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ISSUE 119 VOL 9 PUBLISHED 11/18/2005

Riots reveal identity crisis

By Allie Helling
Contributing Writer


Friday, November 18, 2005

Over the past few weeks, France has experienced its worst civil unrest since the student and worker riots of May 1968. The tumult began the night of Oct. 27 in Clichy-sous-Bois, a poor suburb northeast of Paris populated mostly by Arab and African immigrants.

Rioting began in the suburb after two youths, aged 15 and 17, were accidentally electrocuted while apparently hiding from police in an electrical substation. As the news of the electrocutions spread, young people in Clichy-sous-Bois began to vandalize buildings and burn cars.

The violence that has spread to numerous cities across the country is continuing, though its intensity has subsided. Almost 5,000 vehicles have been set on fire and over 1,200 people have been arrested across the country.

The suburbs that are home to the great majority of France's immigrants are bleak, run-down and crime-ridden. Unemployment, especially among the young, is rampant.

While France's rate of national unemployment is currently about 10 percent, it is around 40 percent for young people in housing projects. Racial discrimination, though sometimes hard to identify, is also a cause for concern.

It is time for a critical evaluation of the integration of immigrants in France and across Europe. The poverty in the suburbs of France is mostly cyclical; young people have few routes to escape from it.

French immigrants in the suburbs often receive welfare assistance, yet they are largely marginalized and alienated from the rest of society. Few government programs exist to help the minority young integrate into mainstream.

The French republican ideal plays a part in this problem by ignoring differences between citizens in order to create a uniform French identity.

In contrast to the United States, which encourages and celebrates differences of religion and ethnicity, France's ideals impose conformity to a national and traditional French identity. In theory, these ideals will increase France's uniformity and guarantee national unity.

In recent weeks, a significant portion of France's population has been marginalized. The nation's government needs to take steps to reach out to this marginalized group.

Last week, Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin acknowledged that the country has not lived up to its ideals of equality, and said that France was at "a moment of truth."

Indeed, France is at a crossroads in its history, for the initiatives taken in the next few months have the possibility of radically changing the cycle of poverty and isolation within the immigrant population.

Yet, amidst the criticisms of the French government's actions in regards to its immigrant population, it is important to remember the complexity of the issue. To many, it is simply wrong for a state to allow the marginalization of a segment of its population or to allow poverty to exist.

Improving the lives of immigrants by creating jobs is often easier said than done. Other factors, including the constraints of the economy, are also important to remember.

The French governmentÂ’s actions over the next few months will soon be determined. But perhaps the most significant obstacle to improving the lives of the country's immigrants has already been achieved: bringing public attention to these issues.

Staff writer Allie Helling is a junior from Wausau, Wis. She majors in English and French.


Staff writer Allie Helling is a junior from Wausau, Wis. She majors in English and French.


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