A prominent French anti-globalization activist blamed the wave of urban unrest on failed government policies and the social and economic marginalization of immigrants. “Riots have nothing to do with Muslims, Arabs or African immigrants as propagated by the media,” José Bové told IslamOnline.net Nov. 8. “The unrest has its roots in decade-old failed social policies to improve the situation in France’s poor suburbs.”
“There will be no solution to the crisis in the near future unless the government changes its policies toward marginalized immigrants,” he added. The activist urged the French parliament to debate the root causes of crisis, describing the unrest as “a revolution by desperate youths who have lost all hopes.”
The government declared a state of emergency in strife-torn areas last week to combat the worst outbreak of urban unrest since the May 1968 student revolt. Meeting in crisis session with President Jacques Chirac, the cabinet invoked a 1955 law drawn up in response to the Algerian war which permits the declaration of curfews, house-searches and a ban on public meetings.
The rioting has left more than 6,000 cars burned, public and private property destroyed, tens of police officers injured and one civilian death.
Muslim thinker Tareq Ramadan blamed the entire political class in France for the riots, saying the political class has been “blind” to what has been happening in the suburbs, with their unemployed youth of Arab and African origin and bleak high-rises.
Bové also asked Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy to apologize for his anti-immigrant remarks. Sarkozy has been under fire for his “zero-tolerance” policy, which caused violence in the areas.
The French Communist Party, the Greens and the Socialist Party have joined forces, demanding the sacking of Sarkozy over his handling of the crisis. He has been accused of stoking passions by calling troublemakers “racaille” or rabble, and saying that crime-ridden areas need to be “cleaned with a power-hose.” (Turkish Weekly, Nov. 8)
On Nov. 14, the cabinet approved a three-month extension of the emergency powers. Technically the state of emergency is in place across the whole of metropolitan France, where all prefects (or state-appointed governors) are authorized to impose curfews. Other powers apply only in parts of 25 listed departments worst hit by the rioting.
Some 30 localities have been placed under nightly curfew for unaccompanied youth under 16, and public gatherings were ordered banned in Paris and Lyon over the weekend. However most prefects have not used their new powers. More than 2,700 people—mainly Arab and North African youth—have been detained since the violence began Oct. 27. (Sapa-AFP, Nov. 14)
The same day the cabinet extended the emergency powers, far-right leader Jean-Marie le Pen led a protest against France’s immigration laws. Addressing a crowd of about 300 National Front supporters, he criticised France’s immigration policies. “We let in 10 million foreigners over 30 years—it’s wild insanity. No country can handle that invasion.” Le Pen said that France was now “paying the bill” for its “mad and criminal immigration from the Third World.” (BBC, Nov. 14 via Turkish Weekly)
See also Bill Weinberg’s review of José Bové’s book, The World is Not For Sale, The Non-Violent Activist, magazine of the War Resisters League, Jan.-Feb. 2002)