Monday, November 14, 2005

Day After Day

Nightly rioting has continued in France and is now well into its third week.

Each morning, the civil servants in charge of reestablishing order release the figures attained in the previous night's rampages: so many rioters arrested; so many CRS (the French paramilitary police) injured; so many daycare centers, warehouses and cultural centers torched. Only if one reads between the lines in the papers can one see that the civil unrest appears to be more serious and widespread than it appears at first glance. Several churches and mosques have been torched, for example - whether by rioters or by calmer individuals intent on adding religious fanaticism to the equation is unclear. As of this Monday morning, 593 individuals (486 adults and 107 minors) have been locked up, of the 2646 arrested since the riots began. Of the 593, 375 have been sentenced to jailtime and the rest are in preventive detention (with no bail). Twice last week Amerloque dined outside of Paris, both times in major towns that are préfectures - where the courts sit in judgement. Security in the center of each town, around the courthouses, was very tight. During dinner many, many sirens could be heard: his hosts informed Amerloque that these were the paddywagons bringing rioters caught in the act into central booking and subsequent police courts. The courts are working overtime and in at least one place, the tribunal was even open on November 11, a national holiday.

Based on past experience here, in other man-made and natural disasters, Amerloque feels that it may never really be made clear - at least to the general public - just how widespread the destruction of buildings and infrastructure really is. Numbers such as those above certainly explain why the French government, whose stated priority for the moment is law and order, has decided to impose a state of emergency by reactivating a law first passed in 1955 during the Algerian War. A portion of this law deals with establishing a curfew for both adults and juveniles. Some observers feel that is not enough and that the government is showing "weakness" - or is even "disoriented" and "out of touch". However, it's obvious to Amerloque that the French government has been careful not to overreact, not cracking down hard all over the country but modulating its response in accordance with local circumstances. For example, in Paris proper the right of assembly was severely curtailed ... yet the government permitted an outdoor evening demonstration on the Place Saint-Michel in the Latin Quarter by organizations and individuals opposed to the reinstatement of the 1955 law ! The curfew has been sparingly applied: certainly the overall level of violence seems to be dropping around the country.

Other measures are being taken but, once again, the government appears to be treading that devilishly fine line between over- and underreaction. Convicted non-French adult rioters are scheduled for deportation back to their home country, in accordance with current law. A deputé from the governing party has introduced a bill to withdraw French nationality from naturalized adults and juveniles convicted of participation in the riots. There is talk of taking away entitlements (family allowances, housing and utility assistance) from parents whose offspring were convicted of rioting. The state of emergency will be lengthened from its initial 12-day period to ... 90 days (three months). At the opposite side of the spectrum, a wide range of measures to help the inhabitants of the projects has been outlined by the Prime Minister. It remains to be seen just how relevant - and how effective - these will be. Traditional French solidarity is alive and well: mutual insurance companies have promised all policyholders that claims for their torched cars would be honored ... even if their policies didn't include coverage against fire damage.

The international media have had a field day dragging France through the mud; aiming at the French way of life, its social model, and its attractiveness as a tourist destination. Heavyweights in the international press have been careful to scramble the data for readers in Podunk and Portmeirion by confusing the town of Clichy (on the very edge of Paris, right next to Saint-Ouen where the Flea Market is) and the riot-hit town of Clichy-sous-Bois, which no tourist would ever have reason to visit, quite a few kilometers away. Could serious and honest news organizations involuntarily make the same mistake day after day ? Amerloque is indeed hard pressed to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Too, what should be made of the blatant inaccuracies spewed forth daily by the New York Times-owned, France-hating International Herald Tribune, pushing its Big Apple, politically correct points of view ? One Catherine Field, a "journalist based in Paris", wrote:

In the 1960s, planners chose this spot for a "Grand Ensemble" of public housing to lodge workers who came from North and West Africa in droves to do the dirty, boring and dangerous jobs shunned by the native French.

Field (a "Paris-based journalist", remember) isn't the only one to make such a claim: other reporters and media honchos have said essentially the same thing. One reads such prose ... and one is left with the distinct impression that, sometimes in the 1960s, a gaggle of French bureaucrats sat down and said: "Alors, donc, let's build hundreds - no, thousands, name of a dog ! - of soulless concrete apartment projects on the edges of our big cities and park all our non-white, non-French speaking, immigrants, especially those from Africa, in them ! Then we can allow all these projects to fall apart, say, for the next thirty or forty years !"

