rkm : What are the French riots about?

2005-11-07

Richard Moore

referenced articles (included at bottom): 
http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/07/international/europe/07france.html
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/11/05/AR2005110501515.html

---

One of the themes I've been developing, with respect to
neoliberalism, is the notion of  "being left by the
wayside".

This notion arises because neoliberalism combines two
aspects, which together are very alarming.

The first aspect has to do with the dog-eat-dog
marketplace, what some call a 'race to the bottom'.
Whether you're an individual or a nation -- if you want to
succeed -- you find yourself in a competitive game of "The
Weakest Link". Many fail in this game, as we see with the
unemployed and the homeless and the West (in the case of
individuals), and with collapsed economies in the third world
(in the case of whole nations).

The second aspect of neoliberalism has to do with
'entitlements', or 'safety nets': they are being
systematically eliminated, in a process that goes under
the ironic name of 'reform'. For individuals, the
relentless process of 'reform' continues to reduce
government services, social welfare benefits, working
condition and employment guarantees, pensions, etc. For
nations, 'reform' undermines budgets with reckless tax
cuts, forcing the reductions in benefits, and takes away
the ability of nations to function effectively, by ever
greater demands for privatization and austerity.

For years in the EU there have been major waves of
protests, as one group after another has seen its safety
nets removed - farmers, truckers, civil servants, medical
workers, pensioners, students etc. etc. In the third world
the removal of safety nets has been most extreme, leading
directly to mass deaths by starvation and disease.
Collapsed economies and destroyed infrastructures take
away the ability of governments to maintain order: with
the safety net of social order removed, the result is
genocidal civil wars as armed factions compete to survive.

I've seen no evidence that our esteemed leaders have any
intention of halting this 'reform' process. The evidence
clearly indicates that safety nets generally have been
targeted for extinction. In the third world, particularly
Africa, we can see that process in its final stages. With
Washington's various free-trade area initiatives -- NAFTA,
CAFTA, FTAA etc. -- we see blatant intent to rapidly
demote North American economies to third-world status. To
the extent this succeeds, that then puts pressure on the
EU -- if it wants to remain competitive in global markets
-- to further 'reform', to match North America.

With safety nets being systematically removed, and with
economic success becoming ever more difficult and
competitive, what is to happen to those who 'fall by the
wayside', those who 'have no place' in the system?

In Africa, eg. Rwanda, Zaire, The Sudan, etc., we've seen
one answer to this question: mass die-offs, and wasting
away in refugee  camps. In the West, these riots in France
-- and the response to those riots by officials and the
media -- provides us with a microcosm indicator of how
those 'left by the wayside' are going to be dealt with as
the neoliberal assault continues.

   NY Times: Unemployment in the neighborhoods is double and
    sometimes triple the 10 percent national average, while
    incomes are about 40 percent lower.
     ...Though a majority of the youths committing the acts are
    Muslim, and of African or North African origin, the mayhem
    has yet to take on any ideological or religious overtones.

Here we have a classic case of a group being left by the
neoliberal wayside. Unemployment generally is increasing
in Europe, and as the more advantaged people are forced to
compete for crumbs, those in disadvantaged communities are
increasingly left with no hope of employment or hope for
improvement in their lives. Prostitution, drugs, and crime
remain, as other 'career paths' disappear.  The community
becomes 'hostile territory' in the eyes of police:
    
   NY Times: Young people in the poor neighborhoods
    incubating the violence have consistently complained that
    police harassment is mainly to blame.  "If you're treated
    like a dog, you react like a dog"...
      ...The youths have singled out the French interior minister,
    Nicolas Sarkozy, complaining about his zero-tolerance
    anticrime drive and dismissive talk. (He famously called
    troublemakers in the poor neighborhoods dregs, using a
    French slur that offended many people.)

'Dregs' sums up the situation quite nicely: those left by
the wayside are 'the dregs' - the part that settles to the
bottom - having no value in the neoliberal economy. And
what do you do with dregs, as in your tea or coffee
pot?... you dump them out, get rid of them, flush them
away; they have no place in a clean kitchen. The word
'dregs' candidly captures the neoliberal attitude
toward those who don't fit in.

One way that these people are 'flushed away' has to do
with how other people respond to their plight
psychologically. In many cases, people choose to
rationalize away any sympathy they might feel, typically
'by blaming the victims' for their plight, thus making
them unworthy of sympathy:

   NY Times: The attack angered people in the neighborhood,
    which includes the old Jewish quarter and is still a
    center of Jewish life in the city. "We escaped from
    Romania with nothing and came here and worked our fingers
    to the bone and never asked for anything, never
    complained," said Liliane Zump, a woman in her 70's,
    shaking with fury on the street outside the scarred
    building.

