HIST 276: France Since 1871

Lecture 24

 - Immigration


French culture is threatened both by European Unification and the rise of xenophobia within France itself. The defeat of the referendum on the European Constitution testified to the dissatisfaction of many people in rural France with the economic realities of the new international community. Racist policies targeting residents of France’s poor suburbs threaten the national ideal of liberty, equality, and fraternity. These problems remain to be resolved if France is to preserve its unique identity.

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France Since 1871

HIST 276 - Lecture 24 - Immigration

Chapter 1. Preserving the Character of France: The European Union and the Threat of Homogeneity [00:00:00]

Professor John Merriman: Well, let’s wrap it up. I want to talk about a couple of things at the beginning, and then I want to talk about the suburbs, to end with, because that’s going to be a big problem in the future. And I guess a couple of things in the beginning, in somewhat of a particular order I suppose, is just that you kind of — I’m kind of torn between — in thinking about Paris, one of the old alliances that you had in the rebuilding, of trying to protect Paris from the Pompidous, and the planners, and the horror of the Tour Montparnasse, is you had this sort of classic alliance between people on kind of the far Left, like me, and then kind of traditional conservatives, like a great French historian called Louis Chevalier, the historian of Paris.

So, I guess I kind of feel like that in trying to think about ways, how important it is that France remained France. And I mentioned this once in passing when I was talking about education; but we got involved in our village in trying to save our one-room schoolhouse, because if we lose our school then we’re just sort of another beautiful place full of — mobbed by German, and Belgian, and Northern French tourists, in the summer — and Dutch also. And if things change and regional, one-room schoolhouses disappear, because people say that’s progress — and lots about rural France, a lot of villages that do survive, survive because they’re what you call villages-dortoirs, or they’re sort of bedroom villages for people who work in towns nearby.

But lots of France, lots of rural France really only exists now because of tourism, and that doesn’t make it in itself — it’s important that people survive in some way, but that doesn’t provide these places with a kind of vitality. And how ironic would it be if the Guide Michelin, the Green Guides for every region, if those are one of the sole ways, in the long run, along with cuisine, traditions of cuisine, that help regions maintain their identity? That would be very sad indeed. They’re going to do — I have great ambivalence about the European Union and about the European Constitution, and encouraged most of my friends vote against it. And some of my friends in Lyon and in Paris voted for it, but most of the people I know, almost all of them, whether they were provincial academics or whether they’re very ordinary people producing cheese or getting by in every way they can, voted against it.

And one of the things that they’re going to do now, which is — it doesn’t mean anything to most people but it still reflects the kinds of changes that Europe is apt to bring, that “Europe,” in quotes, is apt to bring to French regions — is that they’re going to get rid of the license plates, which seems like a silly thing. But one of the things that I always do when I’m driving, which I drive constantly in France, is you see cars go by and you see a twenty-three, you think oh, the Creuze, that’s a really rare bird, it’s the least populated department, after the Lozère, in France, and you kind of imagine this person with a twenty-three is going up to see his or her aged grandmother in the Moselle, fifty-seven; and you do these sort of games of where people come from.

And that’s interesting and it’s important, but they’re going to get rid of the license plates, and then all of the license plates will be just very much the same and they’ll look like English license plates or they’ll look like German license plates. I don’t know if they’re going to get rid of those too, with a K for Kohn or the B for Berlin and all this business. And it’s just one of the sort of threats to the way things are, that the European Union has brought. And there are a lot of people at Yale, including some of my friends who are big sort of European Union people; but we have friends who scrape by, they produce goats cheese and they are told now that they must conform to European Union rules, which are barked out in Brussels, full of these empty office buildings that were overbuilt, or barked out from Strasbourg, which is another important capital of the European Union, and it tells them that they have to produce cheese in a very different way. And part of old France will disappear.

But in a way it’s sad, I don’t want every part of France to be like every other part of France. And we had to really struggle to arrive in a world where you have actually TV announcers speaking with an accent that’s not a Parisian or a Valley of the Loire accent. And that’s very good. I’ll tell you a funny little story that has to do with this, in some ways. We have these friends who have been together for about, oh, maybe twenty-five years, and like a lot of our friends in France they don’t have any money; and they didn’t ever get married. And we have a lot of friends — union libre, they’re just together, they’re a couple, they’re as much of a couple as my wife and I are and we’ve been married for twenty-seven years. And they have two sons, and their oldest son is my son’s best friend. And they make goats cheese, that’s what they do.

