Thursday, December 01, 2005

 

Rioting Youth in France and United Kingdom

My current affairs class yesterday concerned the riots in France. Inevitably comparisoons with UK came up. They are, it seems to me as follows:

1. We both have inner cities with 'ghetto' areas housing young people who are unemployed, illeducated, angry at their condition and often involved in criminality and drug taking.
2. These areas often contain high levels of immigrant families, mainly because the residential areas have cheap and hence easy to buy or rent and also because relatives have joined their kin through further immigration.
3. These areas suffer from high crime levels, social tension and poor relations with the police.
4. Because of all these factors the conditions for trouble are all present. All that is needed is a trigger. This can be as negligible as a rumour that one group of ethnic males has assaulted or raped a girl from another group, as happened in Lozells, Birmingham a few weeks ago.
5. Once riots start, criminal elements immmediately have a field day and consequently give the disturbance a misleading appearance of mere illegality.

In the UK we had a binge of rioting in the early 1980s. Michael Heseltine famously descended upon the land of the scouser and, sweeping back his locks, actually listened to what locals were saying. He responded with a paper to the Cabinet entitled 'It Took a Riot', advocating extensive government intervention to improve living conditions. Mrs Thatcher was unimpressed and, while much was done to rennovate and develop, Liverpool remains the kind of place which can produce the recent evil, racist murder of Anthony Walker by those tragically foolish young men. Since the eighties we've also had rioting in London on a few occasions as well as racist riots in Burnley, Oldham and Bradford.

The French riots began in a suburb of Paris in late October 2005 on the basis of another rumour-also false- surrounding the electrocution of two young Muslims and the throwing of a rear gas grenade in front of a local mosque. From there rioting spread to other suburbs of Paris as well as Rouen, Lyon and Strasbourg. In France, if you are rioting, torching cars seems to be de riguer. Over 10 days 6000 were burned and the count became a weird barometer of unrest. Once the nightly tally dropped below the 200 mark, order was said to be restored. [The average count for Greater Manchester is 20 per week by the way.]

Factors fuelling the French riots were:

i) alienation: immigrant groups flooded into France during the fifties and were housed in high rise suburbs to an extent. Now there are 6 million Muslims in France, many of them second and third generation immigrants. Their alienation problem is that they do not feel French but neither do they feel Algerian or anything associated with the lands of their parents /grand-parents.
ii) unemployment: the advance of the Asian economies has put much of French business out of business and the rate of unemployment is now over 11%. However, for young people the rate is 23% and for immigrant youth often over 40%.
iii) racism: the home of equality, liberty and fraternity is quite racist as the support for Le Pen- who came second in the 2002 presidential elections- makes clear. Anyone with a foreign name, especially a Muslim one, faces a huge disadvantage in getting a job.
iv) few full time jobs: because full -time employees cost so much in terms of pension payments and the like and are so hard to fire because of employment protection laws, many jobs are ephemeral, part-time ones lasting little over a month. The former are usually reserved for native Frenchmen while the latter are competed over by the rest of the disadavantaged.
v) hardline policing: police in France have always had a reputation for being tough and problems with young immigrants has led to government tightening the screw causing much resentment in the rundown 'banlieues'.
vi) presidential politics: rioters have not been impressed or calmed by the sight of Nicolas Sarkozy positioning himself for the support of the right by calling rioters 'louts' and 'scum' but the aristocratic Dominic de Villepin has also done much the same with strategic announcements of improved services like education for the disadvantaged.

But most commentators seem to agree that a major cause of the trouble has been the Fench 'republican model' insistence of treating all citizens as if they were equal. This rules out any affirmative action or special measures to help minorities as officially they do not exist; even the collection of statistics concerning minorities is banned. So, in a sense, the rioters do not exist in France or at least their ethnicity and special problems do not. The insistence that Muslim girls do not wear headscarves indicating their religion did not help race relations but the riots do not appear to be jihadist- at present anyway.

In Britain we have a 'multicultural' approach which freely recognises difference and seeks to do something about it with laws against discrimination and racism plus programmes to assist living standards, education and employment. We have seen how both approaces have fallen way short of what is required to integrate groups of foreigners into our respective societies, but at least the British approach recognises the problem reasonably clearly. Meanwhile in France, the riots seem to have delivered the death blow to this particular aspect of the 'republican model'.
[For more information log onto companion site Politics Considered via link in lefthand margin]

Writing in The Guardian, columnist Gary Younge saw the riots as a cry of anger by young people with nothing to lose against the unfairness of globalised capitalism. Power will never concede anything unless faced by robust demand, he wrote on 9th November. According to this analysis an 'outcast generation' is demanding to be heard and attended to.

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