Faced with weeks of rebellion in the suburbs and poor neighbourhoods, the government is trying to cover up the fact that this situation is the result of growing inequality and discrimination caused by several decades of disastrous policies.
Far from putting an end to the intolerable and devalorizing discourse that stigmatizes those who live in these neighbourhoods, over the past few days we have witnessed populist appeals on the part of several political authorities, who have been spreading lies and misinformation in an attempt to make scapegoats of foreigners.
Following the Minister of the Interior’s statement that most of those responsible for the past several weeks’ violence were foreigners, and his call for the deportation of all foreigners arrested for participating in the events, now we have the Minister of Employment Gérard Larcher and the UMP president of the National Assembly Bernard Accoyer, who are claiming that polygamy and family reunification policies lead to urban violence.
And yet the official figures are available to show that all but 6 to 8% of those who have been arrested over the past weeks are French. As for polygamy, which victimizes women first and foremost, and the right of every person, regardless of their nationality, to their family life (an inalienable right according to Article 8 of the European Human Rights Convention), these are in no way related to this social crisis.
Such statements are intended to cover up the social issues that have been raised over the past few weeks, switching the focus to the question of immigration.
The multiplication of these statements is a clear sign that immigration is now being exploited as demagogically as is possible, as an important part of the strategy of the current parliamentary majority - which hopes to win votes from the racist and xenophobic far right - in view of the 2007 elections.
Such an attitude is scandalous and irresponsible: it makes life harder and harder every day for entire sections of the population (whether or not of regularized status); it gives rise to abuse; it encourages the rise of xenophobia, racism, exclusion and, in return, communalism* within our country.
The Solidaires Trade Union refuses to see entire populations sacrificed on the alter of nauseating political ambitions, simply because of where they were born. We refuse to blame the victims of discrimination and exclusion for their misfortune.
French citizens, foreigners living in France who have regularized status, as well as the undocumented, all deserve better than to be afraid of each other, than these attempts to divide, and in the end this xenophobia is directed against the very people who already suffer more daily discrimination, poverty and unemployment than the rest of society.
For the Solidaires Trade Union, the answer to the crisis in the popular neighbourhoods should involve neither repression nor provocation nor demagogical and electoral exploitation of these social problems. What our country needs more than ever is the elaboration of a national policy to eradicate discrimination and establish equal rights.
Paris, November 21st 2005
* translators note: i have translated “communautairisme” as “communalism”; this term is akin to “multiculturalism”, but is almost universally understood to have a negative connotation (more similar to how North Americans now view “identity politics”). An interesting and (i think) useful point was made in In The Fray (an online magazine): "To really understand why the Islamic headscarf has become so controversial in France, one must try to understand two words that are often bandied about in this debate and are not easy to translate into English: laïcité and communautarisme. The first term is often translated in the American press as ‘secularism,’ as if it simply designated the separation of church and state, a familiar issue to Americans. In reality, laïcité implies a set of political and cultural values, that, in a way, have become a pseudo-religion of the state... Communautarisme, on the other hand, roughly means ‘multiculturalism,’ although its connotations are almost entirely negative. Communautarisme, to the French, is what happens when you let immigrants form their own communities, speak their own languages, and practice their own religions. Consequently, France becomes less ‘French’ and more open to foreign values and cultural practices. "
(i would like to thank the smart folk at Infinite Thought blog for pointing me towards this text)
In other words, “secularism” in France is similar to “freedom” in the United States – it is both a value (which we can all agree with) and a kind of nationalistic slogan, with potentially racist overtones (like “freedom fries”).
Please note that the above text comes from the Soldiaires Trade Union – and was translated by yours truly. I translated it because it is one of the few pieces i have seen over the past week or so about the rebellion in France, and ongoing clampdown. I have a “fast and loose” translation philosophy, meaning that when there is a choice between readability and the original phraseology i tend to favour the former, provided that the meaning stays the same. The original document can be seen in French here.
Please also note that i am translating this as i have not been able to find any radical accounts of the riots or the police racism that provoked them in English… i do not necessarily agree with the author’s point of view, nor do they necessarily agree with mine. Si quelqu’un a un meilleur texte à suggérer, svp envoyez-moi le!
For background to the riots, including a timeline, check out the Wikipedia entry.
Categories: banlieues, france, racism, repression, riot, translation