Friday, November 11, 2005

# Posted 12:45 PM by Patrick Belton  

EXCERPT FROM AN EMAIL TO A FRIEND: What lingers for me was the pride the rioters express in the toughness of their neighbourhood - referring to it as 'ghetto' and 'south Bronx', and offering to take you to caches of molotov cocktails, drugs and arms - which seems to tap into a performative identity of images provided by American media of anger and power. When police aren't around, they speak with exaggerated bravado, pointing out wreckage they claim responsibility for. They're kids, generally from fourteen to eighteen, and they were simply having a rather violent holiday, bashing up cars and bus stops because it's fun to do so. Locals don't want to say anything about them, their own children, students or customers, preferring to blame teenagers from other banlieues, as an article of faith. Residents are quite friendly to curious outsiders, and get on with their lives amid all the high fences surrounding each building of their estates, but they grow silent and uncomfortable when you bring up the unspoken current event. There's nothing religious at all to the riots; these aren't kids who reference religion at all, except to claim to you (possibly with some exercise of imagination) that they have friends in Guantanamo, and they might perhaps add Israel, Jews, and Sharon to France, Sarkozy, the police, and other people whose names in their drunken, possibly drugged, and excited invocations follow after the French equivalent of 'Fuck'. But this is acting out a repertory of imitation; the mosques have made off badly, while Jewish targets have by and large not. The mosques for their part have become taciturn and suspicious of outsiders; I was kicked by its imam with some force out of one, unmarked and in an industrial area, where I had been speaking with a congregant. There's a broader economic story surrounding all this, which gets away from the banlieues a bit and I might develop elsewhere, but where the French left and right are both in agreement about the rather Malthusian proposition that there is a limited amount of work to be distributed among the French, differing only in whether they prescribe it be allocated on the basis of non-immigrant status or equally over the population. There's a great disquiet now with the French model among people who while at Sciences Po would have taken for granted its virtue, and only a shared suspicion of fairly change, assumed to come and to bring jarring dislocations. Shortage of jobs and economic opportunities produced by the economy seems ultimately behind the anger of the young toughs; religious militancy or religion at all is not on their minds.

DEPT OF ARS SCRIPTORIA AFFAIRS UPDATE: When I said, incidentally, that my favourite cafe wasn't intolerably touristic, I should perhaps append a corollary for Friday nights: on Friday nights, it is often possible to find someone in my favourite cafe who speaks French. We on OxBlog like to look on the bright side of things. So, here it is that on Friday nights, by going here you can feel really awfully fluent in French!
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