And one summer we got this invitation to their wedding. They’d been together for twenty years, and when you’re together for twenty years you think, “oh, our best years are behind us,” and all this stuff, which isn’t necessarily true. But they were getting married, they were sending out invitations. And the people that don’t like them said, “oh, they’re sending out invitations, they’re getting married because they want to have presents, they want people to give them presents;” which is pas vrai, it’s simply not true. And the people who liked them and who felt, well, this is — they’re getting married because their parents are religious, both sets of parents were fairly religious — one Dutch-Belgian and the other French, from the north of France — and, so, they’re making it right in terms of the church. And people said, “wait a minute, is that really the case?”

And, so, the wedding was in early September and we couldn’t go because I was back here, doing this — and happy to be here, doing this — but we missed the wedding. And then we finally found out why they got married probably, and it had something to do with Brussels and Strasbourg, because somebody went over to the cantonal capital, a place called Valon, and there was a big sign that said that those people who want to continue in the new Europe to produce goats cheese will have to conform to European norms about how to do that, and there’ll be a course that’s offered by the European Union, and that will — this was about 2000, it was before the shift to the euro; maybe more about that in a minute — and the course will cost 2000 francs, which is a huge amount of money for these people, but will be free for the wives of farmers. So, they got married, they were kind of forced to get married because it would be cheaper for them to do that.

Chapter 2. Economic Problems of European Unification: Euro Inflation and Labor Competition from the East [00:06:42]

Now, that’s kind of a silly example but it still — the risk of Europe is that people who want to live their own lives are somehow — or produce goat cheese in their own way — and produce very good goat cheese, which I always bring back in huge bundles, double, triple wrapped here — won’t be allowed to do that anymore. And France voted against the Constitution, and it happened in the Netherlands too. And everybody in France — and this plugs into what I’m going to say, talk about in a minute — there was this fear of the Polish plumber. That’s the example they used because all these immigrants from Eastern Europe will come, and that the European Union is going to have to pay all the money to make Polish agriculture — well, I’ll be in Poland in two days actually, back yet again — make Polish agriculture competitive and it will cost everybody a lot of money, and that the Polish plumber will put French plumbers out of work.

And, so, this fits into both fears that people have — all sorts of people, not just rightwing, anti-immigrant people, whom I’ll talk about in a minute, I can assure you — but also just people that are afraid that their métier, that their possibilities of their children finding work in a country in which work is very hard to find, in which there is no light at the end of the tunnel for very, very many young people, that all of this is going to happen. And many people, many ordinary people — not in Paris, if you’re working with the George Bush dollar and trying to afford a single café in Paris — but for very many ordinary people the euro, that is the currency that became January 1st, the year 2002 — I actually wrote something about the transition to that currency — that this currency to most people seems like what you say in French is anarnaque, it’s a sting. All it’s done is pushed up prices.

And the government can trot out all the information they want to try to show there hasn’t been massive inflation due to the Euro; and that’s simply false, because things that people buy in their lives — I don’t mean rich people but I mean ordinary people — have become extraordinarily high and expensive, because of the euro. And on the other hand my own personal thing is that look, I view the European Union as — and this is, you don’t have to believe this, you can probably guess that I would have this view — I believe that a social Europe might be kind of a — could counter-balance the kind of just runaway, bandit capitalism of the worst excesses of capitalism, and that in America we live in a country where civil rights, civic and civil rights, are saluted but which human rights are — there are no human rights encoded in the United States; thus Guantanamo Bay, thus exceptional rendering to torture camps here and there, because there isn’t an assumption that human rights count; civil rights is what counts, and the way you get civil rights is becoming an American citizen or permanent residents; thus the big debate, which I’m not getting into, about immigration in this country, which is a very, very big debate.

But I always sort of viewed that Europe would, well, maybe if the British would — they didn’t want to come along, and they don’t want to get rid of the pound, and all this business; but that somehow the social Europe with the bases of Germany, and France, whether it was parties of the Right, or the center, or parties of the Left, would be this kind of block that would do what de Gaulle — ironically here am I singing the praises of de Gaulle, of all people, me — had, that Europe could have the role of sort of France as sort of this honest broker in a world now without not two big powers but only one, sort of throwing its weight around. And I don’t even know what I think anymore about that, because there are some advantages to Europe. If you live in Strasbourg, if you live in Lyon, you live in Paris, well it helps the economy, but if you live in the Aveyron or you live in Ardèche it doesn’t do a damn thing, it hasn’t brought anything at all to anyone, as far as anyone can tell.

And one of the things that may go in the next year, especially if Sarkozy gets his way — and one of the things that’s clear to me anyway, but I realize that there are excesses, is the providential State, the idea of the welfare state, which we’ve read about in Sowerwine’s book, and you all know exists. Now, I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: If you don’t have any money and you’re sick, you’re a hell of a lot better off going to any doctor, and you can pay twenty euros, or twenty-two euros now, which is every day more and more, in dollars, but say now about thirty-five dollars; if you get sick and you go down to Saint-Raphael’s, they will keep you, and they will help you if you’re very, very poor. But there’s a big sign at Saint-Raphael’s that said that the minimum charge is $300.00 or $400.00, I can’t remember what the big sign is.

