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Thank you for your comments.

As a French citizen, I can only stress it is a very complex issue, and many factors are to blame to explain the present riots.

I am among those who think that in the long run, immigration is a plus for a country, whatever the short-term difficulties. France is arguably Western Europe's most ethnically diverse country. I read it is estimated that a French person out of five has at least a grand parent of foreign origin. In proportion to its native population, France is historically among the leading immigration countries, together with the US and Canada. It is continuing, with now the arrival of people from countries without historical ties with France, like Pakistan or China.

The "French model of integration" has long been what I would summerise as "assimilation the hard way", stemming in part from a political tradition which rejects the notion, and the representation as such, of "communities" in the ethnic or religious sense.

This model, while successful on the whole (without ignoring the hardships the first generations of Poles, Italians, Spaniards, Portuguese, etc on French soil have been through) has now found its limits, despite the real integration of many people with family origins in our former colonies.

As far as I can understand it, comfortably living in the centre of Paris, some of the factors behind all this are :

- not religion per se, although social frustration in depressed areas has proven to be a hotbed of religious radicalism, which might be using the current unrest. So far, calls to end violence from religious leaders have been unsuccessful,

- not "immigration" in itself, because most of these kids are French citizens, being second or third generation,

- certainly a feeling of discrimation, in particular in terms of housing. Most of the "banlieues" were not "ghettoes" at the origin, of course. Many are public-supported housing estates especially built for the upward-mobile French middle class of the 1950's to 1970's, were young families found then "up-to-date" housing conditions in relation with their financial means, in a context of post-war housing shortage. Besides, the designers of these state-funded estates had to meet cost criteria in terms of building techniques and localisation (hence the development of cheaper farmland in outlying suburban areas). Many of these projects have gone downhill since, as the more demanding middle class has gradually moved out, housing a poorer and poorer, increasingly ethnic population. As a consequence, some mayors have to cope with 50 nationalities and ethnic groups in their town. On this aspect, French "school zoning" (carte scolaire)(your children are assigned to the public school of your neighbourhood, with derogations however), initially designed to prevent school consumerism and the emergence of "rich man's and poor man's schools", has proven to double-edged, as families who can afford it actually move to the areas with reputedly better schools. The paradox today is that those rioters actually destroy their own neighbourhoods, schools, sports facilities, shops,etc, giving those banlieues an even uglier reputation,

- hiring discrimation, in a proportion which is difficult to assess, or to prove before a judge. It is indeed difficult to know how many resumes or job applications are turned down because of an Arab-sounding name, a "ethnic" face, or an address in a "wrong" neighbourhood. Besides, the French economy does not generate enough entry-level jobs, in particular because of high hiring costs. Hence the unemployment rate in those areas, and the idleness of the local youths. On the other hand, to some, petty crime, trafficking or working as "local labour" for organised crime, can prove far more financially rewarding than looking for a regular job, or is simply survival when no job is available. What also sparked the riots is the new "get tough" policy of the Interior minister, aimed at eradicating local underground economy, which upset an uncertain "peace" in those areas,

- discrimation in daily life(police checks,and much mediatised denials of entrance in some discotheques,which of course does not excuse beating people to death,

Whatever the outcome of those events, the French "integration model", if there is such a thing, will be increasingly questionned (I'll say more of that later).

François, Paris

Francaise de Coeur

Bravo, Francois -
I am a social scientist and I couldn't have said it better myself.

It is a bit worrisome to me that in the American South (where I am from) the racist tensions did not die easily - and in some places, such as my hometown, are nowhere close to being resolved; it is like something out of the 50s or 60s with two "sides of the tracks", so to speak, and many many people with clan affiliations.

Although it is certainly commonplace to see African-Americans on college campuses today, the first three were escorted through the doors by the National Guard, as there appeared to be not a single person in their community who wished them there, and many who would do them harm given the chance...

I'm only trying to say that I hold out hope that France can achieve a better state of affairs without finding the need to "force" the white community into acceptance, as had to happen in the American South, in so many ways and in so many places.

Because my life is now here, in France, I can't bear the thought of having to live through such tensions all over again.

In fact, it took me a while to figure out that there even *were* racial tensions in France, as the discrimated-against group is different from that of the Americans.

My brother-in-law, for example (born and raised in Rodez, France, whose parents were born in Tunisia) felt the need to legally change his first name (to a French one) in order to get a job he wanted; for such a well-spoken, intelligent and polished individual, it surprised me to no end that he would feel the need to do something like that, until I started drawing the parallels between the Arab population here and the black population in the states.

Later, my Arab students here did much more to "educate" me on race issues in France, and here I was thinking that there really weren't any!


