Saturday, November 12, 2005

What the fuck is going on in France?

It's a question that I've been asking myself all week and the answers that I've found online from the left and the right have been a little lacking, shall we say.

Anyway, when I'm left cold by other coverage, I turn to Doug Saunders' Saturday column in The Globe and hope that he'll, at the very least, put things into context. He didn't disappoint today, reporting from the banlieues. [That link is subscriber only; you can bypass it by clicking through from this Google News search.]
The kids here are fully French, they speak the language perfectly and consider themselves fully French, but they have nothing of the nicer things of French life -- the cafés, the culture -- none of that is available to them," my guide, a former resident of the area, said as she introduced me to the hollow-eyed young men who spent long hours "holding up the wall," staring into the middle distance and taunting any authorities who happened by. "For recreation in the evening, all they have to do is burn cars."
What is surprising is that this conversation took place not this week but more than a year ago, in the summer of 2004. The car-burning was already well under way: On Bastille Day, 2002, more than 90 cars were burned here; at New Year's in both 2003 and 2004, hundreds were burned. On most weekend nights, at least one plume of smoke can be seen. In many respects, the people in les Cités, as the high-rise slums are known, have been rioting for years. This season, they finally got noticed.
The riots have done for France what Hurricane Katrina did for the United States: They have revealed the existence of a huge, frustrated and hopeless underclass. What is most shocking is that France's social divide is, in some ways, worse than the one in the U.S.
Saunders is usually the only reason I plunk down my $2.50 for the Globe on Saturday, so it was a pleasant surprise to find an excellent, comprehensive package on the French riots and what they mean to Canadians in the A section. (And not a single poll on the front page!)

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