Have we hit the ground yet?

8 November 2005

 “Baghdad, France”, “The Siege of Paris”, "Intifada at the City Gates”, are just a few headlines intended to describe the situation in the Paris suburbs.
For the past 4 years, in Parisians suburbs, 200 cars have been burnt on the 14th of July to “celebrate”, and at least 30 cars a night are burnt.
Suddenly, in the past week the media coverage of these zones has expanded tremendously in France and has even reached European newspapers, and American headlines.

The situation is indeed more than worrying and the French government is all of sudden scared that these “barbarians” (as qualified in the Sunday Times) could no longer be contained in their ghettos and “are now at the gate”.

Being French and born and raised in Paris I can say that what has been referred to as “urban guerrilla warfare” is just the result of an ongoing problem.

Since the fall of the French Empire, immigrants believing in the idea of “France, terre d’accueil” have tried escaping what the French had left them with (unemployment, violence, tribal wars, racism, and authoritarian regimes).They were piled up in what is known in France as “cité-dortoirs” (dormitory towns) as close as they could to the city of lights.

For the past 15 years, the banlieues of Paris have suffered from an increasing level of violence.
Well, picture yourself in your younger years, surrounded by immense skyscrapers in which your family has to live. No football pitches to exercise, no money to go to the movies, no coffee houses to chill out in, just deteriorating in courtyards and parking lots.
If you’re lucky you have a moped you can race against your friends or rivals, if you’re lucky you can buy drugs, if you’re lucky you have the will to take the RER to Paris and walk on the Champs-Elysées.
In his 1996 movie La Haine, Matthieu Kassovitz had already pictured the problems these “banlieusards” had to suffer. What has been done since then? Not much.
Blinded by the light of the Eiffel Tower, France has decided to close its eyes on its racism, on its poor integration system, on the misery of a part of its population.

Will the past events lead to more social reform? Will the government try fixing what it created? Or will Jacques Chirac use this opportunity to pass more repressive laws against the insecurity threats?
Will the phenomenon spread to Europe like an angry replay of May 1968?

As one of the characters of La Haine says it concluding the movie" C'est l'histoire d'une société qui tombe et qui au fur et à mesure de sa chute se répète sans cesse pour se rassurer : Jusqu'ici tout va bien, jusqu'ici tout va bien, jusqu'ici tout va bien, mais l'important c'est pas la chute, c'est l'atterrissage ".
(Matthieu Kassovitz, La Haine, 1996)

“It’s the story of society falling down and while it’s falling it reassures itself: so far so good, so far so good, so far so good, but how you fall doesn't matter, it's how you land!”

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