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Riots in France have lessons for Europe The Statesman 11 Jul 2023
In 2005, two French youth of Malian and Tunisian descent were electrocuted as they fled the police in a suburb of Paris. Their deaths sparked riots in France and neighbouring countries, lasting three weeks. The rioters, mostly youngsters and unemployed youth from suburban housing projects (referred as ghettos), caused damage estimated at 200 million Euros. They burnt over 9000 cars, dozens of buildings and schools. 1200 were arrested and 120 police and firefighters injured.
A year later, riots reoccurred in the same localities, due to another incident involving the police. Both riots were blamed on illegal migrants. However, it turned out that those rioting were second generation immigrants and French citizens. The reality was failure of the state to respond to socio-economic exclusion as also racial discrimination.
Incidents of physical abuse by police and deaths in custody have led to localized riots in different parts of France. In Jan 2015, in the Charlie Hebdo attacks, the attacker came from the same locality from which previous riots had been initiated.
Frustration remains high in France’s ghettos as over 50% of its residents are unemployed. Drug culture is high as are school dropouts. Ghettos are controlled by ruthless gangs and patrolled by its members who are as well armed as the police. These are France’s forgotten regions where police hesitate to enter, except in numbers. They have their own laws and are ignored by the state. Adding to complexities is that most residents of these localities are from a common religion, binding them closer.
The current riots which engulfed France, were again a result of police action. Nahel, a teenager of Moroccan-Algerian descent, was killed by police in a traffic stop. He was known to authorities for driving cars without a license. The violence which ensued was based on the premise that the police acted because of racism. The boy’s grandmother commented that the police, ‘saw an Arab face, a little kid, and wanted to take his life.’ The average age of rioters was 17 and most were second generation immigrants. The concerned policeman may have been detained, but is unlikely to be charged, as he acted within his authority.
Evidence of racism in French society was further highlighted when public funding for the detained policeman raised USD 1.7 Million, while that for the killed youth just 450,000. Over 81,000 people donated for the policeman, with 21,000 for the victim. It displayed that the public refuse to blame police authorities for the incident. Anti-riot protests also drew large numbers projecting anger against the state for its softness in dealing with the violence. In the west, racism is hardly new.
The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement began in the US, post the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting of Trayvon Martin, an Afro-American, back in 2012. There have been multiple cases of high-handedness of the US police in its treatment of members of the Afro-American community. Many police personnel involved in these incidents have never been convicted, enhancing the credibility of the movement. BLM spread to Europe mainly because racism and biased treatment of minorities continues in the continent.
The current riots in France, led by youth, targeting high-end stores and showrooms display anger against what remains beyond their reach, since most are underprivileged and on welfare. Similar scenario exists in the US and Europe. In 2018, 87% of France’s world cup winning soccer team consisted of either direct or indirect immigrants. It was no different for most European teams in 2022, majority emerging from ghettos. Those who succeed, change, those who don’t display resentment. Europe needs immigrants but fails to integrate them.
Philippe Marliere, a professor of French politics at University College London, stated that in France most ghetto residents, ‘disrespect France, they hate it and they don’t want to integrate.’ Full impact of the current riots is unknown but it is estimated that over 6,000 cars were torched, more than a thousand private properties burned or damaged and 250 police stations attacked.
The government holding back firm police response, hoping the riots would ebb, resulted in greater damage. Macron rightly feared, that added casualties would provide fuel to riots. Most involved in the violence were not taxpayers but targeted stores which contributed to the French economy. It would take time before these recommence business. Unless there is firm action, law abiding citizen owned properties would suffer. For the rioters this is considered legitimized loot.
Targeting the official residence of a mayor was an act of openly defying authority. It is only logical that every time there are riots damage would increase as frustration within the immigrant community continues to grow.
Immigrants, especially in Europe, where they are considered cheap labour for the economy, do not have loyalty to their new country. Most work to survive and in many cases even support families back home. Boatloads of illegal immigrants entering Europe largely comprise of males seeking a new life to escape poverty at home. For them, multiculturism is neither a concept nor do they intend to integrate.
Their sole purpose is economic wellbeing. Their linkages with their parent country never end. This was evident when Moroccan fans erupted in violence in France and Belgium after France defeated Morocco in the soccer world cup in Qatar in Dec last year.
Crime rates in countries where large scale immigration has occurred is on the rise. Real Clear Media in a study published in Dec 2022, on immigration and crime in Europe, stated that ‘each one percentage point increase in immigrant population is associated with a 3.6 percentage increase in homicide rate.’
In a paper published in 2020, Swedish Professor Göran Adamson assessed that 58% of criminal suspects in Sweden were immigrants. Most crimes were committed by those coming from African and Middle East countries. Statistics would be the same for all of Europe. An accepted cause has been the inability to integrate immigrants into society mainly because numbers are large and beyond the ability of the state to manage.
If this trend continues, European nations are sitting on a time-bomb. A single incident could have catastrophic results. French violence would possibly be mild as compared to what could follow.