Wednesday, November 28, 2007
The Front Lines
I haven't had a lot to say about the riots that have broken out the past few nights in the outlying districts of Paris, mainly because it's such a replay of exactly what happened two years ago that there's little left to say. The major difference being that instead of stones being thrown, there have been reports of hunting rifles fired and footage of Molotov cocktails being exploded.
This past May I interviewed Rost, a French rapper who released a song predicting the 2005 riots just before they broke out. (It was immediately censored from the French radio.) He made it clear that nothing had changed in the intervening two years, except for the kids' expectations being a bit higher because of the recent presidential elections. He ended the interview by describing the message he delivered to the UMP parliament members he knows from his own political activism:
Tell Monsieur Sarkozy that when he chooses his cabinet members, that he gives them a marching order: Respect us in the ghettos. Because we won't tolerate all the injustices we've suffered all these years any longer. We won't tolerate them any longer. From now on, we'll go to the front.
I caught up with Rost in September, just after I got to Paris, and he was feeling pretty glum about the prospects for avoiding the worst. Two nights ago, just as he had predicted, a police spokesman characterized the violence as "urban warfare".
Watching one of the round-table talk shows that the French are so good at last night, I heard a French politician very matter-of-factly say that the problem could be solved in ten years with effort, commitment and funding. Lacking any one of those three, he went on, we're destined to play out the same scenario every few years.
Unfortunately, once the current violence dies down, so too will any interest in addressing the root causes of the problem. Until two years from now, that is, when the same guests will be invited to the same television studios to repeat the same tired cliches. That's how the French handle the problem of "les banlieues".