Since January 2015, France has experienced three terrorist attacks that have rocked the nation – but the country has been a victim of Islamic-based terror attacks since the 1980s.
At some point, you need to ask why.
George Packer, a foreign correspondent for The New Yorker who covered the Iraq war, penned a piece titled “The Other France” and wondered, among other things, about France’s suburbs:
France has all kinds of suburbs, but the word for them, banlieues, has become pejorative, meaning slums dominated by immigrants.
Inside the banlieues are the cités: colossal concrete housing projects built during the postwar decades in the Brutalist style of Le Corbusier. Conceived as utopias for workers, they have become concentrations of poverty and social isolation. The cités and their occupants are the subject of anxious and angry discussion in France.
Sounds familiar, surely? Packer went on and explained the context of the tensions between some French people and families who came over from Algeria:
When Algeria was settled by Europeans, in the early nineteenth century, it became part of greater France, and remained so until 1962, when independence was achieved, after an eight-year war in which seven hundred thousand people died. It’s hard to overstate how heavily this intimate, sad history has been repressed.
‘The Battle of Algiers,’ the filmmaker Gillo Pontecorvo’s neo-realist masterpiece about insurgency, counterinsurgency, terrorism, and torture in Algiers, was banned in France for five years after its release, in 1966, and it remains taboo there.
On October 17, 1961, during demonstrations by pro-independence Algerians in Paris and its suburbs, the French police killed some two hundred people, throwing many bodies off bridges into the Seine.
It took forty years for France to acknowledge that this massacre had occurred, and the incident remains barely mentioned in schools. Young people in the banlieues told me that colonial history is cursorily taught, and literature from former colonies hardly read.
That same otherness can be experienced by any immigrant to the country, but Andrew Hussey, a British scholar at the University of London School of Advanced Study in Paris, told Packer:
The kids in the banlieues live in this perpetual present of weed, girls, gangsters, Islam. They have no sense of history, no sense of where they come from in North Africa, other than localized bits of Arabic that they don’t understand, bits of Islam that don’t really make sense.
While the idea of a Paris with croissants, berets, love, and Coco Chanel is constantly romanticised, there is a harsh undertone of racial inequality and being pure French is better than anything else.
Some serious work needs to be undertaken in an effort to level out the playing field. I mean, they don’t even teach the French Revolution.
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