France: déjà vu in the banlieues
August 21st, 2012
02:30 PM ET

France: déjà vu in the banlieues

By James Shields, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: James Shields is Professor of French Politics and Modern History at Aston University in England.He is the first winner of the American Political Science Association’s Stanley Hoffmann Award for his writing on French politics. The views expressed here are his own.

There’s a distinct feel of déjà vu about the rioting that erupted last week in the northern French cathedral city of Amiens. Not that urban riots are a particularly French phenomenon, of course; but the disturbances in Amiens do ring loud bells of recognition in France. In the worst scenes of civil unrest for some time, youths from deprived estates fought with riot police, cars and public buildings were set ablaze, firearms were discharged against the police and tear gas against the rioters, and 16 police officers were reported among the casualties. The estimated bill for damage: between 4 and 6 million euros (as much as $7 million) according to the city hall.

Located in the department of the Somme in the northern Picardy region of France, Amiens is a classic mid-sized city (population 140,000) struggling to adjust to post-industrial decline and the challenges of globalization. Many of the manufacturing plants that once drove the economy of the region have long rusted over, and a national unemployment rate of 10 percent finds subnational spikes of over 40 percent in estates such as those involved in these disturbances. Some northern suburbs of Amiens were recently classified among the 15 most troubled neighborhoods in France, so-called “priority security zones” where the new Socialist government has determined to clamp down on endemic crime and delinquency with greater police resources.

So it’s no surprise to recall that we have been here before in Amiens, as in other towns in France. In November 2005, riots in rundown, largely immigrant-populated suburbs of many French towns and cities (including Amiens) were so serious as to prompt a national state of emergency. Involving mainly youths of North African immigrant origin, those riots were sparked by the deaths in the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois of two young men who took refuge from the police in an electricity substation. But they became the medium for a much wider revolt against the failure of the French Republic to honor its contract of “liberty, equality and fraternity” with France’s ghettoized immigrant communities and urban underclass.

The same potent combination of alienation and perceived police provocation appears to have sparked the recent rioting in Amiens. The catalyst here: a police check on a car driver near a gathering to commemorate a local youth killed in a motorcycle accident. One petty aggravation too far in the fraught relations between a community and a police force more popularly associated with persecution than with protection. Like the riots of November 2005, these disturbances had no political message beyond a violent outpouring of anger; but again like those earlier riots, they deliver a damning indictment of the so-called “Republican model of integration” in France.

Alongside their impoverished white neighbors, many North African immigrants of the first, second and now third generation live in rundown estates thrown up around the ring roads of French towns during the boom years of the 1960s, when immigrants were brought en masse from the Maghreb mainly to provide manual labor in industry. With the onset of industrial recession, the 1970s saw a move away from labor immigration to family immigration without the necessary infrastructural planning or investment. The reality behind the Republican myth of assimilation today is so many urban no-go zones of graffiti-covered tower blocks where crime rules and where the police and emergency services venture at their peril.

Those who inhabit these bleak banlieues have few prospects and few role models beyond rap musicians and the ethnically diverse French national football team. Ethnic minorities remain chronically under-represented on French television, as in the upper echelons of business, the civil service and the professions; and there’s barely a dark face among the 555 deputies representing metropolitan France in the National Assembly.

Yet no European country has been so resolute in refusing the “Anglo-Saxon model” of multiculturalism and banishing expressions of difference from its schools and public sector. It’s a principle deriving from the Revolutionary ideals of 1789 that all French citizens are indistinguishably French; ethnic minorities effectively don’t exist, and no statistics exist to reflect their presence in the workplace, schools, hospitals or prisons. The “one and indivisible Republic” brooks no compromise on identity – even if racial discrimination is widely reported in the French labor market as in housing, education, policing and other aspects of French life.

The “Republican model of integration” worked well for previous generations of Spanish, Italian or Polish immigrants, easily absorbed within the national culture of Catholic France; but it has manifestly failed those from North and sub-Saharan Africa. In the name of a secular and theoretically color-blind state, French official statistics refuse even to acknowledge the presence of an immigrant Muslim community estimated to be perhaps as strong as 6 million, close to 10 percent of the population.

