[URBANTH-L]NEWS: the week Paris burned

Mieka Brand mbrand at virginia.edu
Sun Nov 6 16:11:59 EST 2005

Who are these anonymous rioters? What are they so passionate about that they 
are willing to risk "stiff punishment"? And why is the French government so 
anxious to suppress these acts in the face of global media attention?

This article, like almost all of the mainstream media reports I have been 
reading in the past days, makes the faces and voices of the protesters 
completely invisible. Look at the language: "the meyhem came in direct 
defiance," "the rioting continued to spread," "the troubles threatened to 
spiral" "the figures are expected to rise" -- Who are these people, besides 
disembodied meyhem, rioting, troubles and figures? What do they want? The 
only private individual mentioned in this article is the parent of a child 
whose school "went up in flames." Even here, the apparently transluscent 
perpetuators of the fire are absent. Instead, the parent is quoted blaming 
the Minister of Interior, not the individual or individuals who actually 
began the fire.

Who are the rioters and why are they so angry? The article alludes to 
anonymous 'armed youth.' Other pieces I have seen describe 'angry migrants,' 
but all leave out a discussion about what these youth, these migrants -- 
and, indeed, many French-born ethnic minorities -- are so angry about, what 
they are fighting for, and what are the conditions they face that make them 
feel passionate enough (and silenced enough) to take to the streets.

Is it the case they thay are simply an angry bunch? A naturally-violent 
element? Youth that must be apropriately disciplined and shown their right 
place? Do they not have a message? A demand? Are they not reacting to a real 
or perceived threat? You might wonder if you read mainstream media 
uncritically. If you are halfway critical or know a little about the ongoing 
suppression of civil rights for migrants and ethnic minorities in France, 
articles like the one below simply ring hollow. Or worse: they give a 
blazing immediacy to Derrida, Fanon, Spivak, and others' struggle to explain 
what it means to have no language or voice to articulate one's own 
experience of oppression. Setting 607 cars afire. Throwing gasoline bombs 
all over the country. Being France's "worst civil unrest since the 1968 
student revolts" -- and STILL not being heard beyond the disembodied 
descriptions of subject-less rioters. No that's subaltern.

Who are these rioters? What are they fighting for? Whether or not we agree 
with the methods or even with the cause, should we not at least have a 
chance to hear what they are so impassioned about? I am searching for the 
reports who will offer this insight, the brave reporters who will shift the 
focus away from the apparently victimized French government, to the people 
involved in these violent protests, the real subjects of these events.

If you know about such an article, or if you are looking for an incentive to 
write one (anthropologists of France, this is your opportunity to share your 
insights with concerned oustiders) -- there are a few of us out here waiting 
to read it.

Mieka Brand
University of Virginia

On Sun, 6 Nov 2005 12:31:02 -0500
  "Angela Jancius" <acjancius at ysu.edu> wrote:
> Violence sweeps France in 10th night of riots
> Alex Duval Smith in Paris and David Smith
> Sunday November 6, 2005
> The Observer
>France was reeling from a 10th night of violence yesterday as rioting swept
> from the suburbs of Paris to become a nationwide crisis.
> In towns and cities across the country, youths armed with gasoline bombs
> torched scores of vehicles, nursery schools and other targets. Police said
> that at least 607 vehicles were set alight, with more than half outside 
> Paris region.
> The Foreign Office yesterday warned British tourists to 'exercise extreme
> care in the affected areas'.
> The mayhem came in direct defiance of a warning from Interior Minister
> Nicolas Sarkozy that rioters faced stiff punishments. He said setting cars
> on fire could 'cost dear in terms of sentences' and that the government 
> 'unanimous' about standing firm against violence, which many are 
> as France's worst civil unrest since the 1968 student revolts.
> Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin was yesterday forced to call a crisis
> meeting of his ministers and a top Muslim official as the rioting 
> to spread.
> Last night five classrooms at the Sleeping Beauty Nursery School in 
> in the Essonne region south of Paris, went up in flames as well as two
> classrooms at another school.
> In a measure of public dissatisfaction with the government, Yvan Lemaitre,
> the parent of one of the pupils at the Sleeping Beauty school, told French
> radio: 'Burning a school is unacceptable but the man who lit the fire is
> Sarkozy.'
> By 1am this morning, at least 607 vehicles were burned - 13 of them inside
> Paris. The overall figures were expected to climb by daybreak.
> The troubles threatened to spiral out of control as arson attacks were
> reported in cities to the north, south, east and west, many known for 
> calm, like the cultural bastion of Avignon in southern France and the 
> cities of Nice and Cannes, where cars were torched.
> In the Normandy town of Evreux, arson attacks laid waste to at least 50
> vehicles, part of a shopping centre, a post office and two schools, said
> Patrick Hamon, spokesman for the national police.
> He added that five police officers and three firefighters were injured
> battling the blazes.
> Arson was also reported in Nantes, in the south west, in Lille and Rennes 
> the north and Saint-Dizier, in the Ardennes region east of Paris. In the
> eastern city of Strasbourg, 18 cars were set alight in full daylight, 
> said. In Toulouse, there were 30 arson attacks.
> Some 2,300 police were being brought into the Paris region to bolster
> security. In the Essonne area south of the city, a recycling factory was 
> on fire and at least 35 vehicles torched.
> Twenty-eight cars were torched in the Seine-Saint-Denis region, north east
> of Paris, where the riots erupted after two teenage boys were accidentally
> electrocuted as they hid from police, apparently thinking they were being
> pursued. French authorities have denied that police were to blame.
>France-Info radio reported residents catching two 14-year-olds trying to
> light a fire in Drancy, north-east of Paris, and turning them over to
> police.
> Even in the heart of Paris three cars were damaged by fire in the 
> section, north east of City Hall.
> Meanwhile, earlier yesterday, hundreds of people joined marches in Paris
> suburbs to protest against the violence. In Aulnay-sous-Bois, which has 
> some of the worst of the rioting, residents walked past burnt-out vehicles
> and buildings with banners reading 'No to violence' and 'Yes to dialogue'.
> De Villepin called the emergency cabinet meeting to attempt to regain the
> momentum and show a united front. He called on ministers to speed up plans
> for urban renewal and asked the influential imam of the Paris mosque, 
> Boubakeur, to appeal for calm.
> But it was Sarkozy who again came in for attack. After his meeting with De
> Villepin, Boubakeur launched a veiled attack on the minister's outbursts, 
> which he called the disaffected young men on estates 'louts'.
> Police trade union official Gilles Petit said the rioters would 'stop at
> nothing' in their attacks.
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Mieka Brand
University of Virginia
Department of Anthropology,
Carter Woodson Institute for
   African American & African Studies
mbrand at virginia.edu

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