I must respect this sentiment, having always been blessed
myself by relatively privileged opportunities. And I know
that conditions in earlier times, e.g. Victorian Britain
and Ireland, were far worse for the underprivileged than
in today's Western ghettos. Nonetheless there's something
different about the plight of today's 'dregs', and that
has to do with the plight of the middle classes.

When Ms. Zump escaped from Romania, the middle classes
were on the rise in France, and the path of hard work
could enable one to 'improve ones station' in life, to
move up to the middle class. Not all succeeded, but the
opportunity was there, particularly for the skilled and
educated. But when the 'dregs' today look up and see their
middle class brothers and sisters spiraling downward, then
what hope can they have? If people are tumbling down the
ladder of success, there's no room for anyone to climb up.
For young people the sense of hopelessness is even 
greater, seeing no hopeful future for themselves:

   Wash. Post: Rezzoug said about 18 youths between the ages
    of 15 and 25 are responsible for most of the fires and
    attacks on police in Le Blanc-Mesnil, though he said some
    young men from neighboring towns have joined in the mayhem.
     ..."We don't have the American dream here," said
    Rezzoug, as he surveyed the clusters of young men. "We
    don't even have the French dream here."

Chronic hopelessness, combined with economic deprivation,
is a heavy burden to bear psychologically. Resentment and
anger are natural responses to being first abandoned by
the system, then blamed for your plight, and finally
harassed by the authorities:

   NY Times: "We have 10 policemen that were hit by gunfire
    in Grigny, and two of them are in the hospital"...
     ...the violence, which has become one of the most serious
    challenges to governmental authority here in nearly 40
    years, showed no sign of abating...

Consider this situation from the perspective of
'attention'. If your situation seems hopeless, and no one
is paying any attention to you, except to annoy you, then
you're going to feel resentment, and you're going to feel
ignored -- as individuals, and as a community. It would be
entirely natural to feel a need to 'gain the attention' of
the larger society:

   Wash. Post: Rage of French Youth Is a Fight for Recognition.
    Spreading Rampage in Country's Slums Is Rooted in
    Alienation and Abiding Government Neglect
     ..."It's not a political revolution or a Muslim
    revolution," said Rezzoug. "There's a lot of rage. Through
    this burning, they're saying, 'I exist, I'm here.' "

Despite this latent drive to gain attention, 'dregs' communities
typically do not spontaneously start riots in order to get
attention. Rather we see a multi-stage process.

What usually happens first is some singular outrage, such
as the filming of the Rodney King beating in LA, which
provides a focus for pent-up anger, igniting it into overt
collective aggression against symbols of the system. Once
rioting begins, it creates, among other things, a sense of
community, of empowerment, of 'being heard'.

This situation arises of itself, not necessarily
anticipated by those who first threw stones in anger. Once
it does arise -- this community empowerment aspect -- then
the riots have an additional potential source of momentum,
other than just pent up anger and resentment. The 'dregs'
community learns, in the experience of rioting, that
collective action can 'make waves'. Depending on how deep
is the sense of hopelessness, and how urgent the need for
improved conditions, there is a fine line between rioting
and insurrection, between chaos and a genuine, homegrown,
non-CIA funded, 'Colored Revolution':

   Wash. Post: "We want to change the government," he said, a
    black baseball cap pulled low over large, chocolate-brown
    eyes and an ebony face. "There's no way of getting their
    attention. The only way to communicate is by burning."

   NY Times: Despite help from thousands of reinforcements,
    the police appeared powerless to stop the mayhem. As they
    apply pressure in one area, the attacks slip away to
    another.
     ...Many politicians have warned that the unrest may be
    coalescing into an organized movement, citing Internet
    chatter that is urging other poor neighborhoods across
    France to join in. But no one has emerged to take the
    lead...

I'm  very pleased by these articles, because they lay
everything out blatantly and clearly, with very apt choice
of emphasis and language. 'Dregs' was a gold-star choice,
a classic candid remark, well captured and translated by
the reporters and editors.

"No one has emerged to take the lead." I like that. It
shows the mindset of the authorities, presumably found
sensible as well by the Times: "The dregs need leaders
(and as soon as we can identify some, we can go after
them!)"