When elected president in 1995, Jacques Chirac saw that the banlieues were a tinderbox. He won election on the promise to heal France’s “social fracture” by creating jobs, reducing inequalities and fostering a more cohesive national community. By exposing the deep fissures underlying the “indivisible Republic,” the 2005 riots demonstrated how acute the social fracture remained a decade on from Chirac’s first garden party as host at the Elysée Palace.

Chirac’s successor in 2007, Nicolas Sarkozy, offered less understanding and more repression, threatening to take an “industrial power hose” to the “scum” in some suburbs. This helped him win election on a strong law-and-order ticket, but his emphasis on tough policing over socio-economic regeneration merely widened the gulf between the banlieues and mainstream French society.

Now we are 100 days into François Hollande’s presidency and surveying the evidence of how little has changed. In this first test of his presidential mettle, Hollande has pledged that the full force of the state will be brought to bear in preserving public order, with immediate reinforcement of policing in Amiens. As the far-right National Front makes political capital of this latest civil disorder, we are back where we have so often been under governments of right and left when faced with the intractable social problems that have for the past thirty years found periodic expression in these violent urban revolts.

It need hardly be said that law and order must be preserved and rioters severely dealt with. But police reinforcements alone can’t be the solution. Those who do not learn from the errors of the past are condemned to repeat them. If the new Socialist president doesn’t see this finally as a wake-up call to ensure substantially better structural investment, more genuine opportunity, improved police-community relations, and new ways of making the residents of these marginalized enclaves feel they have a stake in French society, then the banlieues will erupt again. And again. And again.

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Topics: France

soundoff (46 Responses)
  1. Hahahahahahhahaha

    Coming to the US very soon if repukes get their way. Hahahahaahahahahahah

    August 21, 2012 at 2:57 pm | Reply
    • CW

      Not really. Last I checked Obama had no problem allowing millions of people with no skills to stay in this country at the expense of the American worker.

      August 23, 2012 at 11:58 am | Reply
      • soulcatcher

        Daddy, what's an American worker? I thought work was all offshored?

        August 23, 2012 at 1:25 pm |
      • Alicia

        The dems are the ones who want this country to be a third world toilet.

        August 23, 2012 at 7:49 pm |
    • liberal weenie

      the french elect a socialist the people riot? we elect a socialist and gun violence soars! i guess people on welfare are never happy. Why not givem a job? oh right that's capitalism and they do not like that either

      August 24, 2012 at 8:50 am | Reply
  2. Marine5484

    This tells me that France needs to quit both the Eurozone and NATO. The Front National and Marie Le Pen have the right idea as that party should have won the French elections last spring, Charles De Gaulle also had the right idea in pulling France out of NATO in 1967 and establishing diplomatic relations with China in 1964 over the objections of the Washington bureaucrats at that time!

    August 21, 2012 at 3:09 pm | Reply
    • Cuervo Jones

      deGaulle would have had Pen shot on sight

      August 23, 2012 at 7:35 pm | Reply
  3. MHV

    I disagree. The republican model of integration is working well. But it is working slowly... The gap is not ethnical, it is economical. The problem is that banlieues remain poor because they are far from anything. People who live there barely speak french, they have an accent etc. The best solution would be to destroy these places and physicaly make people live in town centers among the mainstream inhabitants. There is no racial problem in France, it is just a question of poverty.

    August 21, 2012 at 3:40 pm | Reply
    • Synth

      It's about race, period.

      You can't flood a First World nation with Third Worlders and hope to have the same country.

      August 23, 2012 at 1:54 pm | Reply
      • hippie65

        Point an eye towards the Rio Grande and think about that comment

        August 23, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
      • Cuervo Jones

        right as long as they shut up, take the lowest legal wages and allow the police to violate their human rights they're cool to the fascists

        August 23, 2012 at 7:37 pm |
    • caroline Dupin

      This is stupid, these people, in majority muslims from north africa refuse to integrate, they refuse our way of living, they have free medical bills, free schools, free house, everything is free, they attack cops every day , burn buses, schools....and if someone say a thing, he is racist, they play that card all the time....

      August 23, 2012 at 10:24 pm | Reply
  4. Mohammed

    The french culture, its intellectual side, its landmarks,etc. Are amongs the best.

    August 21, 2012 at 11:47 pm | Reply
  5. j. von hettlingen

    this site is defect!

    August 22, 2012 at 6:25 am | Reply
  6. j. von hettlingen

    Fareed, welcome back! We've missed your show!

