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More on Les émeutes

Mark Barry wrote yesterday to urge me to post again on the rioting in France, which I commented on in a post on Saturday (Les émeutes, November 5). I have just learned that I was quoted, in the words of that post, in an article (Bloggers polarised over French riots, November 8) by Kate Mackenzie and Tom Griggs for the Financial Times:

Charles T. Downey, a Washington-based musicologist who writes for the Ionarts blog, was one of many to say he was not surprised by the riots after his experience of living outside Paris, which included “countless run-ins” with misaffected young men.

“The fact that the same angry young men are now burning several hundred cars a night and have even set fire to a nursery school is shocking in its scope but certainly not unforeseen. In fact, this sort of violence was already the subject of the excellent movie La Haine by Matthieu Kassovitz.”
Welcome to Ionarts for anyone who has found their way here from that article. This is not normal territory for this arts blog, but my love of France compels me to comment on this situation. Many are now concluding that it was not the death of the two teenagers, supposedly fleeing from the police, that sparked these events, but the irresponsible and inflammatory language of the Interior Ministry, Nicolas Sarkozy. On October 26, M. Sarkozy was making an official visit to a commissariat in Argenteuil, and a group of about a hundred angry young men had amassed to greet him. The minister apparently called out to a supporter in a nearby building's window, "vous en avez assez de cette bande de racaille, on va vous en débarasser" (you have had enough of this band of riff-raff, we are going to get rid of them for you).

Racaille became a buzzword, enough of a concern politically that Sarkozy's party, the UMP, purchased Google ads that would run on Google search pages that included racaille and a few other keywords. Sarkozy's subsequent explanation of that comment was very interesting (my translation): "I do not mean to provoke, even less to 'Americanize' our society, but to bring back the true meaning of equality, of solidarity, and of social justice, in short, of French values."

The very liberal French daily Libération is reporting today (Banlieue : Sarkozy s'en prend aux étrangers trublions, November 9) that, far from backing down, Sarkozy is now calling for extradition as a possible penalty for any foreigner, even with a legal carte de séjour, arrested for participating in the riots (my translation):
In the repressive arsenal being amassed against the violence in the suburbs, Nicolas Sarkozy has just taken up a new weapon: extradition. During question time in the Assemblée nationale, the Interior Minister surprised some people by announcing on Wednesday that he was going to request the "immediate" extradition of aliens, either legal or illegal, found guilty in the recent violence. One hundred twenty foreigners, not all illegal, have been found guilty on such charges, Sarkozy specified. "I have asked regional prefects that foreigners, here either legally or illegally, who have been judged guilty, be immediately extradited from our country, including those who have a resident's card," he continued. "When one has received the honor of having a resident's card, the least one can say is that one should by no means get arrested while trying to provoke street violence," the minister added.
Sarkozy's career has been fascinating to watch. In spite of widespread hatred on the left because of his hard-nosed tactics, he quickly rose to be a leading candidate to succeed Jacques Chirac as president. He appears to think that ratcheting up his level of angry discourse will help him in the impending race again prime minister Dominique de Villepin, who tried to show his own strongman approach by granting emergency powers to regional leaders to impose curfews. In spite of reports that the youths appeared to be more and more centrally organized, violence appears to have lessened last night, which is a hopeful sign.

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