In normal circumstances, I wouldn’t bother taking the Independent’s advice, but their Paris correspondent John Lichfield has always struck me as exceptionally even-handed. His brief guide to the troubles is well worth reading. My own guess is that Sarkozy was right to crack down on crime. Whether he was prepared for the backlash is another matter:
Is this France's intifada? Do the riots have wider significance for the West?
Talk of an intifada is absurdly misleading. Firstly, the rioters are far from being all Muslim (although more than half are from Islamic backgrounds). Second, they have no sense of political or religious identity and no political demands. Their allegiance is to their quartier and their gang. Their main demand, so far as can be established, is to be left alone by police and the Interior Minister, Nicolas Sark-ozy, to continue with their life of low-level violence and drugs trading. The wider significance is therefore not politico-religious but a warning of what happens if problems of deprivation and violence are allowed to fester.
Who are the rioters? How valid are their grievances?
Judging by the youths who have been arrested, and by comments by social workers and "big brothers" - older, more responsible young people - the rioters are almost exclusively kids involved in permanent gang violence, theft and drug dealing.
They are mostly aged 17-22 with some as young as 10. Depending on the district, maybe half of the rioters may be second or third generation. French-born young people of Arab descent. Maybe 30 or 40 per cent are black, often from families which have migrated to France more recently, legally or illegally. The remainder are local French youngsters or from eastern or southern European immigrant families. Their immediate grievance is a threat by M. Sarkozy to "clean out" the suburban gangs as "scum". Many residents, of all races, in the banlieues would agree with M. Sarkozy's sentiments, but not his inflammatory language.
Figaro has a brief interview with some of the youths on the streets. The conversation is about urban alienation, not religion:
Ces émeutiers ne se projettent dans aucune revendication sociale ou politique. "A notre niveau, c'est la merde», lâche Morad, qui avoue toutefois rêver "d'un petit pavillon, d'une femme et d'enfants... au bled".
[Loose trans: "These rioters put forward no social or political demands. "Down where we are, life is shit," says Morad, who nevertheless admits he dreams of "a little house, a wife and kids... in a village.**] "** Commenter U2 of No Pasaran says this should translate as "back in Algeria".
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