In fact, an absence of leaders is a hopeful sign in any
collective initiative -- provided that 'the collective' is
able to advance its 'state of consciousness' by other
means. The problem with leadership, as a solution to the
problem of coherence, is that it creates a narrow focus, a
single channel of strategy and initiative; it is a form of
hierarchy. There is also the potential for abuse-of-power
by those who achieve leadership positions, the possibility
of incompetence or ineffectiveness at the top, and the
potential vulnerability of leaders to co-option,
corruption, or detainment -- by the well-funded forces of
reaction. The CIA-funded Colored Revolutions are just one
example of the problems of a leadership paradigm.

Far better that multiple centers of initiative spring up,
able to operate asynchronously, adapting to local
circumstances and opportunities: "As they apply pressure
in one area, the attacks slip away to another".
    
   NY Times: "The republic is completely determined to be
    stronger than those who want to sow violence or fear," Mr.
    Chirac said...

We have no way of knowing whether these particular riots
will evolve into some other kind of collective initiative,
or whether they will soon be quelled by the authorities,
never having risen above chaos. But I think it has been
useful to explore this scenario, from the perspective of
'potentially hopeful collective initiatives'. The truth is
that all of us are in a hopeless situation, vis a vis
neoliberalism: those at the bottom are simply the first to
feel it in their guts.

You might pause for a moment, and imagine yourself as a
'dreg' -- if you aren't one already -- and think about
where you might find hope. For that is indeed our
condition. Bob Dylan said, "He not busy being born is busy
dying". In our case, those who are not dregs are in the
process of becoming dregs, being digested by the machine, 
eventually to be eliminated from the system, at least by
the time old age is reached. No safety nets.

My own view, is that our only hope is a collective
initiative, or rather initiatives, that arise leaderless
out of the grassroots, and which are able to evolve a
sense of identity and coherence. Such initiatives can
evolve in this way only by means of dialog among ordinary
people, who have recognized that their situation within
the system is hopeless, and who are collectively taking
responsibility for creating new systems of social
orientation, based on grassroots collective initiatives.
"Internet chatter", as the Times notes, is one form of
dialog, by which news and ideas can be shared with the
collective generally.

One way that an initiative that begins with riots can turn
into something bigger is for other constituencies to rise
up in sympathy -- for the collective to broaden its base.
In order to minimize that possibility, the Matrix media
always demonizes rioters and protestors. As Chirac puts
it: "those who want to sow violence or fear". 

   Wash. Post: French government: Interior Minister Nicolas
    Sarkozy, who has been considered the country's leading
    contender in the 2007 presidential elections. Last month,
    he recommended waging a "war without mercy" against
    criminals and other troublemakers in the poor areas.

In the case of New Orleans and Katrina, we were inundated
with reports of looting, shootings, and rapes by the
'dregs' -- most of which turned out to be exaggerated or
fabricated -- and outside sympathy was thereby minimized
(though by no means eliminated):

One of the reasons I continue to spend so much time
publicizing 'how bad things are' is because I believe that
the path to our salvation lies through hopelessness. Until
we give up, entirely, on any hope of the system ever
working, or responding to our demands and activism, we
will not turn to ourselves, and to one another, for
creating the social forms that can replace the toxic
machine.

And the reason I try to unmask the Matrix is so that we
can see that 'the system' is not merely dysfunctional, but
is intentionally operated by intelligent people who have
lots of power, who are flexible in using that power, and
who want things to develop the way they are developing.
They don't care what happens to the 'dregs' -- the rest of
us.

Once we realize that our situation is hopeless, and then
realize that everyone else is in the same situation, we
can see that 'we are all in this together', and begin to
see that by making all of us dregs, our leaders have
turned us into a majority constituency -- if only we can
overcome our Matrix-encouraged divisiveness.

rkm


--------------------------------------------------------
http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/07/international/europe/07france.html


November 7, 2005 

10 Officers Shot as Riots Worsen in French Cities 
By CRAIG S. SMITH 

PARIS, Monday, Nov. 7 - Rioters fired shotguns at the
police in a working-class suburb of Paris on Sunday,
wounding 10 officers as the country's fast-spreading urban
unrest escalated dangerously. Just hours earlier,
President Jacques Chirac called an emergency meeting of
top security officials and promised increased police
pressure to confront the violence.

"The republic is completely determined to be stronger than
those who want to sow violence or fear," Mr. Chirac said
at a news conference in the courtyard of Élysée Palace 
after meeting with his internal security council. "The
last word must be from the law."