    August 22, 2012 at 12:43 pm | Reply
  7. Europeanwoman

    I disagree with MHV. The problem is ethnical, not economical. Muslims are not integrating well in Europe, not just in France, that's why they riot in Amiens, kill film makers in Holland and bomb trains in Madrid. People are afraid because their religion comes first for them instead of the rule of law.

    August 22, 2012 at 2:52 pm | Reply

    The problem is that they are not French and don't want to be. The Roman Empire brought in barbarians to do their dirty work and got wiped out for it. We may have forgotten but the Europeans never will. You know that old syaing that "people are the same wherever you go"? They're not!

    August 23, 2012 at 12:24 pm | Reply
  9. Andree

    i agree with Europeanwoman, The Muslins do not wish to integrate because they don't want to change their habits,such as learning French, or mixing with the French people, it is their ways or nothing. They all receive monatery help from the French government, and are not thankful.

    August 23, 2012 at 12:38 pm | Reply
  10. Andrey

    They forgot about putting high thinck wall around EU when they designed it. Or were these European liberals who came up with the idea for EU in the first place: no wonder that they missed that little but crutial element...
    People who do not like the culture and are not prepared to change to integrate into the society: do not qualify for immigration. Should sign a legal paper on that when they apply...

    August 23, 2012 at 1:05 pm | Reply
  11. No fool

    I too agree with Europeanwoman. Islam is about world conquest ... as is Christianity with its theological device known as original sin aimed at middle class people of the Western world... the everlasting guilt trip now highjacked and re-baptized as "political correctness." Even the mediocre public education received by Westerners is too much for those whose worst nightmare is an enlightened populace ... especially where women are concerned. Who was it who said: "Islam is politics or it is nothing?" The late Ayatollah Khomeini! Let us not be fooled. Islam and the political core at the Vatican have a common enemy: the brains and hearts of the average Westerner. No need to look any further when we naively ask: "Why do they hate us so much!" Now don't tell me that I have already said that before. Even if I did, it needs to be repeated and you should be ashamed of suppressing the truth.

    August 23, 2012 at 1:27 pm | Reply
    • tommy500

      Nofool is right about Islam (though not about Christianity). Islam stands by itself as a particularly virulent system of religion/social organization/totalitarianism. Europe will not know peace until these Muslims are returned to their homelands or else are converted to freedom in Jesus Christ. Expect the latter to happen as world events unfold.

      August 23, 2012 at 3:56 pm | Reply
  12. az

    If you miss James Shields above article today, don't worry. It will appear under Fareed Zakaria's name again next week.

    August 23, 2012 at 3:54 pm | Reply
  13. shiva

    wow! before i say anything, i just want to clarify that i am an immigrant in this country who has maintained legal status ever since I came here in in 2001.

    i am tired of hearing liberal calls to respect Islam etc. Islam is a problematic religion and no other religion is at confrontation with so many other religions as is Islam. The problem is EU needs to stem illegal immigrants just as US needs to do the same.

    August 23, 2012 at 5:43 pm | Reply
    • Harry


      “Hindus worship genitals (rub your eyes!) of their gods! Linga is a representation of Shiva's phallus.

      Did you know that they also worship monkeys (hanuman), elephants (Ganesh), rats (mount of Ganesh), snakes etc.? For all the intellect that human beings were given, Hindus decided to make themselves subservient to crawling animals!

      August 24, 2012 at 12:15 pm | Reply
      • Francoise

        Certainly, we French don't want Shiva's phallus under Arch de Triomphe !! mon ami.

        August 24, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
  14. Patrick

    I am not French but have lived and worked there for the past 6 years. My experience is that there is a major clash of culture between Muslim North African immigrants and the mainly White French. If immigrant populations do not make the effort to assimilate into their new country, then of course they will be excluded. Examples that I have actually seen from my time there including demanding Halal meat in schools, praying in the middle of the street, disrespecting women, slaughtering goats in apartment block stair wells, failing to speak the local language, failing to respect law enforcement, actually booing when the French national anthem is played, demanding social welfare payments for themselves and their families from North Africa (amazing that France will actually pay for the families of immigrants dental treatment when they visit on holiday!), and basically expecting the French to adapt to their culture and not the other way around.