Nothing could be further from reality. After World War II, there was a huge housing shortage in France. The entire country was in the throes of rebuilding and modernizing infrastructure and low cost, subsidized housing for everybody was at the top of the list. It was the era of les trente glorieuses ("the glorious thirty years") from 1945 to 1975, when the economy was booming and when jobs were plentiful. These housing projects were designed for everyone, for all French workers, not just for non-white "immigrants". Between 1971 and 1974 Amerloque used to drive out to Mantes-la-Jolie, about forty miles to the northwest of Paris, on Saturday mornings during the school year and teach all day long on a volunteer basis (do note that Amerloque is not a teacher, stricto sensu) in a cultural center in a project called Val-Fourré, today a no-go zone. Then, the immense majority of the Val-Fourré's inhabitants - and Amerloque's students - were what are called français de souche: white, generally working class people. What happened at Val-Fourré and other projects is familiar to socially mobile Americans: as soon as a family was financially able, it moved out to better lodging. Other, poorer families moved in, and those families were immigrants, mostly from Africa.

Amerloque is fully cognizant of the proverb "The road to hell is paved with good intentions." It might even be felt to be quite appropriate in this case, since the French government, in building the original public housing that now makes up the quartiers sensibles ("sensitive neighborhoods", in politicobabble) was certainly acting for the benefit of all the French. However, the governments didn't necessarily realize that a kind of enfer would be awaiting the inhabitants of the housing projects twenty or thirty years hence. The projects were built with good intentions ... yet speaking of the French projects without alluding to their origins is dishonest reporting - it's as simple as that.

Amerloque’s eyes sometimes boggle, too, when reading references to discrimination and rioters in both the French and foreign press. The other day in Le Parisien there was an interview with a 24-year old black French cité kid who was complaining about discrimination. He was quoted as saying “I sent out 10 CVs and only received two answers ! Both were negative !” This was advanced as “proof” of discrimination by him and, one supposes, by the journalist. Ah, if only it were so simple ... Amerloque knows kids (not cité kids: kids from the bourgeoisie, both petite and grande) who have sent out over 600 résumés and are still looking for a job. The cité kid is unhappy because, apparently, he thinks that he’s being discriminated against because he’s from the cité. Maybe - but then again, maybe not. A 20% response rate on a CV is fantastic but he apparently is unaware of it. It is not clear what the reporter is aware of.

Yes, the bottom line is that the cité fellow who was turned down twice still doesn’t have a job … but he is in the same boat as millions of other people, of varying backgrounds and ages, and being a cité dweller has very little – or nothing - to do with it. Reading the press and listening to the media since the beginning of the riots, one has the feeling that only the cité kids are jobless … and that things are generally OK for everyone else, that everyone else has a nice job, that all they do is send out a CV or two and the job comes rolling in. That's fantasy: the admitted French unemployment rate is just under 10% of the working population, all ages and colors and origins taken into account. It’s estimated in some quarters (notably the trade unions) that if the true unemployment figures were released, the total might be closer to 15%, since a) people “in training” are not counted; b) people who didn’t check in to the unemployment officer are not counted (apparently something like 100,000 or so were zapped from the statistics last month alone); c) people over 55 are not counted; d) people fired because of illness are not counted; and so on . The jobs just aren't there to be had. The reality is that the entire country is going through an employment crisis and that there are millions upon millions of people unemployed. One does not have to be from the cité to be unemployed. Once again, media failure to underline this is simply blatant duplicity.

Many French commentators are saying that the riots and rioters are "playing into Jean-Marie Le Pen's hands" (ils font le lit de Le Pen !), and asserting that Nicolas Sarkozy, the Interior Minister, is simply attempting to woo the right-wing electorate by "cracking down". It is certainly a point of view - perhaps one not to be too cavalierly dismissed - but to Amerloque's way of thinking it is far too simplistic, even puerile, for the current situation. These are the same pundits who missed the boat in April, 2002, when to their apparent surprise and evident horror Le Pen made it into the runoff election for the French presidency. Amerloque hopes that these opinionmakers exit their offices, take the wax out of their ears, remove their blinkers and circulate among real, live, breathing French people of all backgrounds and political opinions, just as Amerloque does. They'll see that instead of worrying about Le Pen, endlessly fixating on the Front National, and constantly scaremongering, their time could more profitably be devoted to figuring out how French solidarity can be applied so that their poorer compatriots - of whatever color, background and political persuasion - are not left by the side of the road.


L'Amerloque


Text © Copyright 2005 by L'Amerloque

7 Comments:

Blogger jean said...

I'm sorry (but not surprised) to hear that some of the anglo press is reporting nonsense about the riots in France. The idea that the HLM's were built to house minorities is absurd. One reason I started blogging 6 months ago was to vent about the ignorance of many journalists reporting on France. With what has happened to journalisitic standards across the board in the US, it is a pleasure to read the much better-informed and just as well-written posts of Amerloque.

2:18 PM  
Blogger Sandrine said...