Now, the health plan is terribly expensive and there are all sorts of abuses. There are people who, for example, have to go from where we live to Lyon to get treatment for this and that, sometimes very serious illnesses; an ambulance takes them, and the ambulance will cost maybe $1,000.00, cost the health system $1,000.00. Well there are people around that can drive them, in that kind of situation. And there are — the unemployment benefits are lavish to say the least. There are people that we know that are professional chômeurs, professionally unemployed, that don’t do a damn thing, and they don’t want to work and they never work. And it probably is unfair but as human beings, human rights — that’s something that they pay attention to — they ought to have the right to a minimum; and in French you call them remistes, they get a really minimal, little amount of money.

And now there’s strikes, the railroad workers go on strike because they want droits acquis, acquired rights; they ought to be able to — and I said this other day if you’re driving on a high-speed TGV, fast train, big pressure — they almost never crash, hardly ever — but big pressure, and that they think they should have the right to retire at fifty-five or fifty. Now, this seems like it’s a bit of an exaggeration to us. In this country we don’t even have a retirement age, we don’t have one at all, it doesn’t exist. So, there are abuses in all of this. But the kind of total Americanization of French social services would be in my view a disaster — you don’t have to share that, but — there are abuses but you don’t sort of dismantle the whole thing and sort of turn it into an Americanized version of this and that.

People are always trying to measure happiness. I have a student who wrote — a former student, a great guy, a TA of this class, now he’s at Florida State — who wrote a book called Happiness, a History, that did rather well; it was on NPR and all this stuff. And people are always trying to measure how happy you are. And when they ask people in France what makes them happy, it’s the right to have a vacation. And you got a lot of rich people in this country who are very unhappy, even though they’re loaded, because they don’t take the time to have vacation, and all of this. And we can debate, we could go on and on about it. I could lapse into nostalgia for the next ten hours about favorite meals I’ve had through the long hours into the early morning with friends of ours, and how family, things together count, and your friends and all that.

But in France, France remains in many ways a happy place, and I think some of the anxiety of life is taken away by the State. And I don’t necessarily, I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. What’s going to happen to young people, of course — I’m going to talk about the suburbs in a minute — but that’s part of it. It’s not just an ethnic question, it’s not just a spatial question, it’s not just unwanted people by the center relegated to the margins of urban life. It is also a question of what happens to young people, not only young West Africans, or young North Africans, or young people from the Caribbean, but also young whites, too, because the unemployment rate has always been — it’s considered a great success to have the unemployment rate anywhere near ten percent, or sometimes it’s at twelve, thirteen, and fourteen percent.

And for all the faults of this American system we have — well, people don’t declare their unemployment often because they get discouraged — but we have a much less unemployment rate. And the chances of young people — not everybody goes to Yale, not everybody goes to Harvard, or Princeton, or Wisconsin, or Michigan, or Oberlin, or Grinnell; for a lot of people that you know they don’t have the kinds of options that you have. In France it’s a much more serious condition, or situation, and people we know that are very well educated have no future, and people we know that have no education are just scraping by, too. And the French economy remains a problem, and maybe Europe in the long run is going to help catapult ordinary people, not just big capitalists, big business people, toward a better life. I don’t know.

But again, as I said, I encouraged my friends to vote against it. We’re not yet citizens so we couldn’t vote. We can’t even vote in municipal elections, even though we’ve been legally resident in France for twenty years. Mitterrand put forward that we should be able to vote — not just us but everybody — who were legal residents, because we have an interest in what happens in municipal life. But the High Court overturned it; but that’s neither here nor there.

Chapter 3. The Problem of the Parisian Suburbs: The Riots of 2005 and Continuing Violence [00:15:28]

Now, what about the riots? And they started up again the other day, just very briefly, when these two kids were killed — young people, they weren’t kids, but yes, they were young, they were fifteen and sixteen, when they were killed — through their own fault, alas, when they ran into a police car. But that wasn’t — there was trouble in Toulouse, but not very much trouble, and the trouble in this place called Villiers-le-Bel ended fairly soon. In October or November, even two years ago when you were seniors or you were juniors, well, maybe you remember this, and you could remember it if you were in high school too, there were riots that began in the northern suburbs of Paris.

