11:31:17 pmCategories: Politics, Riots

Politics in the banlieues... encore

I couldn’t believe my ears when I head a sociologist saying on a seminar a while ago that the car burning and riot delinquency going on regularly in this country is apolitical. According to him, these riots had neither symbols nor slogans. I can agree that “fuck Sarko” isn’t the most creative slogan you can come up with, but it’s still sort of a slogan. And if the CRS riot police is not a symbol of a certain securitarian policy, well, then, what is? The same goes for the republican schools that were set fire to in the autumn. (I shall agree that it’s not that easy to find the symbolic content in the act of burning your neighbour’s car).

And here we go again, in Montfermeil and neighbouring Clichy-sous-Bois. What exactly led to the riots this time is contested. The rightwing major claims it’s revenge against him testifying against a violent delinquent. On the other hand, many local youth and leftwing politicians put it down to a brutal police action (teargas and police custody) against a mother of a 14-year-old supposed thief. “She was even barefoot…,” as a local young man explained.

Montfermeil and it’s major made it to the headlines about a month ago, when he tried to put into action a legislation forbidding all 15-18 year olds to be together more than three in public spaces, in order to fight gang delinquency… The judiciary system stopped the major’s attempt, but it clearly says something about the political climate in this area.

Today the news on France 3 has documented the massive police presence at the moment in Montfermeil. There were helicopters lightening up the streets and the towerblocks, and there were loads and loads of CRS police. And Sarkozy has been there, as always surrounded by loads of tv cameras, which, as always, disseminates all over France how he gets into heated debates with the locals… (The last I heard is that the hottest socialist presidential candidate has jumped on the securitarian bandwagon, as well…).

To add to the complexity of the case: the severely burnt, but only surviving victim from the (presumed) police chase to the power transformer in Clichy-sous-Bois October last year, Muhittin Altun, was arrested during the riots yesterday, for having – according to the police – thrown a stone at the CRS. His lawyer denies this accusation and says the police only want to discredit the 18-year old, as it is today the reconstruction of the possible police chase in Clichy-sous-Bois should take place. Television news reminded us that they only a few weeks ago broadcasted an interview with Muhittin, where he once again expressed how utterly fed up he was with the constant stop-and-search and identity papers routine carried out by the police in the area.

Finally, I should add that most sociologists I’ve listened to do not depoliticise what’s happening in the banlieues in this way. The opposite is rather the case. (Only a few days ago Loïc Wacquant went (something like); the riots last autumn was in fact a bonne nouvelle for the French society, as it was a sign of refusal of a normalisation of insecurity…). Sociologists, and even some politicians (e.g. an interview I recently heard from the 80s with Mitterand talking about discrimination and all that…) have for 25 years had a very clear vision of what’s going on. However, it’s not this particular understanding of events that gains ground here, rather the opposite, it seems to me. There seems to be a real political battle going on, but unfortunately, I’m afraid that it’s not the scientifically informed interpretation that’s winning. Enough for now, the whole thing makes me a bit fed up…

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