Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Flaming France

From one extreme to another in France. For those rim-cities of concrete and post-colonial flotsam (as the French in their eternally closeted racism see it), it’s either total indulgence and indifference or curfews and cracked heads. De Villepin, last seen in the United States (and on Saturday Night Live) as a caricature of the French résistance to an Iraqi invasion, is proposing curfews for the rim cities. The CRS, France’s shock troops of public order, can’t be far behind. They call them “Compagnie républicaines de sécurité,” like the state’s left-over head-smashers from the Commune in 1871, though they were actually created in 1944 and used to smashing effect in 1968 (remember the slogan, CRS=SS?). All this for the Quartiers sensibles (the “sensitive neighborhoods”), as the state and the media so incongruously call those places in flames. You can see the bien-pensants Socialists and socialites of Paris put on the verbal gloves, as if even talking about those neighborhoods is distasteful; you can hear the patronizing disdain (le dédain) in the word sensible for the banlieu (suburbia), usually disdained even in quieter days, you can sense the inability, or maybe the unwillingness, to understand how else to see these people but as la racaille—scum, hoodlums, trash—in the now eternal words of Interior Minister Nicholas Sarkozy, whom I’ve seen described as “an ambitious little upstart with the manner of a ferret on cocaine” (by a New Zealand commentator, of all places). Sarkozy has the prime ministership or the presidency in mind. But first, a few stepping stones of African and Arab grain. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not excusing the fire-bombers. Their targets—cars, buses, child care centers—show them to be what they are. But the State is inexcusable. They don’t have gated communities there yet, that I know of. What they have is communities invisibly gated, classes, nationalities, immigrants walled off from the rest of society like scum. This sort of thing isn’t new. It happened in 1990 in the Lyon region, and it took a multi-week occupation by the CRS to quiet everything down. It happens periodically. It’ll happen again. The French didn’t know how to do colonialism. How can you expect them to know how to do immigration? As with colonialism, they swing from indifference to violence, from disdain to terror, from patronizing idealism to outright disdain. La belle et douce France mon derrière. Or in language Sarkozy might understand: mon cul.