And those of who have been flown into France and flown into Roissy, when you land at Airport Charles de Gaulle — which I still insist on calling Roissy — your next thought is what you’ll do the first day in Paris, whether it’s seeing old friends again, or where you’re going to eat, or what you’re going to visit. Well, around Roissy are — not only is Drancy the transit camp where so many people in World War Two had to stay before they were sent off to the death camps to die, but they were the grim suburbs. And as I told you before, I explained why French suburbs and other European suburbs are very different, they’re just the opposite of American suburbs. They’re largely the domain of people unwanted by the center, and this has been a tradition in France and in other places since they ceased to become agricultural, truck farming communities and became places where there were factories and where there was a transient population; and it’s been like that.

It was the worst trouble, it was the worst rioting in France since 1968, a year that we’ve already talked about. Again, the precipitating event was the death of two ados, two adolescents who were fifteen and seventeen, on October 27th, 2005; this is only two years ago. They had fled, along with another person who was very seriously wounded and was taken care of, coincidentally, by the mother of our French godson at the Hôpital Rothschild. They believed they were being chased by the cops in Clichy-sous-Bois — Clichy, c-l-i-c-h-y, sous, like underneath, and then the bois, the woods. There are no bois left, they’re underneath the housing projects, because that’s — these were built in the ’60s and ’70s; ain’t no woods in Clichy-sous-Bois.

And the population, 28,300 people, the sixth-poorest commune in France. Seventy percent of the population live in these housing projects; in French the word is cité, c-i-t-e, with an accent. Now, the first cités were cités ouvrierès, they were created by — established by Napoleon III, in Paris; just a couple, he liked to clip ribbons and that was the end of it. Seventy percent of those who live in these projects, which are just awful, are Muslims, like the two boys who died. They tried to hide in an electric transformer and were grilled, basically, electrocuted; and the other, the boy who survived, had burns over almost the entirety of his body. He’s still alive, he lived.

And, so, the incident and the events that followed have to be seen in the resentment, that I’ve talked about before, and resistance of young people, but in particular minority young people, to the police, to the CRS, and also to the municipal police in the grim suburbs, of Paris, but also Venisseux, outside of Lyon, among others, and outside of Marseille, where Zidane, the great soccer player — and as I said the other day, still the most respected person, admired person in France; and Zidane grew up in such a project. And unlike Maurice Chevalier he didn’t have his picture taken with his back in a fancy suit to the project; he was proud of where he grew up and it was part of his life, and he’s very good.

Or, if you follow French soccer — there’s no reason why you should — but Lilian Thuram, who’s a great defense player, who’s an older guy now, and he took on Sarkozy after this. And Sarkozy would say, “what do you, you millionaire, know about the projects?” And he took him on and he said, “you’re calling these people scum because of who they are, and because they live there.” And he says, “I know the projects, you don’t know the projects.” And Sarkozy doesn’t go to the projects because he — anyway, we won’t get off on that; but we might, who knows? So, in two month 9,000 cars were set ablaze and 3,000 people were arrested. Most of those rioting were young minority males of North African, particularly, but also West African extraction, along with people from Guadalupe, and Martinique, and all sorts of other places too.

And as I argued the other day, these are people who — because they don’t know Algeria, they don’t Tunisia, they don’t know Mali, they don’t know Senegal — they feel like they belong nowhere because they don’t share the culture of their parents and they share with their friends a culture of exclusion that can also serve as a way of solidarity; that the excluded can also, in their language, as I described the other day, and in these unfortunate events, show that they can stick together, they can hang together too. And the trouble spread to the suburbs of Lyon, to Lille, to Saint-Etienne, to Strasbourg and other places where you can anticipate such reactions; but also amazingly enough to places like Cahors, in the Lot, or in Brest, which isn’t too far away, and just all sorts of places; or Lyon where you wouldn’t think there’d be anything.

And trouble may be described as lighting a poubelle, a garbage can ablaze and throwing it through a storefront or something like that, and that’s not a good thing to do. But they spread all sorts of places. There were also incidents in Belgium, which has a huge population from ex-Zaire, from Congo, and in Germany as well; and most immigrants in Germany, the majority, not most but the majority of people who are there are either from Turkey or now from ex-Yugoslavia and ex-Albania. And the forms of resistance were not themselves new, hurling Molotov cocktails and burning cars. This had happened in Strasbourg for years, and it happens in Detroit; I said this the other day.

There had been riots on a much more smaller scale in 1983, and in 2000 in the town of Montpellier, which is fairly near Besançon in the east — the name doesn’t matter. But there was violence, more violence than before, and it was directed particularly against the police. And the difference between those incidents and the incidents now that have occurred, last week, is that people were using guns, they were using pistols and they were shooting at the police, and that takes it to a different level. That didn’t happen two years ago and that’s not a good sign. Surprisingly there was only one death, a man who was beaten to death while trying to put out a fire in a place called Thann, which is a suburb of Paris, and there were a few injuries, that’s all — not very many, for such big trouble; lots of burned out cars, lots of anger.

