L’horloge orange

November 7, 2005 | France, Housing, Slums, World news

After the riots, what’s it going to be then?


Where I lived was with my dadda and mum in the flats of Municipal Flatblock 18A, between Kingsley Avenue and Wilsonsway.  I got to the big main door with no trouble, through I did pass one young malchick sprawling and creeching and moaning in the gutter, all cut about lovely, and saw in the lamplight also streaks of blood here and there like signatures, my brothers, of the night’s fillying.  And I too saw just by 18A a pair of devotchka’s neezhnies doubtless rudely wrenched off in the heat of the moment, O my brothers.  And so in.



Paris, riot cop, high-rise in La Blanc Mesnil


In the hallway was the good old municipal painting on the walls — vecks and ptitsas very well developed, stern in the dignity of labour, at workbench and machine with not one stitch of platties on their well-developed plots.  But of course some of the malchicks living in 18A had, as was to be expected, embellished and decorated the said big painting with handy pencil and ballpoint, adding hair and stiff rods and dirty ballooning slovos out of the dignified rots of these nagoy (bare, that is) cheenas and vecks.  I went to the lift, but there was no need to press the electric knopka to see if it was working or not, because it had been tolchocked real horrorshow this night, the metal doors all buckled, some feat of rare strength indeed, so I had to walk the ten floors up.

Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange, 1962, page 35




Riots continue to plague urban France:


AUBERVILLIERS, France — Marauding youths torched nearly 900 vehicles, stoned paramedics and burned a nursery school in a ninth night of violence that spread from Paris suburbs to towns around France, police said Saturday. Authorities arrested more than 250 people overnight — a sweep unprecedented since the unrest began.



A car burns in a street of Pierrefitte, north of Paris, early Saturday, Nov. 5, 2005 on the ninth day of unrest. Vehicles and buildings were torched by youths in largely immigrant areas who began rampaging after two of their peers were electrocuted last week at a power substation while hiding from police they feared were chasing them. (AP Photo/Remy de la Mauviniere)


In grim fulfillment of my prediction, the slums inside have exploded and the riots are getting worse: more places, more sophistication, more evil intent:


PARIS – President Jacques Chirac on Sunday vowed to restore order in France after riots in Paris spread across the country and began to unnerve his European neighbors.


But in fresh violence late on Sunday, rioters shot and injured 10 policemen, two of them seriously, when they fired at security forces confronting 200 stone-throwers, police said.


“The Republic is quite determined, by definition, to be stronger than those who want to sow violence or fear,” Chirac said after a special domestic security council met to respond to the latest violence in which 1,300 vehicles went up in flames.


“The law must have the last word,” Chirac said in his first public comments since the riots started in the poor suburbs, noting the importance of the respect of all, the law and the equality of chances.


Once failure cracks into violence, it spread like a hateful epidemic until it plays itself out, usually in a small-scale atrocity that shocks the mass of bystanders into newfound courage.  But end the riots will –the law will have the last word — and when they are over, what then?




France‘s entire urban housing policy has failed, massively failed.  The riots are proof.


In a world of scooters, cell-phones, and satellite television, no longer can poverty be isolated in high-rise blocks.  No longer can the poor be kept ignorant of the riches next door.


The violence breeds in the banlieus (near suburbs):


Most attacks have been in towns with low-income housing projects, areas marked by high unemployment, crime and despair.


The germ is in fact not from around the housing, but from within the disgraceful public housing used to warehouse unemployed minorities:


Joblessness in France is 22.2% for men under 25 years old, compared with 7.8% for men aged 25 to 49, according to the Labor Ministry.  (France doesn’t include ethnicity in its census nor does it publish poverty or unemployment statistics based on ethnicity or religion.)


Among 20- to 24-year-olds living in French suburbs whose residents are predominantly Muslim, the jobless rate during the 1999 census was 37.2% for men, compared with the national average of 22.5%, and 39.5% for women, compared with 28.4%. The figures come from a 2003 report for the prime minister by the High Council for Integration.



How did this catastrophic nationwide public policy failure come to be?  An interesting dissertation proposal posed the question:


Why has public housing become a locus of patterns of ethnic discrimination in French politics and society?


