Racism and repression behind French Intifada

Yeah, we think it’s pretty obvious too. The violence in France now enters its 12th night. It has spread to every major city, as well as Brussels and Berlin. The scale of the violence has been widely reported. Nearly 1,000 have been arrested, scores of police and firefighters injured, over 5,000 cars destroyed, and now one person killed—an elderly man in Stains who was beaten by rioters Nov. 7. Churches and schools have been firebombed, and police fired on with shotguns. And with the government now imposing curfews, this could only escalate. (NYT, Nov. 8; London Times, Nov. 7) But world press commentary has been singularly shrill and lacking in insight. This Nov. 5 (Saturday) condensed compliation of reports from the Independent Media Centers actually provides a little context (and with refreshing conscision, at that):

Paris is Burning: Racism and Repression Explode in Week of Uprisings

Africans living and working in Paris have been pushed into ghettoized suburbs of Paris (banlieue), where the state has withdrawn education, health, and other services, while increasing police presence, checkpoints, raids on sans-papiers [undocumented immigrants] and levels of oppression in general. This week the suburbs have exploded.

The trigger came on Thursday, October 27th, 2005, as a group of 10 highschool kids were playing soccer in the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois. When police arrived to do ID checks, the kids ran away and hid, because some of them had no ID. Three of the children hid in an electrical transformer building of EDF [Electricite de France] and were electrocuted. Two of them, Ziad Benn (17) and Banou Traoré (15), died; the third, Metin (21), was severely injured.

On Saturday morning [Oct. 29], 1,000 joined in a march organised by religious associations and mosques in Clichy-sous-Bois. Representatives of the Muslim community appealed for calm and marchers wore T-shirts saying mort pour rien (“dead for nothing”). The mayor of Clichy, Claude Dilain, called for an enquiry into the deaths of the two boys. All eyes were on Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy. The response? As people were gathering in the mosques for the Night of Destiny, the most sacred night in the month of Ramadan, a night people usually spent at the mosque, the empty streets of the Cité du Chêne Pointu filled with about 400 CRS [Republican Security Corps] militant riot police and gendarmes, blocking off the neighborhood. Yet very few people allowed themselves to be provoked into breaking the sanctity of this night, despite racist insults from the police.

On Sunday [Oct. 30], however, provocation turned into outrage as the women’s prayer room at de Bousquets mosque was tear-gassed by police. As people stumbled out gasping for air, the policemen called the women “whores”, “bitches” and other insults.

Ever since that night, Clichy-sous-Bois has been burning, with the insurrection spreading on Monday to Seine-Saint-Denis and on Tuesday night (November 1st) to nine other Parisian suburbs. A week after the death of the two boys, the uprising is spreading throughout France — to Dijon, Bouches-du-Rhone and Rouen.

In a press conference held on Monday, community-based activists named the causes of the continuing unrest: “Clichy is one of the poorest municipalities in France and community groups have less and less money to work with.” Things are tense as the press conference draws to a close: young people share their stories, women explain what they experienced and saw first hand. A common theme in all these accounts is anger at the police, who are carrying out more and more foolish – and often illegal – “muscular” interventions, and at the authorities in the ministry who are not condemning the gas attack against the mosque.

There was a consensus that, in order to calm things down, the police should leave the area… instead, Minister Sarkozy has announced a “zero tolerance” policy, labelling the suburban youth as “scum” and vowing to “clean out” troubled suburbs. Sarkozy’s position has divided the cabinet, with Prime Minister de Villepin apparently rebuking Mr Sarkozy.

How does this square with the accounts from the mainstream media?

See our last post on France.