The army was never called in. Damage was surprisingly limited. It was limited basically to cars and a few shops and things like that. There wasn’t — at Toulouse somebody set the library on fire, and this is what happened in Villiers-le-Bel last week as well. But there were occasional attacks on churches, on synagogues, because there has been a rise of anti-Semitism, particularly in Muslim communities, in contemporary France. There was an attack on the Lyon subway, the métro, and even against, stupidly, also against sporting facilities. In France there are not a lot of places for young people to do sports, and they’ve been better about that. Sports are not exactly part of the program in French lycées, and they run around the gym twice, and they’re all hacking, and coughing, and grasping for their Gauloises. But they’ve been doing better now, and one of the reasons that France does so well in soccer is because they take particularly young minority youth, who are very good soccer players, and they get good training, and that’s why.

When we won the World Cup in 1998 and Jean-Marie Le Pen said — the leader of the National Front — he said it wasn’t a French team that won. Why? Because when you counted it up there was Dominique — there’s no reason you should you know this — but there was Petit, there was Blanc, Laurent Blanc, who’s from Alès, there was the quite flip, in many ways, Barthez, the goalie; and did I forget somebody? There was a guy who never — kept missing all the time, his name, a Bréton, I can’t remember who. But the great players were Thuram, Zidane, Desailly, these were the really great ones. And, so, Le Pen said, “well, that’s not really France because — they may have French nationality” — but he didn’t count them as French because his racist view of the world; which doesn’t differ that much from that of Adolph Hitler, when push comes to shove they don’t count. But happily most people in France celebrated joyously because they certainly are French.

And the damage was far less than, for example, in L.A. during the Rodney King riots in 1992, after the police who beat up this guy, on camera, beat up this minority guy from downtown L.A. The L.A. suburbs are not where the under-privileged people live. They do not live in the valley and all that kind of stuff. And when there were attacks on buildings they were attacks at night so nobody would be in the buildings. And the destruction of empty cars, while stupid, did not kill people. And again I don’t mean to sound like I’m defending violence, but not a single — despite a generalized hatred of the police not a single policeman was killed or even seriously wounded, though there were a few live rounds fired. There were more policemen hurt the other night, were shot, hit by bullets, than happened two years ago.

Chapter 4. Immigrant Populations, Suburban Violence, and Failure of Government Response [00:26:09]

So, the government strategy of criminalizing petty misdeeds — that seemed to have worked in New York. I guess that’s what Giuliani is going to say over and over again, zero tolerance, arresting the people who are hopping the metro, getting on the metro for free and all of this. They tried that in France and that may have increased the resistance, the hatred of the police, because sometimes you see people get picked up when they’re trying to get through the metro, and you’ll see policemen there, and get on for free because they don’t have any money. And when I let — I let people through, behind me, if they don’t have any money, and if they look like they have money then I knock them about twenty feet back, when I’m going through, by stopping and knocking them backwards; which isn’t very nice, but I believe in public transportation.

Anyway, the Chirac government had eliminated funds, not only for voluntary associations, but for the kind of beat policing. That has worked in many areas, and sometimes in this country, that in tough neighborhoods where there’ve been a lot of problems by having the policemen become part of the community, and therefore not just seem like a foreign presence. But that’s not the case in Clichy-sous-Bois, that’s not the case in Bobigny, and that’s not the case in Courbevoie, and places like that, or in Vénisseux outside of Lyon. There when the police are there, they’re not the same guys, and when they’re there they’re the ones saying, “your papers, your papers, your papers.” Or they don’t go at all and they don’t protect the other people.

Most of the crime that occurs there are minorities against minorities because of the sheer numbers. And the police, one of the complaints there was the police aren’t there to help anybody, and when they do they come in huge numbers, and it’s “up against the wall baby,” and that kind of stuff. So, the rise to a kind of political dimension. And here again I’m saying — I’m not trying to give a political interpretation of this; this is a fact, this is what happened. And Nicholas Sarkozy, the Minister of Interior, he manipulated the situation. He referred to the rioters as “riff-raff” or even “scum” — racaille, a word that I’ve used before; racaille, scum, which can — it can also be “tough guy” but it means “scum” more. And he said what we need to do is get these big hoses that they use — there’s this brand that you’d clean out gutters, it’s specifically for cleaning out gutters — “we have to get these hoses and get rid of them, get them out of the gutters.” Well, who’s “them”?

