Tuesday, November 29, 2005

"Diary from Paris"

Jeremy Harding in London Review of Books

"The public, no longer quite so nervous, has rewarded him for his outspokenness with a boost in his popularity rating and the Sarkozy show rolls on, with its own imperturbable, riveting script, watched with fascination by those who love him and those who don’t. The two young boys, Bouna Traoré and Ziad Benna, both in their teens, who were electrocuted in the suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois, north of Paris, on 27 October, are all but forgotten, though their deaths set the rioting in motion. Few recall that when they died Sarkozy wasn’t the only public servant to argue that it was their own fault: several officials, from the administration in Seine-St-Denis to the prime minister, Dominique de Villepin, took a similar line. Where Sarkozy suggested that the boys, or their friends, were implicated in a petty theft, Villepin opted for the vaguer and loftier formulation ‘thieves at work in the area at the time’: a nuance that confirms the different styles of the two rivals for the presidency in 2007, but leaves them substantially close in this instance. The most understandable assertion from officials, and yet the unlikeliest of all, was that the boys weren’t being pursued by the police when they scaled the wall around the substation. A combination of these unfortunate pronouncements turned the localised rioting in Clichy-sous-Bois into a nationwide phenomenon.

Even so, it might not have happened without Sarkozy’s rhetorical flourish, a few days earlier, in another tricky Paris suburb, where he spoke of the trouble-makers on a local sink estate as ‘racaille’. It’s a powerful word, whose force has been deliberately weakened by ironic usage: disaffected, disabused youth (and well-educated, not-yet-disabused youth who wish to slum it) talk about themselves as ‘racaille’ in much the same way as African Americans used to call each other ‘niggers’. To be described from on high as ‘racaille’ (riffraff? rabble? trash?) is a different matter. Sarkozy insists that he knows the racaille from ordinary, disadvantaged young men trying to find a way for themselves, but his judgment on this point was under attack even before the incident in Clichy-sous-Bois. Since then, the term ‘racaille’ has carried over to include the rioters. Whatever the majority of French people think, there is a fierce sense among young black and North African French that the government’s position has been unacceptable: that the moment certain words were uttered they should have turned to ashes in the mouths of various talkative ministers, Sarkozy in particular. Perhaps that’s what so much of this burning has been about." more

Via Sketchy Thoughts "Did Rap Cause the Rebellion?"

"Following the events of the past few weeks [translator: meaning the riots that swept France earlier in November], over 200 members of parliament have called upon the Minister of Justice to prosecute rap musicians who they accuse of inciting hatred and violence amongst young people.

SUD Culture is outraged at such an approach, which is just a populist escalation meant to cover up the social issues that have been raised over the past weeks, replacing them with the far-right’s favourite issues in view of the next elections.


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