Les émeutes en France
Like many of my friends, I too have been appalled by the scale of the rioting in France, which can’t be explained entirely by the police killing of young Nahel. I’ll say something obvious, which is pretty much what French and other opinion writers must be saying:
1st, there is a lot of deep resentment in the banlieues, populated mainly by families from France’s former colonies, against a “white” system that doesn’t treat them as equal French citoyens, and particularly against the police. 2nd, while this feeling may be more or less intense at particular moments, depending on the individual’s experiences and aspirations, most people live with it, voicing it only rarely, for years.
But in just the past few years, the examples of the huge gilet-jaune protests — not racially inspired so much as rural and small town vs. a Parisian élite that seemed to ignore them— and the vandalism of the “black blocs”, then the yihadistes, and maybe the tensions built up during the pandemic, all together along with the proof of how easy it is to summon a crowd with online media, have given a lot of youth both pretext and strategy for protest. Maybe some are acting out of true, personal rage, but I ‘d bet that’s a minority. Some, probably most, for the excitement and to go along with their crowd. And some, like whoever it was who drove a car to crash into the mayor’s house, must be acting out of some dark conspiratorial plan.
If I’m right in this string of hypotheses, there’s no quick fix. The government and especially the state and its institutions, including the police, have to regain or gain the confidence of all the French, including those whose ancêtres were not les Gaules but people from any of France’s former colonies in Africa or Asia or immigrants from elsewhere. Regaining such confidence may be beyond this government’s capacity. Macron’s approval ratings are in the cellar.
In the short run, I think the police must work much more closely with community-based NGOs and that the police command must weed out its most racist and/or violent members. This would surely reduce the violent protests of the banlieues, giving time for the other needed reforms. Urgent, because in the slightly longer run, a serious danger is that the scale of the disturbances may lead to the election of a far-right government, Le Pen or worse, on the promise of restoring order by even tougher and more ruthless police actions.
And if that happens we can expect the victims’ rage to spread and intensify for an even greater explosion.