These are people who are non-whites, who are poor, who live in the suburbs, who are condemned, who are marginalized. The word suburb even lost its neutral sense in the French language, long ago at the end of the nineteenth century. I did a book on this a long time ago, not just on that word but on some of this stuff. And, so, he said that the suburbs should be disinfected to get rid of the scum. And I’m not being too over the top to say that you, in his view, you’re scum — this is the son of immigrants, by the way, Hungarian immigrants — you’re scum because you exist, because you’re there, because you’re not rich. And when he got elected then he gets his big vacation in Malta, spending as much money as humanly possible, to say, “well, if you work hard like me, francaisfrancaise, you will become rich too.” Well, it ain’t that easy.

It seemed like a blatant attempt to win the supporters who supported the violent, extreme Right of Jean-Marie Le Pen. And after the election, Le Pen said, “all he’s saying is what we have said.” He said it, to be sure, in a more tactful way. He does not believe that the camps were a minor — the death camps were a minor detail in the history of World War Two, which is what Le Pen said. He doesn’t believe that, and he didn’t — he would not give sort of nodding approval when some of his thugs drowned Moroccans in the Seine, after Joan of Arc Day march, and sort of say “well, you know, boys will be boys,” and this kind of stuff. But he took the rhetoric of racism and made it respectable. And you don’t have to agree with this but this is my view of it, this is what happened; that’s what happened, that’s it. It was a strategy that Charles Pasqua, who had been a Minister of Interior long ago and tried to use, and had not worked, but it worked this time around.

Now, again, I don’t exaggerate the problem of — there has been increased criminality, there’ve been attempts to prove that greater increases of criminality, with immigrant populations and non-immigrant populations — that’s hard to say whether that’s true or not. We’re not talking about crime waves like lots of murders and things like that. France still operates on a very civilized scale, in part because they have very harsh gun laws and you can’t just sort of be fifteen and not old enough to vote or old enough to drink, in this country, but you’re old enough to buy a machinegun practically, and that sort of thing. Thuram, t-h-u-r-a-m, who I mentioned a while ago, the footballer, denounced the remarks as contemptuous and humiliating, serving to awaken latent racism in France; and he got that right.

And Jacques Chirac, as usual, tried to — more concerned with his bank accounts in Japan, or whatever — tried to remain above — and the indictment which subsequently has followed; I mean not indictment yet, but all the scandals when he was mayor of Paris — he tried to remain above the fray. He had the declaration of the state of emergency, on November 8th, read to journalists on his behalf instead of actually reading it himself. But he seemed to be, as he was, in the end, more and more ineffective, isolated, and virtually ignored, rather like his predecessor, Charles de Gaulle, in 1968 and 1969. One minister on the center Right said that one of the reasons this is all happening in the suburbs is polygamy — that was his definition for what happened. Sarkozy the other day said, “this is not a social crisis in the suburbs.” What? “Not a social crisis”? It’s a crisis, it’s an enormous social crisis.

He said that — he referred to a “thugogracy,” a “thugogracy,” and there’s no social crisis. The social crisis is that a huge percent of the population living in France, particularly five million Muslims but not just five million Muslims, more than that, do not feel part of France and are not integrated in France, in part because of spatial considerations, where they live, lack of opportunity; also because of discrimination and lack of education, low opportunity, the same that other people have had. It’s hard to get people to teach in the Seine-Saint-Denis, that is the department, number ninety-three; when you say quatre-vingt-treize, which means the Seine-Saint-Denis, which has many of these places. You can’t get teachers to teach there because there is violence; not big-time violence but there’s violence.

And the whites out there, of course, not all of them, but many of them vote National Front, and they voted for Sarkozy massively. This was discovered actually about ten years also that in some of the neighborhoods in Paris, and Montmartre, and in the 18th and 20th arrondissements, but above all in the 20th, that the white population voted overwhelmingly in some areas for the National Front, in part because they were afraid of the fact that they would be minorities in their own quartier and all of this. And you also had this crossover vote between the old Communist Party, white workers voting for the National Front as well. And you found that in places in the north of France, and you found that in other places.

Chapter 5. No Direction, No Opportunity, No Hope [00:33:42]

Given all this, it’s surprising that the troubles didn’t come before, because the immigrants, as you know, really were attracted to France in larger numbers by the booming economy in the 1960s. And all of this slowed down at a time that I can remember with the oil crisis of ‘73 and ‘74, which was just when I got to Yale, when — not much older than you guys. That stopped it and suddenly all the people that — all the announcements of “come to France, we’ll find you a job,” posted in Tunis, and Algiers, and Marrakech, and Fez, and all these places, those were taken down; and they’re there and the economic slowdown came, but there were fewer jobs awaiting those people and their descendents. And the Muslim population of France is now about five million people.

