Paris is Burning!

Eleven days ago two North African immigrant youth who were fleeing from police on the streets of Paris, died when they climbed onto an electrical transformer in an attempt to escape from their pursuers. The death of the boys in the rundown suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois set off angry riots in African and Arab immigrant communities long beleaguered by unemployment, discrimination and police brutality. Unemployment in these communities has reached triple the 10 percent national average - while income is 40 percent lower. The unrest has now taken on the look of an insurrection with large roving bands of youth engaged in street fighting with police. As of this writing nearly 4,000 cars have been destroyed by firebombs, cops have been shot at and wounded, and over 300 arrests have been made.

French Riot Policeman

[ Anonymous poster from France '68
by the Atelier Populare ]


For the most part the rioters are youth of Caribbean, African and Arab descent, and they are mainly second or third generation immigrants; which would make them French for all intents and purposes - save for being held back and ignored because of racism. They have been joined in recent days by poor white youth, and French media have reported riots in virtually every corner of the country. Much of the anger has been directed against the openly racist law-and-order campaign conducted by Interior Minister, Nicolas Sarkozy (a leading contender against President Chirac in the next presidential election.) Sarkozy, apparently wanting to steal votes away from the extreme right and the fascist National Front of Jean-Marie Le Pen, has described immigrants as “scum” and “gangrene.”

Borders = Repression

[ "Borders = Repression" - Anonymous poster
from France '68 by the Atelier Populare ]


Some have compared the violence currently engulfing France to the mass student/worker uprising that brought Paris to a standstill in 1968 (see my exhibit of Paris ‘68 posters.) While there are echoes of ‘68 in today’s rebellion, the current social situation in France is radically different from what it was decades ago. In the revolt of ‘68, organized workers and students stood shoulder to shoulder with immigrants, recognizing them as the most exploited and oppressed layer of French society. Immigrant communities today find themselves abandoned, forgotten, and scapegoated by the left and the right. Today’s rioters are leaderless and their actions - shaped by an unfocused and desperate rage - have yet to take on any ideological or religious overtone. Their numbers have not been swelled by a wide cross section of disaffected citizens outside of immigrant communities - so far, and the ferocious violence, destruction of people’s property, and the killing of an innocent bystander by a rioter will make a larger societal revolt unlikely. What is certain is that France has been deeply shaken by the fury of this social explosion, and that tremendous changes are now in the offing. What course the country takes next - reform or reaction - will have a major influence on world events.

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