The Intolerable – about the events in Clichy-Sous-Bois

by Laurent Lévy
Wednesday November 1st 2005

We now know that the young people who tragically met their deaths in an electrical substation in Clichy-sous-bois were not, to use the given expression, “well known to the police.” They were quiet young people who had no record of trouble. But the contrary is not true.

For their part, the young people knew the record of the police. They knew that if they had to go through one of those I.D. checks – as classic and vexing as they are useless – they ran the risk of having to spend a few hours at the police station, dealing with humiliation and contempt while they were there.

And they did not have time for that. They had to go home, because it was soon time to break the fast; they were looking forward to eating.

Why did the Minister of the Interrior make a point of saying that these events took place following an attempted theft? Doubtless, he wanted to play on the fantastic and disastrous idea that people have of the “suburbs,” an idea that he himself helps to spread. That they are lawless places ruled by criminals, threats to public safety, breeding grounds of delinquency.

If some young people die while fleeing the police, you might as well tell the good people that it is because they had done something wrong. Anything will do.

If the story takes place on the edge of a poor neighbourhood in the “inner suburbs” around Paris, it is because we’re dealing with “trash.”

And the Minister knows all about this! You can’t fool him! No doubt, he would use some “karcher” on Clichy in honour of “zero tolerance”. What we may doubt, though, is that we have the same idea of what is “tolerable” and what is not: after all, what is intolerable in a civilized society is not the revolt of those whose children, brothers and friends are hunted down and killed. What is intolerable is the arrogance of the authorities, of irresponsible police, of the State which is waging war against the poor.

Throughout these events the agents of the State have acted as if they were in a civil war.

In an egalitarian society this would have been unthinkable. When the Minister of the Interior sets the example by lying, one sees no reason why his subordinates should not follow suit. So a police officer goes an the radio and says that no tear gas was used against the mosque, that in fact it was the demonstrators who used “pepper spray grenades”, and that this is what stung some peoples’ eyes. Just like his boss knew full well that there had been no theft, this cop was fully aware of what we all learnt later on, namely that they were in fact tear gas grenades from the police that were used.

And so it was that during their prayers, on the Night of Destiny, that the Moslems of Clichy were given a chance to appreciate the efficiency of their country’s police. They have no need to fear for their safety. They got to see how the Flash-Balls work. They got to see the children running scared while their mothers, trying to protect them, were called “whores” and chased down the stairs by the Mr Sarkozy’s soldiers.

Those who did not know are now able to see what “colonial neighbourhood management” means. Tomorrow, it will be clear.

Tomorrow they will be told about the republic, about liberty, equality and fraternity. They will be reminded of how well respected and admired the country that produced the rights of man is all around the world. Tomorrow, the suburbs will be taken care of – and just wait til you see how!

The Minister has already set a date; every week he will visit a “sensitive neighbourhood,” for this is the new name for working class neighbourhoods. He’ll do what’s necessary. There will be units of riot police and special intervention squads. And yet, people were not asking so much: simply to be allowed to live. Of course, this was doubtless asking too much.

Laurent Lévy is author of Le spectre du communautarisme (éditions Amsterdam).


Please note that the below account of the past week’s riots in Clichy-Sous-Bois come from the website les mots sont importants and translated by yours truly. I have a “fast and loose” translation philosophy, meaning that when there is a choice between readability and the original phraseology i tend to favour the former, provided that the meaning stays the same. The original document can be seen in French.

This originally came from my blog - Sketchy Thoughts - and is one of a number of pieces i wrote or translated regarding the riots that rocked France in October and November 2005. To see the a complete list of such posts, i suggest you check out the 2005 Riots In France page on the Kersplebedeb site.

The document can also be viewed on my blog (where you can leave comments) here.

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