    Many european immigrants particularly from Portugal, Spain and Italy have lived in those same estates and haven't caused the problems the North Africans cause. Why- because they try to integrate and to work their way out of government housing projects.

    While I agree that Police profiling may be upsetting for law abiding muslim immigrants, the reality is that a significant amount of crimes are committed by them and it is only natural that the police will stop and search when they see gangs of young men hanging around the street corners.

    August 23, 2012 at 6:10 pm | Reply
    • Patrick

      This is the only comment I have made since the 21st.

      August 23, 2012 at 7:04 pm | Reply
      • Patrick

        This goddess was married to five brothers. Which one would become the legitimate father of his child should she have one? Dr Charles (renowned author and an authority on India) says that instances of incest are common in Hindu scriptures.

        August 24, 2012 at 11:54 am |
      • Joseph McCarthy/Quigley/LyndsieGraham/krm1007©™/Joe Collins/J. Foster Dulles/Marine5484/OldManClark

        I am the same guy. I am a useless piece of camel dung. I post anti-American, anti GB, anti-Semite, anti-India, anti-modern anything because I am a good Moslem. I have stolen Patrick’s moniker because I am so ashamed of myself and I post the most stupid comments because I am an imbecile. When people get angry with me, I claim they are the stupid ones. If I am not careful, my brain will explode because it is so full of hate.I have moronic juvenile friends who say stupid things like me.

        August 24, 2012 at 9:23 pm |
    • Patrick

      On the other hand you don't want people like Mahatma Gandhi (an Indian Hindu pedophile) hanging around french schools. As you will recall, Gandhi used to bang two young boys at a time while spinning wheels during daytime.

      August 24, 2012 at 11:58 am | Reply
  15. JosephMcCarthy/Quigley/LyndsieGraham/krm1007©™/JoeCollins/J.Foster Dulles/Marine5484/OldManClark

    I am the same guy. I am a useless piece of camel dung. I post anti-American, anti GB, anti-Semite, anti-India, anti-modern anything because I am a good Moslem. I have stolen Patrick’s moniker because I am so ashamed of myself and I post the most stupid comments because I am an imbecile. When people get angry with me, I claim they are the stupid ones. If I am not careful, my brain will explode because it is so full of hate.

    August 23, 2012 at 6:34 pm | Reply
    • Patrick

      If the Hindu man's wife dies, he is free to go and find another beautiful woman (if available in India) when he wants. But if the Hindu woman's husband dies, not only is she prohibited to remarry but she should be cremated along with her dead husband ("Sati").

      August 24, 2012 at 11:55 am | Reply
    • Peter Trussle

      "Amnesty International is calling for an impartial investigation into mass graves found in Indian-controlled Kashmir. Sunday, India's Jammu and Kashmir State Human Rights Commission released a report saying a three-year investigation had uncovered 2,156 unidentified bodies in 38 sites in the region. In a statement released Monday, Amnesty International asked Indian officials to allow impartial forensic experts to carry out a thorough investigation of the skeletal remains. The rights group also urged Indian authorities to ensure the safety of the witnesses who gave statements to police during the investigation. Indian authorities conducted the inquiry in response to allegations that Indian security forces have committed rights abuses in fighting a more than two-decade-long Muslim separatist insurgency. Rights activists say at least 8,000 people have gone missing in Indian Kashmir since the separatists began fighting in 1989 for independence from Hindu-majority India or a merger with Muslim-majority Pakistan. Rebel attacks and Indian government crackdowns have killed at least 50,000 people.

      August 24, 2012 at 12:02 pm | Reply
  16. qularknoo

    why do so many believe that role models must be of the same ethnicity? each of us is accountable to make the right choices including the choice of role models ... so to blame the lack of role models is simply a cop out.

    August 23, 2012 at 7:23 pm | Reply
  17. Cuervo Jones

    i'm amused because it really started with the Morrocans not being just let go and France's other foreigners the legion. fighting to keep them in and insisting they were citizens. enjoy the irony mes amis.

    August 23, 2012 at 7:43 pm | Reply
  18. No More Mexs

    Countries with high unemployment in Europe and like the US let in a lot of unskilled people of color and are surprised when it blows up. Haha, so much for the desirability of diversity.

    August 23, 2012 at 9:04 pm | Reply
  19. Muhammad the Lover of Children

    Muslims do not immigrate, they colonize.

