Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Sleeping anger portends no springtime of love

Today's report in the International Herald Tribune that the unrest in France is merely dormant and could erupt again contains information that may say more than the author's conclusions.

First, allow us a common sense observation. Most rioting takes place when the weather is still a bit warm. Once the real cool weather hits your average gasoline bomb thrower would rather be glowering at home before a more contained fire, no doubt plotting his next edgy protest of the repression of his civil rights. Efficient rioting requires light clothing so that one may travel quickly, unencumbered by bulky jackets that could snag or catch in narrow alleyways. Conclusion: well of course the restless Muslim youth of France are waiting on warmer weather.

Second, while there is a lot of talk about the jobless rate among the disaffected, the people quoted in the article keep coming back to the "promised money" to the NGOs -- the non-governmental organizations -- that apparently are giving direct subsidies to these same people.
" ... the government announced a raft of measures aimed at fighting joblessness and discrimination, and declared 2006 the year of "equal opportunity." Businesses will be offered tax breaks for setting up shop in difficult suburbs, local schools will receive more attention, a new apprenticeship program for teenagers is being drawn up, and state funds for nongovernmental organizations that were canceled three years ago will be restored.
President Jacques Chirac, clearly shaken by the riots, has urged French media and businesses to reflect the country's diverse population. The minister for equal opportunity, Azouz Begag, is pondering ways of measuring diversity in order to provide companies with a benchmark.
But in suburbs like Bondy and Clichy-sous-Bois, the buzz and debate sparked by the riots are dismissed by many as little more than political posturing.
"Right now they're afraid of us, so they're making a lot of promises," said a friend of Balastik's, Ker, 23, whose parents are from Cambodia and who sings in the same band. "What we need is concrete action that is felt, here, on the ground."
According to Marilou Jampolsky, a spokeswoman for SOS Racisme, an organization fighting discrimination, no NGO has seen its funds restored yet, though that, she said, would have been one of the quickest ways for the government to make a "tangible" difference in people's lives.
Outside the Clichy-sous-Bois city hall, Mehdi, 24, who also works for an NGO for disadvantaged youth, confirmed that he had not seen any of the new funds promised by the government.
More private sector jobs is an excellent idea, but it won't take place overnight. So what you see is one or two steps forward, but at least one full step backward if what the rioters really want is the French equivalent of Uncle Sugar, the meaning which can be summed up as, "Feed me, clothe me and let me sit on my ass for another seven years while I get my rap band together."

Then there is point number 3:
"The faster some of the promises are transformed into action the better," said Mehdi, a Frenchman of Algerian-Moroccan origin who grew up in Clichy. "We are taking the temperature with people every day. They are waiting for changes that they feel in everyday life - and they are also waiting for justice for the two dead teenagers."
The trigger for the November violence was the accidental electrocution of two teenagers of African origin who hid in a power substation. A third teenager, who survived the incident, says the three friends were being pursued by police, a claim officers deny. The outcome of an investigation is keenly awaited in the suburbs. If the police are exonerated, it could trigger new unrest, said Mehdi, who, like others interviewed for this article, did not give his last name.
What does "justice" mean when two young men climbed into an electrical substation and fried themselves? If the police were not chasing them, it was their own misjudgment and bad luck. If the police were chasing them, for whatever reason: a) they had nothing to fear and should have talked to the police, thus they suffered from a second misjudgment and bad luck, or b) they had every reason to flee the police, but made a misjudgment as to an appropriate hiding place and had a quick, fatal run of bad luck.

Does justice mean that the policemen doing the alleged chasing or non-chasing should be fried as well?

That is not sane, at least by western standards. Perhaps it fits Muslim codes of jurisprudence - we do not claim expertise in such matters - but it is not rational. You cannot have a modern, civilized society with such rules.

Hmmm. Perhaps that's the idea.
Back in the parking lot in Bondy, Balastik mimes lighting a lighter, his eyes glimmering in the harsh neon light. One of his friends is wearing a red T-shirt with a big caption that reads "Rakaille" - a rap spelling of "racaille," or "thugs," which is what Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy called the rioters at one point, fueling their anger.
"We're thugs and we're proud," Balastik quipped, adding that music was "one way of dealing with the frustration of never getting a reply to your job application."
Others channel their anger differently. Cars have continued to burn every night since the riots ended, including more than 100 across France on Christmas Eve.
Some NGOs have launched a campaign with minority celebrities like the rap singer Joey Starr and the comedian Jamel Debbouze to get suburban youths to register for the 2007 presidential and parliamentary elections. Only 7,000 of the 28,000 inhabitants of Clichy-sous-Bois are registered voters, according to a local official.
"One thing the riots have shown is that these kids are desperate for attention," said Samir Mihi, a social worker in Clichy-sous-Bois. "We're trying to tell them that you matter most when you vote, that's when politicians have to start listening to you."
Yes, sir! Expand the voter base to the very people who want to torch your civilization back to the stone age without first attempting to educate them to the responsibilities of citizenship. If all that voting means is that "You and I vote together and we get ours" there will never again by liberty, justice and equality for all in France.

Or anywhere else.


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