maandag, november 14, 2005

Things fall apart.

It really is Bizarro World. John Simpson has written another very astute analysis.

Writing on how the curfews have only created the illusion of containing the violence, with in any case the unrest continuing beyond the capital city, Simpson notes that the very measures being used to contain the violence is itself exacerbating the situation and creating yet more reasons for the young people to fight:

'A woman of 24, heavily pregnant, came to the courtroom to find journalists who would be interested in watching a video she had made of the police coming to her flat to arrest her husband.

'In fact he had been on night-shift, and not out in the streets at all - but the video showed how aggressive the police were, and there are dozens of accounts going the rounds of the police shouting at the demonstrators that they are "sales arabes", dirty Arabs.

'The mother of one prisoner told me that the policeman who arrested her son had shouted that the boy ought to be sent home. "What home does he have but France?" she asked, tearfully.'

I quit my tech news job last month to go freelance. In order to help make the transition, I've been teaching English at a local community college for students learning to be fine-dining waiters and waitresses. They are all immigrants ranging in age from 19 to mid-forties from north and west Africa, apart from one pupil from Ecuador and another who is a rather louche middle-aged Cuban defector. Today, I used a simplified news report about the riots from the BBC World Service's Learning English site to spark off some conversation practice. Without offering up my own opinion, they all suddenly came alive, attentive as I've never seen them before - especially the younger ones - responding that the French youths 'ont raison' - they are right. The anti-immigrant racism, the police harassment, the unemployment - it's not much better here, they said. One older man from Morocco said that if he were younger and living in France, he too would be rioting.

Separately, I also teach advanced English to a pair of white, middle-aged businesswomen - one a Fleming, the other a Walloon. I somehow think they would respond differently to the exercise.

Indeed, according to Le Journal du Dimanche, sadly, some 53 per cent of the French people support the actions of Nicolas Sarkozy, the interior minister. Here in Belgium, the far-right Vlaams Belang (formerly the Vlaams Blok) has managed to climb to the top of the electoral heap in Flanders in particular by exploiting similar fears over immigrants.

Most of my friends here in Belgium are actually from France. The other night I asked my friends Camille and Nico (who in some respects actually resembles the French interior minister, and so is regularly taunted as 'Nicolas Sarkozy' by his media-sponge of an eight-year-old little sister), both of whom are quite exemplary of the anti-neo-liberal mood of much of young France, what they thought of the émeutes. Both of them were quite clear that Sarkozy is a pompier pyromane, a 'pyromaniac fireman': he knew exactly what he was saying and what would happen when he described the rioting youth as 'racailles', and promising to 'karcherise' the suburbs. This is all part of his grand strategy for the 2007 Presidential Election, say my friends, making a play both for working class whites with a soft sort of racism and who are most concerned about 'l'insecurité', and in particular that fifth of the population that votes for the Front National. Nico believes that because Sarkozy is so admired by the far right for his zero-tolerance approach to crime and immigrants, that there need not be any far right participation in the upcoming presidential elections. If Sarkozy is the right's candidate, you already have your fascist to vote for, says he.

I think he exaggerates somewhat. Sarkozy is no fascist; he just is being very savvy about courting the far right vote. As Doug Ireland has written, for Sarkozy to apply the term Karcherise 'to young human beings and proffer it as a strategy is a verbally fascist insult and, as a policy proposed by an Interior Minister, is about as close as one can get to hollering "ethnic cleansing" without actually saying so.' Nonetheless, his popularity will be read by other right-wing pols throughout Europe and further afield as a practicable strategy for electoral success.

Furthermore, Le Pen knows Sarkozy is off poaching FN supporters, and isn't about to let all the political dividends from the riots accrue solely to the UMP's right wing. The old fascist has organised a rally against immigration and the riots this evening.

The LCR held a march two nights ago in Paris between Saint-Michel and Saint-Germain-des-Près. The group called the some 1,000 to 1,500 who demonstrated against the declaration of the state of emergency, 'a success for a rally called at such short notice'.

Sadly, Le Pen's rally tonight will likely be much larger, though it too has been called at short notice.

The centre cannot hold, etc., etc.


V. good interview with Daniel Cohn-Bendit, the Franco-German 'indésirable' soixante-huitard street-fighter turned Green MEP in Der Spiegel. He may have been in favour of the European Constitution, but he hits all the right notes when it comes to the French riots.