Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, Part 1

News of the unrest in Trappes, in the western suburbs of Paris, is all over the web and in the blogosphere.

Before we look at the background, we will briefly review the initial incident and the unrest it sparked. We begin with an excerpt from Police attacked outside Paris after Islamic veil arrest, July 20, 2013:

Husband of veiled woman 'tried to strangle police officer'

The clashes were apparently sparked by the arrest on Thursday of a man accused of assaulting a police officer after his wife was stopped for wearing a full-face veil – illegal under French law.

"Her husband reacted in a hostile fashion, insulting and hitting the policeman," Jean-Marc Galland, a senior official for Yvelines département (region), where Trappes is located, told Reuters. "The man was placed in custody for that reason."

"On Friday, there were demands for clarification from people in the town who did not understand the arrest," he added.

Mr Lesclous later told reporters that the man had in fact attempted to strangle one of the police officers during the altercation.

However, The Collective Against Islamophobia in France (CCIF) published a statement on its website on Saturday, claiming to be from the wife of the arrested man, in which she accused the police of being abusive and using unnecessary force.

For its part, the CCIF has an introduction to this woman's version of the events under the title The islamophobic wave is increasing, dated July 20. I have reproduced the commentary as is; there are a few minor formatting and spelling errors.

CCIF has been refered a case by Hajar, a young lady victim of a strong-arm identity checking by national police in Trappes (Yvelines). During this identity checking, her husband has been abused and put into custody because he dared to protest against the violent and provocative behaviour of the police agents.

Here is her story:

"I am refering to you because I suffered from a police abuse. They wanted to control me because I wear the full-veil. As usual, I complied to this identity checking. I was about to lift my veil when I saw police agents violently pushing my mother.

I told the other agents to take a look of what their colleagues were doing, that it was unacceptable, that they shouldn't touch my mother who had nothing to do with this control. One of the agents got suddently very angry against my husband just because he said (concerning my mum): " Don't touch her! Why do you touch her knowing she has nothing to do with this control?"

The policeman then replied to my husband, in a very aggressiv and scornful way:"What are you gonna do?" I intervened between them in order to prevent things from becoming ugly.

Once the policeman was done with my mother, he came to me and made big gestures in front of my face while speeking very rudely. Threatened, I asked him to be quiet.

Then he grabbed me by the head of my veil and dragged me with a dreadful strengh to press me on the hood of the car, while yelling: "You're talking to me?? You're talking to me??"

Needless to say, the woman's husband was taken into custody. Allegedly, the police taunted these people, and continued to do so, even after the husband was handcuffed and in the car.

What is interesting is the allegation by this woman that the police had initially pushed her mother, and that the woman's husband moved to the defense of his mother-in-law. I do not recall seeing these allegations in other coverage of the initial incident, though, admittedly, I have not looked through all of the vast amount of coverage the situation has received.

If the Muslim woman's allegations are true, it is understandable how her husband might have reacted in a less-than-compliant way. It is also worth noting that this is likely a rather conservative Muslim family, since not all Muslim women wear the full facial veil. It is provocative in fundamentalist Muslim culture for males who are not related to a woman to see her - that is why she wears a full facial veil - and it is even more provocative for these males to then actually touch her and other women in her group.

CCIF has another statement, placing the matter into context. From Serial islamophobic aggressions: the involvement of Police forces in Trappes (Yvelines), July 20, 2013; again, I have not cleaned up the passage, but the formatting is as it is in the original:

For several weeks now, violence toward french Muslim women is increasing in a very serious way. On Friday 19th of July, CCIF (Collective against islamophobia in France) has been refered a case by Hajar, a young lady victim of a strong-arm identity checking.

During this identity check by the police, her husband has been abused and put into custody because he dared to protest against the violent and provocative behaviour of the police agents.
He will be heard by a judge today, Saturday 20th.

Like in other cases, the role of the police is questionned but Police Unions have rushed to make statements to exempt their colleagues of any responsability. And yet, there has been so far no investigation.

CCIF once again deplores the mass media covering of this case that, as in other cases, put the words of Police Unions above all suspicion, without even checking the facts. Once again, the Muslim protagonists are immediately suspected.
Mulims are systematically assumed guilty.

As in other recent cases, victims undergo a double injury: the physical and verbal violence and the systematic change status, from victim to culprit.
In France, racism and islamophobia are now cleary institutionalized and legitimized.
On this identity checking that turned ugly, several witnesses are reporting the use of physical abuse from the police toward someone who was actually cooperating. (Hajar indeed complied to the control)

Even if things did not happen exactly the way the woman and CCIF allege, something even remotely close to the alleged behavior would be considered highly provocative by a conservative Muslim family.

And this brings us to the key issue: increasingly, the Muslim community in France (and elsewhere) does not see itself as a part of the local culture, but rather, seeks to keep its own culture. This is far from the "melting pot" that we were taught was American culture during the heyday of European immigration roughly a century ago. Skipping down in Police attacked outside Paris after Islamic veil arrest, we get one public figure's perspective on the violence::

'Mass immigration' to blame, says Le Pen

Meanwhile, Marine Le Pen, leader of France's far-right National Front party, was quick to blame Friday's violence on what she called "the rise of a harmful communitarianism exacerbated by mass immigration" in France.

She claimed that those involved in the riots were attempting to "demonstrate through violence that they have taken control over large parts of the Republic".

"It is high time to ... organise the reconquest by law and order of each square metre of the national territory," she commented in a statement.

"Governments must stop trembling before thugs and finally stand up to them with total inflexibility and extreme firmness."

Le Pen's reference to a lack of control and a lack of law and order in certain parts of France is very interesting.

France has places called Sensitive Urban Zones (ZUS) - over 700 within mainland France. Ostensibly, these are areas that have some kind of social problems such as high unemployment, a low rate of high school graduation, or lack of home ownership, but the reality is that these are basically police no-go areas. The existence and location of these ZUS is not a secret; France maintains a website identifying them, including maps: Atlas des Zones urbaines sensibles (Zus).

The unrest addressed above occured in Trappes, just southwest of downtown Paris; it is the pink area next to the A in lower-left corner of the image from Google Maps below:

Here is a close-up of that area:

It just so happens that the area just to the left of the A in the map above is ZUS546:

Another term one hears is the reference to an area as a banlieue, which could be translated as "suburb", and, indeed, if one were to glance at the map and compare it to the map of an American city, it looks like Trappes is a suburb of Paris.

However, the word "banlieue" has a slightly different connotation. It tends to refer to areas of low-income housing, or perhaps government housing; it may be more appropriately translated as "slum" or "housing project", depending on the specific situation.

Regardless of the word one uses to describe the area, it is one of the over 700 areas in mainland France where French authorities are unable to effectively enforce French law without a violent reaction from the locals - a reaction which can easily spread to the other hundreds of such areas, as has happened in the past. For example, in 2005, an incident in which Muslim youths were hiding from the police in a power substation and there electrocuted themselves sparked unrest which, within ten days, had spread to well over 200 locations in France. Banlieues, sensitive urban zones, no-go areas... others refer to these areas simply as Muslim Ghettos.

But, what do you think this story may have in common with the other story I began with my previous post?

More to follow.

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