One of the interesting things also is that there was no real way of counting the number of people of any ethnic origin in France; there is none, because it’s illegal to ask on a census, “what are your ethnic origins?” You can’t do that. So, there’s no official way of counting up. Now, then France can say, “we have no ethic crisis.” But also — they can say that, which isn’t true; hello, that just isn’t true — but also the problem is if you don’t know where all the — where you have strong ethnic minorities or even majorities, then you can’t really go out and try to solve the problems because you’re not really sure. Municipal statistics are much more accurate, but there’s no — I don’t know any global kind of statistics; but they think about five million people. And many of them live in the suburbs, live in these HLMs, they’re called, habitation à loyer modérée, or, well, cité.

They’re housing projects, basically, and in which so many of the people are poor, many depend on State assistance and crowd more and more relatives into tiny spaces. We know a good number of people from Zaire who were brought to France, thanks to a French friend of ours, a lawyer, and some of them came as basketball players, a couple of them did. And they were living in rooms out in the suburbs and fifteen people living in a small apartment. And, so, the rate of unemployment in France in 2005 is about ten percent — three million unemployed. That’s a lot. But among young people it’s twenty-three percent, and in the suburbs that employment rate rose from twenty-eight percent to forty-percent, for young people between 1990 and 2000.

And the unemployment rate for foreigners and French with origins in non-European countries stood at about thirty-six of the population. In Clichy, this community that I said was the fifth, or whatever I said, sixth-poorest community in France — I think fifth, at the time — eighty percent of the population lived in what are classified still as zone urbaine sensible, or difficult urban zones; and thirty-five percent in public housing. In Clichy-sous-Bois the unemployment rate for young people, between eighteen and twenty-five, your age, stood at sixty-percent, and for thirty-three percent of the population as a whole. And there were constant complaints.

When all the journalists would go and the reporters go — Nouvelle Obs would send out reporters; and they recounted all these stories of their lives, of trying to find jobs with the same qualifications, being turned down systematically. And they’ve done all these-they’ve done these secret things. I’ve seen this on TV where they’ll take people and set up companies in a way to see how they react when they’re confronted by candidates for a job, in which the white person will be less well-qualified than the North African or West African; and time and time again, just right down the line, wouldn’t get the job. And there’s no use ignoring this fact, even if Sarkozy says that this isn’t true. And many of them, particularly those people from North and West Africa, depend on this informal economy, economy of barter, and economy of black marketing, to an extent, or petty drug deals and things like that, because there’s nothing else to do.

A man of Arab origin put it this way. He says, “I raised my children hiding from them the fact that I no longer have any hope for them. But the real drama is that they understand all of that. They grew up in this bloody chaos and they suffer. There is no future for the children of immigrants here.” That’s a tough thing to say, and that’s not — -that was a thoughtful — it’s not just somebody who is reacting to a city in flames, and to violence between the police and young people, it’s somebody for whom that experience was a part of their lives. And he’s reflecting the fact, in this interview — when I wrote all this, I wrote this for a piece, I was doing — reading magazines, doing kind of instant history. I wrote this just a couple of weeks after this happened, for an encyclopedia — well, maybe six months after that. You end up reading things like this.

But this is a form of history also. And he’s reflecting the gap between himself and his own children. They don’t believe that they belong anywhere. If you don’t believe you belong anywhere then society’s got a big problem. And they say that they don’t feel French. And they’ve been controlled so many times. It’s not just they’re controlled once in awhile where some zealous policeman sees a West African or North African and says, “hey, let me see your papers man.” It’s just time and time again. And I told you the other day that I’m never, never controlled anywhere, never, never, never.

And I’ve been leaving metro stations with all sorts of people where — at Barbès-Rouchechouart or someplace like that, with all sorts of people who are minorities and more French than I am, more French than I am. And I have a residence card, I don’t have a passport, and they have passports, and they are the ones who are controlled; it’s not me that’s controlled. And I don’t dress any differently than they do, as you might have been able to tell. The recent law againstfoulards, against the headscarves, of which there’s been much ado; and my friend Joan Scott just has — who lectured up here a couple of weeks ago — this also — my argument, not everybody agrees with me, not even people on the Left, some of them don’t agree with me, but you can twist it and say, well this — not twist it but you can take the take on it that this is really an anti-feminist thing, it’s anti-women’s thing; people wearing foulards are not generally feminist — but not necessarily, why not? — that I think it’s anti-Muslim.

They say, “well, you can’t wear big crucifixes in the class too, you can’t wear yamakas in the class.” Well, I don’t know, my kids have been in lycées in Cugnaux, near Toulouse, and in Marseille, Lycée Marcel Gimont in Aubagne, and they never saw anybody wearing huge crucifixes; no big crucifixes allowed. I’m not sure if they’ve seen yamakas. That is a problem, because the growth of anti-Semitism, and not just among Muslim populations. But it’s directed against Muslims, there’s no question about it, in my view. And furthermore that you can understand the position of some Muslim women. I’m not saying anything about why people wear foulards. I don’t know. But some are under pressure from their fathers or their older brothers to wear headscarves, and that’s very — one can understand these family situations. I’m not saying anything about this.

