SUNDAY MAGAZINE

Fuelling anger

VAIJU NARAVANE

ACT RESPONSIBLY: Mere force will not do.

ACT RESPONSIBLY: Mere force will not do.  

PRIME Minister Dominique the Villepin while coming down on the rioters with a heavy hand also promised to unblock financing for social and educative associations that had been frozen under the last budget. The Government's stance throughout the crisis has been severely criticised, especially the invoking of a 1955 law first used to quell an Algerian insurgency and the hardline rhetoric adopted by the ambitious interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy whose remarks likening the inhabitants of the cit�s to "scum" further fuelled anger that was already running high. This state of emergency has been extended by another three months.

Mayor Claude Dilain is just one of several left wing mayors who refused to apply special curfew powers under the 1955 law. "Its application would have had the effect of dousing the fire with petrol, awakening painful memories of France's past behaviour towards Algerians. These poor ghettos concentrate all the ills of society and it is illusory to believe that these problems can be sorted out through "special credits" and allocation of funds that can be arbitrarily frozen from one budgetary exercise to another. In fact what these poor neighbourhoods need is the presence of the Republic in the best sense of the term, as the guarantor of equal rights and opportunities."

But with politicians like Le Pen baying for blood and a presidential election barely 18 months away, it is unlikely that the government will take anything more than timorous steps to attack a problem that runs really deep.

Shoving things under the carpet again with purely cosmetic measures would be dangerous, warns sociologist David Lepoutre: "I think the Republic needs to be shaken awake. I know the Anglo-Saxons and particularly the Americans are rubbing their hands in glee at our troubles, but our values and beliefs are strong. We need more solidarity and less selfishness and not in the goody two shoes sense of the term. The problem is not religious. Muslim fundamentalists are not at the bottom of these troubles although if we continue this way, putting sticking plaster on big gaping wounds, Islamic extremists may well step into the breach. The Republic must act, must assume its responsibilities, ensuring equality of opportunity, the same educational standards in the cit�s as in the bourgeois areas of central Paris. Not only must justice be done, it must be seen to be done. Urban renewal is important, but it'Meres not the only answer. That lies in profound structural changes — administrative, educational, social — and policies that are inclusive rather than exclusive so that these children feel they are the children of the Republic, equally loved and equally cherished, and not its step-children."