Ethnicity was not an organizing principle of housing policy in the post-World War II period, nor did it influence decisions about the administrative structure of HLM (Habitations a loyer modere) housing, the French public housing program.  Nevertheless, recent research argues that HLM associations’ administrative policy is in fact biased against ethnic minorities (translated from immigres) (Geindre 1989; de Rudder 1992; Barou 1992; Blanc 1993; Bourgeois 1996).  The result is the concentration of ethnic minorities in certain towers, certain buildings, certain cites.


Regardless of its founders’ good intention, severe destructive income concentration is almost always the fate of public housing — those people are put out of sight, out of mind. 


When first envisioned in 1937, US public housing was a slum clearance tool: the housing was intended for truly working families, with income mixing and ethnic distribution.  But whenever there is too little affordable housing, the tension arises, whom do we house? 


Naturally, say the compassionate, we must house the neediest.  Entirely understandable.  But who are the neediest?  Other than the elderly, whom most housing authorities separate in their own high-rise properties, the neediest are those who have no job.  And who chooses to live with those who have no job?  Those who have no practical choice. 


The result, slowly but inexorably, is progressively more severe income concentration.


Such concentrations have led to an externally-defined ethnicization of space in which urban blight is seen as attributable to the presence of ethnic minorities themselves. This labeling process stigmatizes the daily interactions of particular ethnic groups in all aspects of life (Tomlins 1998).


As in Old New Orleans, poverty was the distiller of an ethnic ghetto: it’s not that Muslim became poor, it’s that poor became Muslim.  As the New York Times reported it:


The rioting began last week in Clichy-sous-Bois, [one of] the working-class suburbs which were built up during the postwar period to move workers out of the city center and closer to the industrial zones that employed them.



Paris, the morning after


They may have been working-class when developed, but today they are dominated by the un-working class:


Over the succeeding decades, North African and sub-Saharan immigrants replaced the working-class French who initially populated the neighborhoods. But jobs have dried up as the economy slowed – unemployment in some of the zones is as high as 30% — and the suburbs have become the French equivalent of America‘s inner cities.


Concentrated grinding poverty and idleness brew violence.  You simply cannot warehouse young men in unemployment, welfare, isolation, boredom, and xenophobia, and expect them to learn anything else.   


“Violence penalizes those who live in the toughest conditions,” said [Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy]. “Violence is not the solution.”


With all due deference to minister Sarkozy, violence is the solution to the problem of non-existence.  Violence is heady stuff, intoxicating the more so because it goes unpunished and it is an inchoate revenge on all those who have more:




I ripped away at this and that and the other, the others going haw haw haw still, and real good horrorshow groodies they were that then exhibited their pink glazzies, O my brothers, while I untrussed and got ready for the plunge.  Plunging, I could slooshy cries of agony and this writer bleeding veck got loose howling bezoomy with the filthiest of slovos that I already knew and others he was making up.  Then there was like quiet and we were full of like hate, so smashed what was left to be smashed — typewriter, lamp, chairs.  The writer veck and his zheena were not really there, bloody and torn and making noises.  But they’d live.


So we got into the waiting auto and I left it to Georgie to take the wheel, me feeling that malenky bit shagged, and we went back to town, running over odd squealing things on the way.

A Clockwork Orange, page 29


Anger and hate are unfocused, but those who act on hate become demagogic clay to be molded into instruments of political terror. 


Authorities say drug traffickers and Islamist militants are helping organize the unrest, via the Internet and mobile phones, among the North and sub-Saharan African immigrant communities who make up a significant part of many suburban housing estates.


This is not yet a political or organized assault on French society … but it could rapidly become one.  Where there is free-flowing violence, there are megalomaniacs ready to use it. 


France‘s foreign minister, Philippe Douste-Blazy, warned Thursday that France risked losing the integration battle in immigrant neighborhoods to radicalization of religious-based movements (diplomatic code for Islamic extremism).


For now, the violence seems to have been the work of unfocused teenagers and young adults without a clear political agenda.


Once the streets run with blood, the Red Terror is not far behind.  It was in France that the Committee for Public Safety gained its infamy.


So what’s it going to be then?


Chirac’s government is struggling to cope with an explosion of unrest with complex social, economic and racial causes.


Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said the government would step up security wherever necessary. Some 2,300 extra officers have already been drafted in.


“We cannot accept any ‘no-go’ areas,” Villepin said after meeting Chirac, adding he would announce plans for the country’s underprivileged suburbs on national television on Monday.


In the coming days I’ll post on what France‘s plan should be, and we can compare it with the political vaporware the esteemed prime minister proposes.


What’s it going to be, then?