On the morning of June 27, a patrol stopped a Mercedes for a document check. The passengers and the driver refused to cooperate and the latter stepped on the accelerator. One of the two officers fired and Nahel, sitting behind the wheel, was killed instantly. Then came the shock. The incident took place in the deprived Paris suburb of Nanterre, which for decades has been densely populated by non-native French citizens.

The massive riots that have gripped France have forced the Government of the Republic to take some rather drastic measures. Leisure activities were canceled in “dangerous areas” and public transport was suspended at night. Curfews were also imposed in some communities.

We are tempted to compare what is happening in France with the movement Black Lives Matter. In fact, apparently, the situation in France is comparable to that in the United States: the police detain a member of an ethnic minority, this person shows disobedience to the law enforcer, the latter abuses the power granted to him has granted the State and, as a consequence, the representative of the ethnic minority dies on the spot.

Riots in Nanterre, a suburb of Paris (France), after the death of the young Nahel Merzouk.

However, the case of France is not so simple. Unlike the United States, the most “problematic” part of its population comes from the Maghreb countries, or more precisely from Algeria. France maintains a long love-hate relationship with this country, since Algeria fought for independence against the french colonization

from 1830 to 1962.

How France treated Algeria

France, on the other hand, never treated Algeria as one of its colonies, but as an integral part of the French Republic. Or almost, because this attitude did not extend to the Algerian people and their culture.

The massive movement of Algerians to France began after World War II, when the country needed labor to rebuild its war-torn economy.

The number of North Africans began to grow rapidly and so did the banlieues or suburban areas where they resided as a whole. This gave rise to the distinctive culture of the beursa French pejorative term for people born in Europe whose parents or grandparents are immigrants from the Maghreb.

The natives of North Africa were soon joined by the natives of sub-Saharan Africa, mostly from the former French colonies. In the 1990s, the problem of banlieues reached significant proportions. But then, it was unthinkable to speak publicly about the problems of the suburbs and the racism that devoured French society.

This taboo was broken by the then very young French director mathieu kassovitz and his now iconic film Hatred (nineteen ninety five). The film is based on a true story, that of Makome M’Bowolea seventeen-year-old of Zairean origin who had been shot dead by police two years earlier.

movie poster the haine (Hatred in Spain). filmaffinity

The film portrays the lives of three young people from the suburbs: a Jew, a Moroccan and a sub-Saharan African and invited French society to reflect on the fact that hate is not the answer, but something inherently destructive. “Hate attracts hate,” says Hubert, a young man of sub-Saharan origin and one of the film’s main protagonists.

The lack of integration

For almost thirty years after the film, the French government tried to remedy the situation, but these attempts mainly focused on investing in infrastructure, not integrating immigrants and their children into society.

For three generations, the children of the suburbs have lived immersed in a hatred that they seem to feel for everything. Amid the protests, Laurent-Franck Liénard, the lawyer for the police officer who shot Nahel, recalled that his client, accused of murder, is in the Paris La Santé prison awaiting trial. And he asked: “The policeman is in jail, what else do the protesters want?”

In it same speechthe lawyer responded to his own rhetorical question: “They don’t want justice, they express anger.”

Behind it there is a great truth, if we look at the objectives pursued by those who protest. These are the public buildings that were supposed to serve them and their families, public transport, schools, kindergartens, restaurants and shops. The burnt down bus station in Aubervilliers (Seine-Saint-Denis) served the same suburbs that always complain about deficiencies.

It seems that suburbanites, French second or third generation, express a hatred for everything that is a sign of “normal” life from the traditional point of view.

The rioters not only express their anger: in recent days in television talks and government statements we have heard expressions such as “calm passions” and “find common ground”. It is as if we were not talking about members of the same society, of citizens of the same country, but of some foreign army.

In addition, this army – something that surprised the police – is made up of adolescents between the ages of 14 and 18, and even younger. That is, the division now occurs not only along the demarcation lines already exploited by the right and the left (“native French”: descendants of immigrants, rich-poor, city-suburbs), but also in ages and generations within the same neighborhood, community, family.

How do politicians see it?

Also, this situation is being fed from within by politicians who are trying to make some kind of profit out of it. For example, the leftist Jean-Luc Melénchon called for peace, but appealed to the watchdogs of the French police and demanded justice.

Antoine Léaumant, a member of the same party, declared that “the demonstrations take the form they want, the anger expressed is legitimate”.

For his part, the right-wing leader of the Reconquête party Eric Zemmour (by the way, of North African origin) alerted Europe that France is on the verge of a civil war.

Will all this lead to significant shakeups in the French government in the short term? Not likely. The protests that are taking place are quite typical of the French state, where freedom of expression often takes violent forms. In a way, society is used to them.

We must also understand the French authorities: these spontaneous protests (unlike the yellow vest movement) have no leaders, so the authorities, even if they wanted to, have no one to negotiate with.

It seems the French authorities have decided to stick to their usual tactics: stand their ground and wait until the rioters’ demands are finally compromised by their own behaviour. And so far it seems that this is the case. Yet a society torn by such contradictions continues to unravel, and no one can predict what the outcome will be.

This article was originally published on The Conversation
Photos: EFE

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Original Publisher: https://www.gente.com.ar/actualidad/protestas-en-francia-un-odio-que-ya-dura-30-anos/