It is illegal for the French state to collect data on the racial and ethnic makeup of the country but within minutes of visiting any major city, it is clear there exists a significant North African population. During the world war, droves of workers were shipped over from the colonies and pumped into factories vacated by the young French men dying on the battlefields. Shocked by the concept that the Arabs who saw no benefit in returning home after months or years of work wished to settle in France, the government reluctantly allowed the workers to stay. Fearful that these very Arabs would take home ideals of liberty and progression realised in Europe, they were kept in camps where they would only have each other for company.
This became a phenomenon throughout the 20th century– the colonies were repeatedly called in to feed the French economy and were unenthusiastically rewarded with the right to remain in the lives they cultivated and with the families they had grown to love. By analysing the Islamic population of France at 5-10%, we can estimate the Arab demographics to be under 20%. The country was forced by the advancements of the European Union to address the issue of low living standards and slums that fenced immigrants until the 70s, consequently shifting these communities to state built accommodation.
These banlieues are frequently targeted by police, disproportionality lacking state support and the youth are increasingly disaffected. There is a long history of riots and protest regarding racial inequality and despite France’s century of Arab immigration, institutional racism remains prevalent. Many French made films still represent Arabs if not as the enemy, to be simple and ignorant. Crimes committed by members of the Arab community are zealously reported, focussing on race. During the case of Mohamed Merah, the government at the time singled out Arab communities and individuals whose poverty provides them with the key to support debilitating stereotypes. I became enraged and upset by the continuous negativity surrounding Arabs and frustrated at how some ‘justified’ profiling. It is up to all of French society to deal with these issues in a way more effective than their usual repetitious, unchallenging and scripted debates.
One must question if the state’s distaste for outside influence happens to be fueled by mass non-European immigration, Islamic influence or the very real costs of poverty and seclusion.
Sarkozy on Merah:
‘This crime was not one of madness, because madness takes no responsibility. This crime was one of a monster and a fanatic. To find a reason behind the actions of this fanatic, of this monster.Leave any understanding between yourselves for the reasons behind these actions, or worse, to look for the smallest excuse would be an unpardonably immoral. Those who tempted to involve themselves in the radical hostility against the republic. Those who want to fight her. Those who speak about him or his behaviour encourage fanaticism and embolden ideas against our values, should well understand, that the republic will never be in their respect any indulgence, we will give them nothing.In Afghanistan, our French soldiers who have fallen defending the world’s freedom, against fanaticism and terrorism. I say, to them, to abandon our allies the next day would be a betrayal, a betrayal to the memory of our soldiers, I would give reason to murderers and be a dishonour to France.’
La Haine, popular French film on life in the banlieues of Paris, following the lives of 3 friends; (Vinz, Said and Hubert):
Al Jazeera documentary (recommended):