The French President, Nicolas Sarkozy was Minister of the Interior during the greatest urban disturbances in recent French history, which took place in the most marginalized neighborhoods of the principal cities. He wants to avoid repetition of these events. The twentieth plan that he wants to apply to the suburbs has been dubbed Hope. Are the measures effective? What is the origin of the violence? Are we dealing with an Islamic revolt? Will it be useful to maintain a hard line?
FROM OCTOBER 27th TO NOVEMBER 17th 2005,
“Sarkozy´s critics reproach that, like other plans, this one does not have the specified funding either, or at least sufficient funding” The current French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, was a central figure in those riots because he was the Minister of the Interior of the time. He now wants to avoid their repetition with a new plan. This is the twentieth plan for the suburbs, and for this very reason it is looked upon by some with skepticism. Sarkozy presented his plan, dubbed Hope, in an official ceremony at the Presidential Palace in Eliseo, accompanied by representatives of associations involved in the suburb problem. Fadela Amara , his Secretary of State for the city and the politician in charge of carrying out the measures, is the daughter of Algerian immigrants and the founder of an association called Ni putes ni soumises (Neither whores nor slaves) to support women.
The program, described as a sort of Marshall Plan for the marginalized French neighborhoods has placed stress on matters of education and employment, but also on security matters. Sarkozy´s critics reproach that, like other plans, this one does not have the specified funding either, or at least sufficient funding for the magnitude of questions that it attempts to address. And that is perhaps its first failure, that by intending to address everything, the plan will end up being a commendable but unattainable declaration of intentions. Above all, this could occur because the plan is being presented during the short term of a political legislature. The plan must be added to those proposed by at least nineteen City Ministers in the last 17 years, none having managed to eradicate the problem.
Many things could be said about the suburban revolt in 2005 (or about the other sporadic episodes that occurred a few months ago or new episodes that could occur), but one thing that could not be said is that they came as a surprise. For more than 20 years, all of
The first suburban riot dates back to
“They are isolated neighborhoods, conceived in order to accommodate automobile workers, and they do not have any space, not even for cabarets, taverns, bars, or any other type of amusement” The urban areas of these neighborhoods are characterized by their undistinguished and dull architecture, and are prone to neighbors not knowing each other. According to some sociologists, this fact is partially to blame for the riots.
The social neighborhoods of the suburbs, with their HLM (Habitations à Loyer Modéré, housing at moderated rents), emerged as a concept after World War II. These neighborhoods were initially inhabited by immigrants from the French countryside, followed by those from Southern Europe (
This scene has caused the riots that are we are now trying to avoid. And if the urban geography appears to be one of their causes, other social characteristics of the inhabitants are not any less so.
“The sentiment of social frustration and racial segregation that those behind the riots say they are experiencing could be channeled by political-religious justification in the near future” Immigrants comprise nine percent of
And if until now the Republic had succeeded in acculturating all of those who lived in its territory and converting them into French people and not Bretons, Alsatians or Occitans (Provençal), they are currently facing people born and raised in
AN ISLAMIC REVOLT?
Since the majority of the youths in the suburbs are Muslim, many have wondered about the role that religion might have played in the riots. The principal question is whether or not the disturbances can be considered part of the jihadist confrontation against the West unleashed by Al Qaeda since the September 11th, 2001 attacks.
“It does not look like Islam has played a key role in the incidents” The most recent opinion polls show a general increase in the practice of Islam in
Nevertheless, this is a past circumstance that does not keep the religious factor from gaining more importance, and the sentiment of social frustration and racial segregation that those behind the riots say they are experiencing from being channeled by political-religious justification in the future.
Religion (principally Islam) tends to find its way into these marginalized neighborhoods (the suburban slums) more and more. But it must be mentioned that it does this in contrast to another phenomenon: drug consumption, which has been growing in the past ten years as a religious practice.
What should the 2005 disturbances be attributed to then, and what factors must we keep in mind in order to avoid them? Without a doubt, some of those that have already been mentioned, but also others which are related to the media and are even directly political in nature.
“The 2005 riots had consequences for the political strengthening of those who, like the then Minister of the Interior, Nicolas Sarkozy, had shown themselves from the beginning to be followers of the hard line” As I witnessed in the autumn of
The French youth that saw the cars that they burned on television fed off of their own behavior, as well as that of other youths who, like them, were expressing their state of unrest in all of France in such a way. The presence of the international mass media in their neighborhoods contributed to the same effect. I had the opportunity to be on Clichy-sous-Bois, the very avenue where the incidents had initiated, where I chanced upon companions from other countries and heard informative tales of the events that fit in with those in Kosovo-Macedonia and
All of this occurred in a closed-off night during which nothing happened, in a lost place in the outskirts of
The 2005 riots, with their furious, desperate and disorganized character, had consequences for the political strengthening of those who, like the then Minister of the Interior, Nicolas Sarkozy, had shown themselves from the beginning to be followers of the hard line. With each car burned, the strengthened image of the then Minister and current president reached the eyes of the shocked French people, who were unable to understand the phenomenon that was occurring in their own backyard. The measures that Sarkozy is now proposing can be effective as long as they enjoy a sufficient consensus and are extended in order to solve a problem that has been around since the last few decades, and not just the last few years. However, they will not be effective if they are only used in an attempt to reinforce that hard line of good electoral returns, while being capable of activating that action-reaction chain, and consequently inciting neighborhood discontent.