But I think that this is a law that’s aimed at Muslims. I think you can invoke the secular republic, you can invoke the separation of church and state. We talk like that in this country. Went to the inauguration in North Haven, Connecticut of our dear friend who was just elected selectman the other day, and it was supposed to be separation of church and state, and there were prayers and there were invocations and all this business. But I see this as directed at Muslim women, because they are Muslims; and other people don’t agree with me, but this has been a lightening rod for the way that people treat each other and who has the right to be who they are, in France. And, as I said, the French Republic has even refused to acknowledge the existence of ethnic groups. They’re not counted; they’re not countable. And part of that, as I said, is you don’t want to make people feel different by saying, “you are so many people from Mali, you are so many people from Senegal, you are so many people with Algerian background,” or whatever.

But what the government did is talk about the necessity of order, of imposing order, and that’s what Sarkozy talks about is order, and the police and order, la force d’ordre, and there’s no talk much anymore about equality. And what gets lost in this is that old French commitment to human rights, which is something that one can only value. And given the total degradation of the views of human rights in — well we won’t get into this — but in this country, recently; one can only wonder, it’s amazing. And ironically the state of emergency that was declared in 2005, in the fall, was based on the state of siege law that had been imposed in 1955, during the Algerian War of Independence, to try to impose order on Algerians who wanted to be free. And they used the same law, without any kind of, “oh, excusez-nous, we are very sorry, it’s a law — we understand this is a different situation.” Or is it? Who knows? And it was. This fact was not lost on Arab minorities.

The Portuguese immigrants may be the largest single national ethnicity from other places grouped in the Paris region, but Algerians are not far away. And what these riots did — and this is a good place to end since we do, we have to end — is that it made clear that there’s been a breakdown in civil society in the French suburbs. And obviously something has to be done. And there’s been a lot of talk about how we’re going to pump more money into voluntary associations, but nothing has been done, zero — that’s what people said the other day. The red belt remains a dream of the past. The Communist Party is hardly — no one’s out there defending these people. There are no political parties.

There’s SOS-Racisme; Harlem Désir is an old group. But I’ve yet to see a political party embrace the cause of these people, the way, for example, even the Communist Party embraced the cause of the small percentage of French peasants; that is, eight percent, or five percent even, now, left in France. And the credits that had been lopped off by the previous government still have never been returned. There aren’t enough funds at the moment to create jobs. They tried to create these “young jobs,” they called them, people to help old ladies on the trains with their suitcases, but these are temporary work. The problem is an enormous problem, and it’s not something that can be kind of dreamt away, like saying “well, they are out there, and Paris will still have all of its American, and English, and German, and Belgian visitors because they don’t go to Clichy-sous-Bois, they go to look at Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower, and when they fly over places like Sarcelles or Garges-lès-Gonesse, they don’t pay much attention to it.”

And, so, one thing people have to do — and I suppose that’s what I’m doing now — is that one can only encourage public awareness of the kind of marginalization of lots of people. You can’t turn Europe into sort of fortress Europe. You can’t imagine the kind of thing that the Americans want to do, or some Americans want to do, build this huge wall, a new Berlin wall, between Mexico and the United State. What are they going to do in Paris, put a huge wall around thepériphérie, or the highway running around Paris, and then leaving it open to Versailles, of course, and the fancy suburbs on the west.

So, for a moment — a lot of people in 2005, at the end, or if you ask them in 2006, you ask young people, even who participated, who set a garbage can on fire, “what do you think has come out of this?” The ones who are most charitable about all of this said that, “look, what’s come out of this is that we’ve tried to make France, and the world, and Europe — people that in comfortable places don’t think about these issues, aware of these problems. But this isn’t a problem that’s going to go away; and one shouldn’t see it as a problem, it’s a challenge, and because France believes deeply in the tradition in this course, the history of France and liberty, fraternity, and equality. And there’s the times when push comes to shove and you have to actually show that you mean it.

So, hopefully France will remain France, but hopefully this situation will improve; but it’s going to take a lot of action and not just kind of polarizing talk and appealing to electorates who just want the whole problem to go away. Your final won’t yet go away, and I want you to thank you for taking this course. And I’m going to put these things outside and you can sign up. And once you sign up you’re signed up. So, be sure to know where you’re supposed to go for your final, okay? And have a wonderful break and have a wonderful end of the semester. And see you around Yale next semester. Take it easy.


[end of transcript]

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