But the violence, which has become one of the most serious
challenges to governmental authority here in nearly 40
years, showed no sign of abating, and Sunday was the first
day that police officers had been wounded by gunfire in
the unrest. More than 3,300 vehicles have been destroyed,
along with dozens of public buildings and private
businesses, since the violence began.

"This is just the beginning," said Moussa Diallo, 22, a
tall, unemployed French-African man in Clichy-sous-Bois,
the working-class Parisian suburb where the violence
started Oct. 27. "It's not going to end until there are
two policemen dead."

He was referring to the two teenage boys, one of
Mauritanian origin and the other of Tunisian origin, whose
accidental deaths while hiding from the police touched off
the unrest, reflecting longstanding anger among many
immigrant families here over joblessness and
discrimination. Mr. Diallo did not say whether he had
taken part in the vandalism.

On Saturday night alone, the tally in the rioting reached
a peak of 1,300 vehicles burned, stretching into the heart
of Paris, where 35 vehicles were destroyed, and touching a
dozen other cities across the country.

Fires were burning in several places on Sunday night and
hundreds of youths were reported to have clashed with the
police in Grigny, a southern suburb of Paris  where the
shooting took place. On Saturday night, a car was rammed
into the front of a McDonald's restaurant in the town.

"We have 10 policemen that were hit by gunfire in Grigny,
and two of them are in the hospital," Patrick Hamon, a
national police spokesman, said Monday morning.

He said one of the officers hospitalized had been hit in
the neck, the other in the leg, but added that neither
wound was considered life-threatening.

Rampaging youths have attacked the police and property in
cities as far away as Toulouse and Marseille and in the
resort towns of Cannes and Nice in the south, the
industrial city of Lille in the north and Strasbourg to
the east.

In Évreux, 60 miles west of Paris, shops, businesses, a
post office and two schools were destroyed, along with at
least 50 vehicles, in Saturday night's most concentrated
attacks. Five police officers and three firefighters were
injured in clashes with young rioters, a national police
spokesman said.

Despite help from thousands of reinforcements, the police
appeared powerless to stop the mayhem. As they apply
pressure in one area, the attacks slip away to another.

On Sunday, a gaping hole exposed a charred wooden
staircase of a smoke-blackened building in the historic
Marais district of Paris, where a car was set ablaze the
previous night. Florent Besnard, 24, said he and a friend
had just turned into the quiet Rue Dupuis when they were
passed by two running youths. Within seconds, a car
farther up the street was engulfed in flames, its windows
popping and tires exploding as the fire spread to the
building and surrounding vehicles.

"I think it's going to continue," said Mr. Besnard, who is
unemployed.

The attack angered people in the neighborhood, which
includes the old Jewish quarter and is still a center of
Jewish life in the city. "We escaped from Romania with
nothing and came here and worked our fingers to the bone
and never asked for anything, never complained," said
Liliane Zump, a woman in her 70's, shaking with fury on
the street outside the scarred building.

While the arson is more common than in the past, it has
become a feature of life in the working-class suburbs,
peopled primarily by North African and West African
immigrants and their French-born children. Unemployment in
the neighborhoods is double and sometimes triple the 10
percent national average, while incomes are about 40
percent lower.

While everyone seems to agree that the latest violence was
touched off by the deaths of the teenagers last week, the
unrest no longer has much to do with the incident.

"It was a good excuse, but it's fun to set cars on fire,"
said Mohamed Hammouti, a 15-year-old boy in
Clichy-sous-Bois, sitting Sunday outside the gutted
remnants of a gymnasium near his home. Like many people
interviewed, he denied having participated in the
violence.

Most people said they sensed that the escalation of the
past few days had changed the rules of the game: besides
the number of attacks, the level of destruction has grown
sharply, with substantial businesses and public buildings
going down in flames. Besides the gunfire on Sunday,
residents of some high-rise apartment blocks have been
throwing steel boccie balls and improvised explosives at
national riot police officers patrolling below.

In the Parisian suburb of Aubervilliers early Sunday, with
smoke hanging in the air and a helicopter humming
overhead, a helmeted police officer in a flak jacket
carried a soft drink bottle gingerly away from where it
had landed near him and his colleagues moments before. The
bottle, half-filled with a clear liquid and nails, had
failed to explode.

Teenagers in neighboring Clichy-sous-Bois said they had
seen young men preparing similar devices with acid and
aluminum foil. "They make a huge bang," said Sofiane
Belkalem, 13.

The police  discovered what they described as a firebomb
factory in a building in Évry, south of Paris, in which
about 150 bombs were being constructed, a third of them
ready to use. Six minors were arrested.

