Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “A riot is the language of the unheard.” This saying was proven true when the most desolate participated in the recent riots that shook France.
The country has not witnessed this type of uproar since the riots in 1968 that centered around student strikes. Today’s riots are vastly different from those of 1968. While the latter consisted of supporters that transcended social distinctions, the recent riots consist of the most unprivileged.
The recent riots started on Oct. 27 in the Parisian suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois, after the tragic death of two teenagers of African origin, and soon spread throughout France.
The controversial Interior Minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, was right by calling the angry youths “scum” insofar that they are among the poorest and most discriminated against people in all of France.
Although the flames have cooled, it is certainly tragic that the violence has gone too far and must be condemned. But one must not fail to realize the fact that those who participated in this violence have legitimate concerns and complaints. They have taken their place in history amongst the most wretched who, unfortunately, have manifested their miseries into fire.
The proposed ideals after the French Revolution, “liberte, egalite, fraternite”, have indeed failed to apply to the poor immigrants and their descendants, mostly of Muslim and North African descent. One is instantly reminded of George Orwell’s Animal Farm when he wrote the wise words: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” These minorities have complained about unfair treatment in housing, education, jobs, and treatment by police officers.
It is very similar, though certainly more obvious, to what African Americans are facing in the United States. Just because of their heritage, doors become closed. Jacques and Richard are more likely to get hired than Muhammad or Jamal.
Although the rioters may provide more harm than good, they are definitely making their voices loud and clear to French politicians.
According to CNN, on Nov. 10, French President Jacques Chirac admitted that there was disparity in the indigent areas by saying, “There is a need to respond strongly and rapidly to the undeniable problems faced by many residents of underprivileged neighborhoods around our cities.” Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin promised to concoct a plan that will aid the most desolate neighborhoods. Time magazine stated that the majority “of France’s estimated 5 million Muslims feel the country has promised more than it has delivered. Not surprisingly, despair and anger run deep.”
In order to curb violence, the French government reintroduced a 1955 law aimed at giving local officials the power to declare curfews because of the trouble that arose from the Algerian situation. Although it seems that the fuel of the violence is declining because the curfews, there is always a chance that it will come back.
Some of the provisions of the law, along with Sarkozy’s rhetoric, are extremely harsh and may cause more anger and resentment among the minorities.
It is extremely unfortunate that nurseries, cars, and lives have been destroyed by the violence. It would have been better if the rioters had organized and marched in mass peaceful protests instead of resorting to violence.
However, it is hard to understand the psyche of the desolate.
Hopefully, the French people will gather and start a dialogue concerning the disparities in poor areas and alienation that runs high among youthful minorities.
This way they can pave a road towards reconciliation and combat the barriers that prevent minorities from being accepted in France.