    August 24, 2012 at 12:03 am | Reply
    • Harmony


      “Hindus worship genitals (rub your eyes!) of their gods! Linga is a representation of Shiva's phallus.

      Hindus worship cows is well known. Did you know that they also worship monkeys (hanuman), elephants (Ganesh), rats (mount of Ganesh), snakes etc.? For all the intellect that human beings were given, Hindus decided to make themselves subservient to crawling animals!

      August 24, 2012 at 12:04 pm | Reply
  20. krm1007 ©™

    We now need to focus on India. The American invasion of Afghanistan brought to the forefront the irrelevance of India as a nation. With a population of over 1.2 billion people there was no value that this nation could bring to the table. Their soldiers (ragtag) 1.2 million continue hiding in the trenches scared from Talibans. A few teenage Talibans invaded the country and held it hostage for days on end showing how useless India is. It was embarrasing for the world to observe this humiliation of a nation that was being touted as a regional power.

    I continue to read with interest the thesis presented on CNN that "less is more" in a political context as applied to India. Although Mies Van Der Rohe adopted this in an architectural context its economic and political connotations are indeed powerful. Empowering subjugated minorities in India by splitting it into smaller states would trigger uber economic demand for western nations who have given so much financial and technology aid to India with no return to show for the investment. I concur with this approach and with an economic background find the premise to be on solid footing. Central Asian States (CAS) are a case in point on this successful approach. We need to understand that India has an unmanageable large population mired in poverty and we are spinning our wheels trying to feed it. It is also too big of a geographical unit to govern. Again, we saw how a few teenage talibans were able to invade it with a few BB guns. And that says a lot... in a negative way not only for a large unmanageable country like India but also for USA which is trying to prop it up against China. Besides, Americans cannot afford to look like losers in the midst of a terror war which has lasted for over ten years now.

    August 24, 2012 at 11:49 am | Reply
    • Owen1710

      From your pen to our eyes @krm1007. Very forceful thesis that you presented. I endorse your views.

      August 24, 2012 at 2:25 pm | Reply
  21. Patrick

    We certainly don't want the french kids being sacrifced to the this Kali cult !!!


    A recent report by United Press trust of India (UPI) stated that during the past three years more than 2,500 young boys and girls were sacrificed to goddess Kali in India. Another of AFP's recent reports say: hundreds of young boys and virgin girls are sacrificed every month for the deity Kali. In one case Rama Sewak hacked his eight year old son to death in broad daylight in Delhi because goddess Kali had told him he would come back to life and bring him good fortune. Bloodthirsty Kali is worshipped openly the length and breadth of India. Kali's statue stands naked astride the inanimate body of the Hindu deity Shiva, tongue stuck out with blood dripping from fang-like teeth. She holds a noose, a skull-topped staff, a blood-encrusted sword and a severed head. She is also known as Durga, Devi, Shaktima, Uma and Parvathi in other manifestations. The priest of Delhi, Kali Bari, says that a child sacrificed to Kali ensures a man the birth of a son. Human sacrifices are also made to these gods or goddesses, either to appease them or to ask favours of them.

    August 24, 2012 at 11:53 am | Reply
    • Peter Trussle

      Wonder if US admin has considered declaring Kali a terrorist or a person of interest at the least. Maybe next time Hillary is on a India visit she can deal with this personally...if she is not chewed up by Kali before that. Meantime let's freeze up her bank accounts in USA.

      August 24, 2012 at 12:01 pm | Reply
      • Kate

        That Kali appears to be a beetch

        August 24, 2012 at 2:25 pm |
    • Joseph McCarthy/Quigley/LyndsieGraham/krm1007©™/Joe Collins/J. Foster Dulles/Marine5484/OldManClark

      I am the same guy. I am a useless piece of camel dung. I post anti-American, anti GB, anti-Semite, anti-India, anti-modern anything because I am a good Moslem. I have stolen Patrick’s moniker because I am so ashamed of myself and I post the most stupid comments because I am an imbecile. Mohammed the pedophile taught me well. When people get angry with me, I claim they are the stupid ones. If I am not careful, my brain will explode because it is so full of hate.

      August 24, 2012 at 10:05 pm | Reply
  22. Lucio

    Never make friends with people who are above or below you in status.
    Such friendships will never give you any happiness.

    December 6, 2012 at 10:15 pm | Reply

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