Many politicians have warned that the unrest may be
coalescing into an organized movement, citing Internet
chatter that is urging other poor neighborhoods across
France to join in. But no one has emerged to take the lead
like Daniel Cohn-Bendit, known as Danny the Red, did
during the violent student protests that rocked the French
capital in 1968.

Though a majority of the youths committing the acts are
Muslim, and of African or North African origin, the mayhem
has yet to take on any ideological or religious overtones.
Youths in the neighborhoods say second-generation
Portuguese immigrants and even some children of native
French have taken part.

In an effort to stop the attacks and distance them from
Islam, France's most influential Islamic group issued a
religious edict, or fatwa,  condemning the violence. "It
is formally forbidden for any Muslim seeking divine grace
and satisfaction to participate in any action that blindly
hits private or public property or could constitute an
attack on someone's life," the fatwa said, citing the
Koran and the teachings of Muhammad.

Young people in the poor neighborhoods incubating the
violence have consistently complained that police
harassment is mainly to blame.  "If you're treated like a
dog, you react like a dog," said Mr. Diallo of
Clichy-sous-Bois, whose parents came to France from Mali
decades ago.

The youths have singled out the French interior minister,
Nicolas Sarkozy, complaining about his zero-tolerance
anticrime drive and dismissive talk. (He famously called
troublemakers in the poor neighborhoods dregs, using a
French slur that offended many people.)

But Mr. Sarkozy has not wavered, and after suffering
initial isolation within the government, with at least one
minister openly criticizing him, the government has closed
ranks around him. Mr. Chirac, who is under political and
popular pressure to stop the violence, said Sunday that
those responsible would face arrest and trial, echoing
earlier vows by Mr. Sarkozy. More than 500 people have
been arrested, some as young as 13.

The government response is as much a test between Mr.
Sarkozy and Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, both of
whom want to succeed Mr. Chirac as president, as it is a
test between the government and disaffected youths.

Mr. Villepin, a former foreign minister, has focused on a
more diplomatic approach, consulting widely with community
leaders and young second-generation immigrants to come up
with a promised "action plan" that he said would address
frustrations in the underprivileged neighborhoods. He has
released no details of the plan.

If the damage escalates and sympathy for the rioters
begins to fray, Mr. Sarkozy could well emerge the
politically stronger of the two.

Ariane Bernard contributed reporting for this article.

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company 

--------------------------------------------------------
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/11/05/AR2005110501515.html

washingtonpost.com 

    Rage of French Youth Is a Fight for Recognition
    
    Spreading Rampage in Country's Slums Is Rooted in
    Alienation and Abiding Government Neglect

By Molly Moore 
Washington Post Foreign Service 
Sunday, November 6, 2005; A01 

LE BLANC-MESNIL, France, Nov. 5 -- Mohammed Rezzoug,
caretaker of the municipal gymnasium and soccer field,
knows far more about the youths hurling firebombs and
torching cars on the streets of this Paris suburb than do
the police officers and French intelligence agents
struggling to nail the culprits.

He can identify most of the perpetrators. So can almost
everyone else in the neighborhoods that have been
attacked.

"They're my kids," said Rezzoug, a garrulous 45-year-old
with thinning black hair and skin the color of a walnut.

While French politicians say the violence now circling and
even entering the capital of France and spreading to towns
across the country is the work of organized criminal
gangs, the residents of Le Blanc-Mesnil know better. Many
of the rioters grew up playing soccer on Rezzoug's field.
They are the children of baggage handlers at nearby
Charles de Gaulle International Airport and cleaners at
the local schools.

"It's not a political revolution or a Muslim revolution,"
said Rezzoug. "There's a lot of rage. Through this
burning, they're saying, 'I exist, I'm here.' "

Such a dramatic demand for recognition underscores the
chasm between the fastest growing segment of France's
population and the staid political hierarchy that has been
inept at responding to societal shifts. The youths
rampaging through France's poorest neighborhoods are the
French-born children of African and Arab immigrants, the
most neglected of the country's citizens. A large
percentage are members of the Muslim community that
accounts for about 10 percent of France's 60 million
people.

One of Rezzoug's "kids" -- the countless youths who use
the sports facilities he oversees -- is a husky,
French-born 18-year-old whose parents moved here from
Ivory Coast. At 3 p.m. on Saturday, he'd just awakened and
ventured back onto the streets after a night of setting
cars ablaze.

"We want to change the government," he said, a black
baseball cap pulled low over large, chocolate-brown eyes
and an ebony face. "There's no way of getting their
attention. The only way to communicate is by burning."