Thank you for this post Amerloque. I often read your (too rare)articles but never take time to make a comment on them. But now I would like to react by sharing my own experience with you.

I'm a young black woman (27), and I live in a "cité". And, I can say that I have never known unemployment, well, only one month. I have a BAC+2, and the only reason why no one would hire me a few years ago, was because I was too young : I was only 20 when I started to look for a job. I sent a lot of letters and CVs (but I never put my photo on them) and always received answers from the companies. During one month, I went to a lot of agencies of interim, and I finally found a job in a company for two months. Then I signed for an "emploi jeune" in a high school. I stayed there during 2 years and I resigned to become a civil servant. That's not a solution for everyone, but I really wanted to work and to earn money to raise my little daughter. So I chose the easy way, and now after four years, I feel good, and I really enjoy working there.

Why don't people try to enter the administration ? Even if it's not for the whole life, it can be a good way of working, and at the same time, one can look for something else in the private sector... I don't really understand why people who are graduated don't try to find something more "interesting" than working in the Mc Donald (I'm not saying that it's the worst place to work, but as I read that they complain about their situation...).

I just wanted to share all this with you, and please sorry for the mistakes I made in English.

Keep writing the way you do, I really appreciate your blog.

11:41 AM  
Blogger Flocon said...

Your desciption of "the New York Times-owned, France-hating International Herald Tribune", I have also met on another blog by Harriett Rochefort, so I suppose I must understand it the way you write it. To be sure, someone like John Vinocur may be francophone but wouldn't exactly qualify as francophile...
Do you think this is a recent state of affair or has the IHT been a constant "France-hating newspaper" even at the times it would publish Art Buchwald chronicles?
Just for my information...
Thanks

3:16 PM  
Blogger L'Amerloque said...

Hi Jean !

… a pleasure to read …

Thank you for the encouragement – I appreciate it indeed !

Which blogs do you usually frequent ?

Best,
L'Amerloque

10:13 AM  
Blogger L'Amerloque said...

Hello Lola !

Welcome aboard ! Many thanks for sharing here with us !

Yes, I, too, am perplexed by the MacDo solution that a lot of cité degree holders seem to adopt. As you say, it's not the worst place in the world to work (I think all of us have flipped a burger or two sometime in our lives to make ends meet, I think …) and it is possible to attain a management position … but as a lifestyle choice ? The civil service is better, one would think ...

Thank you for this post Amerloque. I often read your (too rare) articles but never take time to make a comment on them.

Thank you, Lola, for the encouragement. I've chosen to write only once a week. This past summer I was in the country for a while – je me suis ressourcé en profondeur, as the French say. (smile) – and I missed a few weeks …

Please do feel free to comment as often as you like ! The more, the merrier ! (smile)

Best,
L'Amerloque

10:16 AM  
Blogger L'Amerloque said...

Hi Flocon !

Welcome ! (smile)

Your desciption of "the New York Times-owned, France-hating International Herald Tribune", I have also met on another blog by Harriett Rochefort …

Yes, Philippe R. and I see the NYT in about the same way, apparently …

To be sure, someone like John Vinocur may be francophone but wouldn't exactly qualify as francophile...

You can find a biography at: http://www.nytimes.com/ref/international/bio-vinocur.html
He's certainly not a francophile. He looks to be the point antiFrance hitman for the NYT, as a matter of fact. (grin)
(Digression: when I was a kid, I used to listen quite a bit to the radio (there wasn't much TV around). A fellow named "Sander Vanocur" reported news from far flug corners of the earth, I recall. More info about him can be found at http://www.nndb.com/people/873/000088609/
Another site mentions, in referring to SV, "Prior to NBC News, he was a general assignment reporter for The New York Times." http://www.speakers-network.com/speakers/speaker.asp?id=360

Ah, a NYT connection, tiens, tiens, donc … the patronyms are spelled differently… but I wonder if John V. and Sandor V. are related ? Perhaps part of the same extended family ? Cousins ?)

Do you think this is a recent state of affair or has the IHT been a constant "France-hating newspaper" even at the times it would publish Art Buchwald chronicles?