Thanks for a great post, and two extremely intelligent comments. This is a very complex issue, but this situation was already percolating, and had been for a long time, before the incident of the two kids dying in an electrical substation sparked the fire that has not subsided in the past 10 days and is, in fact, spreading. I am now beginning to worry a bit about how and when this rebellion will be successfully put to rest.

France is currently portrayed on the U.S. news as a country in a total state of disarray, with a government that was not quick enough to respond to what was happening (doesn't that sound just like what the French media was saying about the Bush administration and its response to the Katrina disaster?).

Not sure where all of this will lead, but this kind of mayhem cannot go on forever.


As a complement to my previous post, some thoughts concerning the "remedies" to that situation:

The French "model of integration" has failed, politicians say, which is of course as true as any sweeping statement can be. In fact the situation is so complex that nearly every statement and its contrary are true.

The irony is that France likes to think itself as a "race-blind" society, due to a political tradition, derived from the universalism of 18th enlightement, which emphasises citizenship and assimilation. In this model, society cannot be the mere addition of individualities and "communities". Because of the country's history and immigration past, there is no such thing as "French ethnicity", at the difference of Germany for instance, which, until recently had a nationality law based on blood.

Due to this French political tradition, let alone to the very elusive character of the notion of "race", and also to grim historical precedents (Vichy and the Jews), policies cannot be targeted at ethnically-defined groups of people. Ethnic data cannot be recorded in census data for instance (I heard this became legal in Britain in 1991). As an illustration of this, some years ago, a public hospital director was fired because notes on ethnicity were found in some patients'files.

This is what makes discussing the matter with Americans interesting.There are regular debates in France about the merits of US-style affirmative action, or "positive discrimination" as it is called here, as opposed to the illusionary domestic egalitarian model. Interior ministry Sarkosy is an advocate of it. But I understand affirmative action is still a much debated issue in the US, and I don't think ethnically-based positive discrimination measures, like ethnic quotas in hiring, or competitive exams, etc, could be realistically implemented in Europe. However certain organisations or corporations have set up informal "minority-friendly" (an expression not used in France) hiring policies. Local mayors have representatives of communities in their municipal councils, etc.

Besides, as matter of fact, "positive discrimination" already exists in France, but it is geographically-based. In designated areas, and in particular in "sensitive" urban areas, preferential policies are applied, as illustrated by the "tax-free zones" were businesses enjoy corporate tax holidays, or the "priority education zones", the infamous "ZEP", where schools receve more grants,have better teacher-per-student ratios. The performance of such policies remains unclear, maybe because is still too little, and there is some backlash, as preferential treatment "stigmatises" whole neighbourhoods. I imagine many middle-class parents think twice before moving to a town where most schools are notoriously under a "ZEP" scheme.

I do not have the feeling that the French rioters claim recognition of an ethnic or religious identity. They want integration into French society. Religion, here, is a secondary factor. Calls to end violence by religious authorities have been unsuccessful. Stones were hurled at the dean of the Paris mosque during his visit to the troubled areas. Those kids wear US-branded sports clothing and shoes, use cell phones and computers, and are driven by the lure of western consumerism.

To me, the problem is mostly economic,namely the lack of jobs. I read comments in the press about how "racist" French society is, compared to the tolerant, multicultural and integrated British and American societies. This sheds light on the paradoxes of the welfare state has it emerged in France, which would generate unequality in the name of equality. By comparison, Britain, with the EU's largest income unequalities, limited state involvement, but with plenty of entry-level jobs would better integrate people.


Hi !

>>because of an Arab-sounding name


>>felt the need to legally change his first name
>>(to a French one)

I'm not sure why namechanges should be particularly shocking or even surprising. (smile)

How many "ethnic" Americans from Eastern Europe - for reasons religious (Roman Catholics, Protestants, Jews) or national (Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Hungarians) felt it necessary to change their first and/or last names to become "more American" after arrival in the US of A ? Millions ? This wasn't done at places like Ellis Island, by bureaucrats, either: that's apparently a kind of long-lasting urban myth. The individuals themselves changed their names to integrate more fully ... and obtain employment ... and avoid discrimination ...

If Amerloque were to give his "real" name, one could see immediately that he knows whereof he speaks. Ethnic Eastern European origins, all the way. (smile)

Based on use and custom in the USA, changing one's name is one of the tools useful for successful integration for an individual of immigrant origin. It's just not usual in France ... yet.



Thanks for your very substantive posts, Francois, Francaise, Elisabeth, and Amerloque. The question of cultural differences seems to plague humanity, even as it defines our humanity and enriches us. This is not entirely relevant to the topic of the thread, but I am the advisor to a house in which 14 undergraduates live as a learning community. They come from France, Ghana, India, the US & Mexico. I just came from a pretty tense house governance meeting. These young people have to deal with some serious challenges living under one roof, but in the end, they are going to be ready for the real world!

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