Like other youths interviewed about their involvement in
the violence of the last 10 days, he spoke on the
condition he not be identified for fear the police would
arrest him.

But he and others described the nightly rampages without
fear, surrounded by groups of younger boys who listened
with rapt attention. A few yards away, older residents of
the neighborhood, many with gray hair, passed out notices
appealing for an end to the violence.

A man with wire-rimmed glasses handed one of the sheets to
the black-capped youth. He accepted the paper, glanced at
it and smiled respectfully at his elder. The boy then
carefully folded it in half and continued the conversation
about how the nightly targets are selected.

"We don't plan anything," he said. "We just hit whatever
we find at the moment."

In Le Blanc-Mesnil, halfway between the northern edge of
Paris's city limits and the country's largest airport,
youths have burned a gym, a youth center and scores of
cars and trucks. Residents here say the violence that
began in these northern suburbs on Oct. 27 is the worst
ever in these low-income neighborhoods and the most
widespread social unrest in France since student riots
nearly four decades ago.

Rezzoug said about 18 youths between the ages of 15 and 25
are responsible for most of the fires and attacks on
police in Le Blanc-Mesnil, though he said some young men
from neighboring towns have joined in the mayhem. The
youths said they dodge the authorities by splitting into
small groups, using their cellular telephones and text
messaging to alert each other to the location of police
and firefighters.

For the young men of Le Blanc-Mesnil and hundreds in other
impoverished suburbs, one man represents all they find
abhorrent in the French government: Interior Minister
Nicolas Sarkozy, who has been considered the country's
leading contender in the 2007 presidential elections. Last
month, he recommended waging a "war without mercy" against
criminals and other troublemakers in the poor areas.

A week later, two Muslim teenagers from the northern
suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois were electrocuted in a power
substation where they were hiding from police who they
believed were chasing them. French officials have said
police were not pursuing the youths. Their deaths
triggered the violence that quickly spread, particularly
when Sarkozy called the perpetrators of the violence
"scum" and "thugs."

"I'm a citizen of France, but I don't count," said an
athletic 28-year-old who identified himself only as Abdel.
With his trim black beard and short hair gelled into shiny
black wavelets, Abdel hovered on the edge of the circle
surrounding the youths who admitted to their involvement
in the violence.

"They call us maggots," added a thin teenager hunched
inside a thin polyester windbreaker that offered little
protection from the damp chill of a gray fall afternoon.

Beyond their hatred of Sarkozy, the youths involved in the
rampages and their companions offer a disparate list of
grievances against the government.

Abdel, echoing the anger of many of the youths, said he
resented the French government's efforts to thrust Muslim
leaders into the role of mediators between the police and
the violent demonstrators.

"This has nothing to do with religion," he said. "But
non-Muslims are afraid of people like me with a beard. I
look suspicious to them. Discrimination is all around us.
We live it every day. It's become a habit. It's in the
air."

He continued: "I grew up in France, yet I speak of God and
religion. I have a double culture. I belong to both. We
should stop the labeling."

Rezzoug, the caretaker, said he has seen local youths
struggle with deep personal conflicts caused by their dual
cultures. "They go to the mosque and pray," he said. "But
this is France, so they also drink and party."

"They also are out to prove to their parents and brothers
and uncles they can't take it any more," he said. "They're
burning the places where they play, where they sit --
they're burning their own playpens."

Le Blanc-Mesnil is not a community where youths aspire to
spend their lives. There is none of the glamour that most
of the world associates with Paris, just a 25-minute drive
or train ride away. It is an industrial city of boxy
apartment complexes and strip malls. In a nation where
unemployment has hovered at 10 percent this year, the
rates are here four to five times as high among people
under 25.

"We feel rejected, compared to the kids who live in better
neighborhoods," said Nasim, a chunky 16-year-old with
braces and acne. "Everything here is broken down and
abandoned. There's no place for the little kids to go."

As on most Saturday afternoons, there was little for Nasim
or his friends to do. They sauntered among the older
youths who spent the late afternoon hanging out on street
corners or the sidewalks in front of coffee shops.

Several of the older youths fingered pockets bulging with
plastic packets of hashish for sale or trade. As they read
local newspaper accounts of their previous night's
exploits, they began discussing Saturday night's plans
with more of an air of boredom than a commitment to a
cause.

"We don't have the American dream here," said Rezzoug, as
he surveyed the clusters of young men. "We don't even have
the French dream here."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company 

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