are the root points, to resolve where things stand now and the fires that will burn tonight… that is more difficult. The politicos have come out with the nasty talk. Once you have politically committed to this harsh law and order crack down like in the Watts riots of LA, you further aggravate the social fault lines. And society is no more prepared for the next earthquake than it was for this one (smaller one or two day incidents without the initial deaths involved in this case happen here in France every couple of years… they just don’t capture the international media's attention.)

This is exactly the French situation. And as the politicians refuse to sit down and dialogue with the locals… doesn’t look like it will get better. On the otherside, these youth are not as stupid as the politicos would like to believe. They know the strength of solidarity and are organising (even if it is organising in the production of crude bottle bombs). In my eyes it is a matter of time to see who can hold their breathe longer. Who can outlast the other, or who can crush the other in simple terms. I don’t discount that the raging youth could bring down the politicos, nor the possibility that the politicos will crush the soul of the Republican nature and immigrant hope in “restoring the rule of law and order in every quartier.” Important to note is that Republican here is not a US party, but a form of government and social status in France which was brought about by revolutionary ideals- where by the way… Thomas Jefferson, the person that switched the party name and concept, got the idea. See Republicans, not so original, but great at fucking up the original concept :) Told you I bled red...)

I can't say much more… I can answer anyone’s questions. I can say my opinon, this shit isn’t going to go away. But if they figure out how to equalise some of the sometimes 46%+ unemployment rate in this subsect of society, it might just be one of the fatal stabs to this inflammation. The current approach (the force, force and more force- to show the might of the law) may blow out the flames; but the embers are still going to be left piping hot and ready to burst into flames again. The memories being created now are just as important as the bullets being shot.

Sure at core the resolution it is a chicken and egg issue, which comes first them stopping the violence or us stopping. This is no different at the mechanics level than in any other conflictual pattern (such as in Israel-Palestine) just the magnitude varies. It will need to be a negotiated end with both sides at the table and both sides... pulling back- not one trumping the other (as you see worldwide in conflict negotiations). Sure it aint fun and there are medium term prices, but the kill a fly with a sledge hammer routine doesn't seem to really bring anyone anymore security (security- a mental construction if I ever saw one. You are as safe as you choose to believe you are!) Being derisive and calling people splodeys or otherwise... negates the point. And to me makes you look like the smacked ass. Teaching your kids to play nice at the sandbox is the real but of this issue.

But that is just my take. Flame Away... I have my fire extinguisher ready at hand and I am not wearing my footsie pyjamas to bed tonight.

Posted by Stinkerbell at November 7, 2005 07:05 PM | TrackBack