Riots in France. Racism and exploitation at the core

The riots themselves are not hard to fathom; several French commentators have said the only mystery is why they didn’t break out 15 years earlier. If you corral hundreds of thousands of the poor and disadvantaged into sink estates and suburbs in a misery doughnut around the city, expose them to unemployment rates of up to 40%, and then subject them to daily racial discrimination at the hands of employers and the police, you can hardly expect peace and tranquillity. Cut public spending on social programmes by 20% and you will guarantee an explosion. All you have to do is light the fuse.

And this fire has been building for decades. It was after the second world war that  France went shopping among its foreign colonies for labourers and factory workers. It brought these mainly Arab migrants in, then dumped them on the outskirts of the big cities. It did the same to the Harkis and the next waves of North African immigrants, warehousing them like an unwanted commodity in high-rise ghettoes on the périphérique, out of sight of the white folks of the city. And there they have stayed for a half century.

Yes, these riots are rooted in economic deprivation and urban decay. But they also have an ethnic, racial dimension. And France’s key problem is that it cannot face that fact. 

From Doug Ireland on the hard core racist insults being used by Sarkosy.

But Sarkozy only poured verbal kerosene on the flames, dismissing the ghetto youth in the most insulting and racist terms and calling for a policy of repression. "Sarko" made headlines with his declarations that he would "karcherise" the ghettos of "la racaille"– words the U.S. press, with glaring inadequaxcy, has translated to mean "clean" the ghettos of "scum." But these two words have an infinitely harsher and insulting flavor in French. "Karcher" is the well-known brand name of a system of cleaning surfaces by super-high-pressure sand-blasting or water-blasting that very violently peels away the outer skin of encrusted dirt — like pigeon-shit — even at the risk of damaging what’s underneath. To apply this term to young human beings and proffer it as a strategy is a verbally fascist insult and, as a policy proposed by an Interior Minister, is about as close as one can get to hollering "ethnic cleansing" without actually saying so.

It implies raw police power and force used very aggressively, with little regard for human rights. I wonder how many Anglo-American correspondents get the inflammatory, terribly vicious flavor of the word in French? The translation of "karcherise" by "clean"  just misses completely the provocative, incendiary violence of what Sarko was really saying. And "racaille" is infinitely more pejorative than "scum" to French-speakers — it has the flavor of characterizing an entire group of people as subhuman, inherently evil and criminal, worthless, and is, in other words, one of the most serious and dehumanizing insults one could launch at the rebellious ghetto youth. Kerosene, indeed.

Sarkosy is openly appealing to the far right, the fascist right. Yes, they have real live fascists (like Le Pen) in France.


  • Hi Bob,
    I read your page every morning and find it a wonderful source of information and am delighted that you also cover events this side of the pond but am a bit disapointed about thelack of cover given to the Falluja story and the use of chemical weapons in Iraq by the coalition” This must be one of the strogest points yet that furthers the anti-war stance.
    As always, yours in friendship,

  • Bob

    Thanks for the comments. I covered Falluja on Nov. 8,

    However, good point, I’ll blog more about it.

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