A colleague of mine at work announced a week and a half ago that he was jetting off to Paris and wouldn't be back for two weeks. I hadn't really met him yet, so I walked down to his office to wish him well and chat a bit about France. His going to France made me somewhat nervous, because he happens to be blind. France is not the most handicapped-friendly place; here, we are lucky to have the Americans with Disabilities Act, which provides people with disabilities the opportunity to enjoy life as much as the rest of us. This hasn't exactly caught on over there. Sure, France is home to Louis Braille, who is responsibile for perhaps the greatest stride in communication for blind people, but that doesn't come in too handy when you're trying to cross the street and six thousand mopeds are barreling down the road toward you.
So, I was nervous for my co-worker.
Then, the riots broke out.
I am terrified for him now, especially because I know he was planning to venture immediately outside the city and explore a bit. I don't think he was planning to explore the HLMs, but still...he doesn't speak any French. He can't see anything, and when I heard about a disabled woman being burned to death while on public transportation, I was horrified. I hope he comes home safely.
It is hard for me to put into words how I feel about this. I can understand it from both angles, though it is hardly justifiable from either. You would think that the French state would have taken a lesson from the US, in what we as a nation experienced in the 60s with the Civil Rights Movement. It is true that there is a great deal of prejudice amongst Frenchmen of European descent against Frenchmen of African or Arab descent. These people are just as "French" and should have equal rights. It is such an ordeal for them to get their identification papers, that is no wonder that people have the time to go marauding through the streets and inciting violence.
Jacques Chirac should have recognized that the Paris banlieues were a powderkeg--anyone who has studied French postcolonial culture could have pointed that out. The discontent and hopelessness of life in the slummy suburbs has been dramatized in countless novels, films and plays. The plight of the post-colonial citizen is one of emptiness and despir, of rejection and life as a second-class citizen.
Give these people a chance at a real life, and the violence will stop.
I have more thoughts on this topic, but I will post them a bit later.