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26.11.05

Who Were the Rioters in France?

Also on Ionarts:

Les émeutes (November 5)

More on Les émeutes (November 9)
A recent post on the riots in France got Ionarts mentioned in the Financial Times, so it seems like a good idea to follow up on who did what in the suburbs of Paris and other areas. In an interview with Deborah Solomon (Continental Drift, November 20) in New York Times Magazine, French philosopher Jean Baudrillard had the following, perhaps not too helpful things to say:
As one of France's most celebrated philosophers, can you give us any insight into the civil discontent that is pitting a generation of young people against the rest of the country?

It will get worse and worse and worse. For a long time, it was a relatively friendly coexistence or cohabitation, but the French haven't done much to integrate the Muslims, and there is a split now. Our organic sense of identity as a country has been split.

Perhaps that was inevitable. Many of us here were surprised last year when the French government banned hijabs, head scarves, and other religious emblems from public schools.

Yes, in America there is more of a history of immigration. America is constituted by ethnic communities, and though they may compete with one another, America is still America. Even if there were no Americans living in the United States, there would still be America. France is just a country; America is a concept.
That is only the beginning of a rather odd but entertaining interview. We also recommend an article by Alan Riding (In France, Artists Have Sounded the Warning Bells for Years, November 23) in the New York Times, which summarizes the French film and music that seem to have pointed to the recent rioting as historically inevitable. Also, I wrote recently about politician Nicolas Sarkozy's hard-nosed response to the rioters. Nathalie Guibert, in an article (La majorité des mineurs présentés aux juges étaient "inconnus" des tribunaux, November 26) for Le Monde, takes a look at just who the youths involved in the riots were, or at least who got arrested by French police (my translation):
They are French, 16 to 17 years old, working or out-of-work fathers, mothers more or less overwhelmed, with poor report cards at school. And they have, by and large, no previous record with the courts. The youths arrested in the recent urban violence in the the Ile-de-France do not correspond to the profile laid out by the Interior Minister, that of "riff-raff" of whom "80%" will probably be known to police already for delinquent acts. From October 29 to November 18, according to the last official report, 3,101 people were detained following the riots, 135 judicial cases have been opened, 562 adults were imprisoned (with 422 already sentenced to prison), and 577 minors have appeared before family court judges (with 118 placed in detention centers). [...]

The hardened circle of delinquent youth has not been implicated in the riots, or at least was not arrested by the police. The administration of the PJJ in Seine-Saint-Denis confirmed that its precinct had remained rather calm. "Some of those participating in the violence were motivated by hate and the desire to break free, but there was also a playful dimension in all of this," thinks Régis Lemierre, of the educational service of the Nanterre courts. Far from any political or social purpose, "the Gameboy generation reacted as if in a virtual world: there were their buddies, everything was on fire, and it was cool," he continues.
Many of those arrested were known to the government only because of their social and home conditions but had not yet gotten involved in anything criminal. Some may have been told what to do by others who were not arrested or simply followed their bad example. In any case, Sarkosy's planned deportation cannot possibly apply to them. The article gives a selection of those arrested, with names changed to protect their identities, of course. The first, Eddy S., is a 16-year-old, arrested several times since the age of 11, for shoplifting, defacing public property, and violence. His family came to France from Mali 10 years ago. His father is an invalid, and his mother cleans houses. Although they live separately, they have nine children. Eddy was expelled from middle school, or rather he was asked to sign a letter of "resignation" after extensive behavior problems. This process is supposed to be illegal in France, but it does happen.

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