France's failure that breeds riots

Riots will continue to plague poor French suburbs if academic failure and unemployment among children of immigrants are not addressed, a French sociologist has said.

    Youths burnt police cars during the latest disturbances

    Gerard Mauger, who is a specialist in juvenile deliquency, spoke to after rioters clashed with police in two suburbs of Paris this week as authorities arrested a youth whose injury, along with the death of two friends, caused violent disturbances last year.

    After the first outbreak of clashes late on Monday, when Montfermeil's town hall and mayor's home were attacked, 250 riot police were sent to quell the unrest.


    The riots last year were initially caused by the electrocution in October of a young man of Malian origin and a teenager with a Tunisian background.


    Witnesses said that they had entered an electricity sub-station because they were being chased by police. The police denied this.

  What are the root causes of this rioting?


    Mauger: Poverty and unemployment do tend to affect a majority of people whose parents or grandparents emigrated to France and who were settled in these suburbs.


    You have to add to that the problem of academic failure, which is much more of an impediment to finding work than 30 years ago. If you failed at school back then, you could still be a blue-collar worker.


    Nowadays you need to get a high-school diploma, so that is why many youths in the suburbs find themselves without work and can aspire only to short-term menial jobs or internships.


    There is also a high police presence there and they conduct systematic identification checks, which many feel is de facto racism.


    Sporadic rioting has, in fact, been going on over the past 30 years in France's suburbs. 


    Could this lead to an all-out, protracted war with authorities?


    No, I believe riots are bound to be sporadic and limited in scope because there is no political movement or organisation behind them.


    There is a spark, maybe an altercation with police or a police control, that flares and escalates into a larger movement of pent-up, violent anger until it exhausts itself. 


    Moreover, rioters are met by a well-organised and trained police force. Since they are not armed, unlike in the United States, it is unlikely that we will ever witness urban disturbances of the scope of the [1992] LA riots.


    What can be done to address the woes of France’s suburban youths?


    Well, some things are already being done. For example, youth centres receive state subsidies, though the current right-wing government did reduce the funding. But I heard that the funds were restored to previous levels after last year's riots.


    There was also a policy of subsidising 20% of available housing in every municipality for the poor under the previous [left-wing] government, but it was scrapped by the current administration.


    More importantly, the schooling system must be reformed to reduce academic failure. The recipe is well known: fewer pupils in classrooms and better teacher supervision and follow-up.


    But the opposite is happening: young teachers just fresh out of university, and mostly women, are sent out to teach in the suburbs where they can't last - and don't want to.


    The precariousness of jobs must be tackled, too. The equation unemployment plus precariousness amounts to "no future" for these youths.


    They need to feel validated by at least reaching the same established status of their forefathers as blue-collar workers.


    Do you believe that France can opt for such social policies in the age of globalisation and liberalisation?


    This begs the question of whether we want a neo-liberal Europe modelled after the United States or Britain, or whether we will opt for a social model such as that of Scandinavian countries.


    I think the popular answer was telling when the proposed European constitution was rejected by the French on the basis that they don't want a neo-liberal Europe.

    SOURCE: Aljazeera


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