The Fire in France

Revolution #022, November 13, 2005, posted at

As we go to press, the youth of France are on their tenth day of an uprising that began in the belt of impoverished suburbs that surround Paris.

The uprisings started in Clichy-sous-Bois, a working class suburb of Paris. On October 27, two teenagers, Bouna Traore, aged 15, and Zyed Benna, 17, on their way back from playing soccer by some accounts, ran from police and, clearly afraid for their lives, climbed the 9-foot barbed wire fence of an electrical substation and burned to death.

Fed up with intense and increasing discrimination and police brutality, largely immigrant and working class youth took the streets of their communities and refused to back down in the face of heavy police attacks.

The youth, mostly the children of Arab and African immigrants, have made burning cars their symbol--setting more than 2,000 cars and buses on fire in the first week of rebellion.

In one rally in one housing project, rebel youth demanded the resignation of Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy--who has made himself notorious by called immigrant youth "scum" and saying that suburbs need to be "scoured with industrial cleanser."

Sarkozy deployed the hated and brutal national riot police against the rebels-- including 1,000 into the suburbs north of Paris. And even with such invasions, the police have still not been able to maintain control after dark.

Night after night, the uprising has spread from Paris suburbs to other parts of France: to Rouen and Lille in the north, Marseille and Toulouse in the south, Rennes in the west, and Dijon and Strasbourg in the east.

France has more than 700 working class suburbs like Clichy-sous-Bois with the endless rows of aging apartment buildings, as shown in the film La Haine (Hate).

For decades, millions of immigrant workers were drawn to France to perform hard and degrading work for the lowest wages. And then, as the economy changed, many were simply thrown out of work and abandoned in these rundown housing projects outside the major cities.

Unemployment among immigrant communities have risen to 30 percent. The youth in particular face constant beatings and worse from the police. And the abuse has intensified because of a growing anti-immigrant climate in Europe, and in France in particular--where harassment and repressive laws are encouraged by government leaders and reactionary parties, often under the guise of protecting the country from "terrorism" and "Islamic extremism."

The response of the government officials and much of the media to the rebellion has been to escalate their calls for a crackdown on working class immigrants and the youth. The youth have been demonized as "gang members." The conservative newspaper Le Figaro claimed that the current rebellions "are the consequence of an uncontrolled immigration policy", echoing the demands of the fascist politician Jean-Marie Le Pen that France be "cleansed" of immigrants.

Arab and Muslim people are treated like criminals and unwelcome strangers--after their home countries were colonized by France, after their labor was exploited in France for decades, and even after many of the youth were born and raised in France.

This righteous rebellion is their answer: that they will not accept this mistreatment and that they demand profound changes in the direction France has taken.


"When you're an immigrant here, you're just stuck in your shit. Does it really surprise you it's going up in flames?"

Momo, Age 26, Aulnay-sous-Bois

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