What is now IHT was founded in 1887 by a man who loved France: James Gordon Bennett. He was the immensely wealthy owner of the New York Herald, the top newspaper at the time. He became a social outcast in NY (something about publicly peeing in the fireplace of his father-in-law-to-be's mansion, so the story goes …) and found that it would be a good idea to go into exile, so he chose Paris, where he had been educated as a youth. He was an amazing francophile; he organized the Gordon Bennett Cup to popularize automobile racing (this was in La Belle Epoque, c 1902 or so); he organized balloon races, too. He started up and managed the Paris edition of the NY Herald, en somme. There was a tremendous amount of local (i.e., Paris) news: society coverage, visiting Americans, fashion, American community news, horseracing and so on …

A nice rundown on the Bennetts and the Herald Tribune can be found at: http://www.ketupa.net/herald.htm

Anyway, to cut a long and fascinating story short, before and after WWII the Paris Herald remained more of a local paper than an international paper. Its reporting was quite good, with style and flair. Just after the Second World War was the famous "Art Buchwald era" you refer to. The paper was pro-French and pro-French lifestyle. There were a lot of press takeovers and bankruptcies in NY and the NY Herald was eaten alive … anyway, in the 1960s – I think it was 1966 - the Paris Herald was refinanced and assumed the name "International Herald Tribune", as from 1967. Its two backers, 50/50, were the NYT and the Washington Post. The reporting became far more international and much less "Parisian". Articles from both the NYT and the WP were included, while outside sources included the Los Angeles Times and Christian Science Monitor, for example. The paper was edited in Paris and its steady columnists were top drawer, as were its visitors.

During those years there was a positive editorial tension that made the paper far more than the sum of its parts. At no time did the reader feel that there was a hidden agenda: it was a newspaper, reporting news, for people living internationally, and it did a darned good job.

Then, in 2002, the New York Times basically said to the Washington Post: "Sell us your 50% of the paper. If you don't, we will pull out completely."

As a matter of corporate highhandedness, arrogance and greed, you won't find any better, et je pese mes mots.

What could the Washington Post do, except sell out ? It, like the vast majority of US papers, is/was going through dire financial straits, too …

.. so it sold, and the NYT become sole owner and publisher of the IHT in 2003, which was basically a year of transition. There was then a severe bloodletting and the NYT, while indeed keeping on many of the IHT columnists and staff, appointed its own people – straight from New York, true believers all. Of course, it also imposed its oh-so-politically-correct New York editorial line, and now pushes its concepts, neuroses, obsessions, hallucinations, forebodings, sycophancy, doctrines and beliefs onto its readership in the guise of "news". Furthermore, it simply expurgates - or refuses outright - stories that don't fit its view of the world. Note that it's really not a matter of "left" or "right" or "center" or "liberal" or "conservative" – it's a matter of intellectual honesty: it's as simple as that.

The IHT can now simply be called "The New York Times, Lite". A French journalist on a French talkshow program recently had no hesitation in doing exactly that, as a matter of fact (smile). Far too many of its pieces are simply published for a reader familiar with and comfortable in New York. There's certainly nothing "international" about that.

So, to answer your question … the IHT is a far cry from what it used to be. Acting on its parent's orders, it has morphed into a rabidly anti-French media outlet. As its parent, the New York Times, the International Herald Tribune hates France and the French, and will never miss an opportunity, however small, to criticize, castigate and condemn France. It's heartbreaking for us long term expats who love France.

Best,
L'Amerloque

10:45 AM  
Blogger Frania W. said...

L'Amerloque has again given the perfect analysis of the situation. Having personally lived thru a period when white neighborhoods in S. California were taken over by some minorities, to immediately be turned into infernal ghettos, I saw a long time ago the parallel with the mushrooming of problems in the "quartiers sensibles" around the big cities of France as "Français de souche" were moving out of 1960s built "grands ensembles". Not being part of an "oppressed minority", I cannot judge the feelings that pushed these "young people" to riot but something tells me that the reason is not unemployment or harsh living. They have it better than their parents ever had & that they would have in any of the Maghreb countries. And, as l'Amerloque pointed out, unemployment in France is color blind.

It is true that making it in an established society takes a lot of brain-wracking and willpower to do above average of the society in place. It may be unfair, but that's the way all immigrants have had to do when let in a new land. They must want to integrate, not disintegrate by creating mayhem, and not force a foreign society inside the one that is taking them in.

Burning cars and destroying property is not endearing them to the general public and it is hurting the ones among them working hard to make it. These rioters are looking beyond the borders of Europe for role models and I foresee more of the same, no matter what the French government can & will do.

As for those gloating at the sight of "France burning", don't they realize that all of us, Americans & Europeans, are in the same boat? I hope the French proverb will never come to pass that says: "Rira bien qui rira le dernier."

Besides, if France was such a bad country, why would so many would-be immigrants want to come in? It reminds me of the Iron Curtain: people climbed OUT of the Soviet Union & satellites INTO the West, not the other way around. Now, be it Europe or the United States, people rush INTO these countries by the millions, escaping poverty and political terror. If life in France was so bad, these "jeunes issus de l'immigration" should try to go live in the Maghreb, which could be easy since most of them have dual nationality... However, at the various ports of North Africa, they would see hundreds of their young cousins looking across the Mediterranean Sea toward... France.

Frania W.

12:29 AM  

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