Fariz Allili looked out at the decaying tower blocks he calls the "ghetto". Grafitti cakes his entrance hall, there is no heating, the lift has been broken for months and unemployed youths loiter with nothing to do.Well, clearly they lack the skills to fdo anything about the heating or the lifts, but if they wanted to make a start, why not clean up that graffiti? Since they have 'nothing to do'?
Five years ago these estates in Clichy-sous-Bois on the edge of Paris exploded in riots that spread across France and led to a state of national emergency. The trigger for the violence was the death of two young boys electrocuted in a power substation while hiding from police.Really? Are we sure it wasn't the pitiless Western society that forced them to...
But the root cause was the hopelessness of a generation of young French people, ghettoised in dismal suburbs, marginalised and jobless because of their skin colour or their parents' immigrant origins.Whew! For a minute there, I wasn't sure if I really was reading the 'Guardian'...
But the president's anti-immigrant stance, aimed at securing him votes from the extreme-right Front National, is not so much about newcomers. It is about French society's problems coming to terms with its own diverse make-up.It's 'diverse make-up'? Isn't that quite a recent phenomenon?
When Angela Merkel declared that multiculturalism in Germany had "utterly failed", some saw it as a vindication of the French integrationist approach. Under the republican model, multiculturalism is seen as taboo. In France, once a French citizen you leave cultural and ethnic differences at the border and are theoretically seamlessly assimilated into the republic. Everyone is equal before a state that is blind to colour, race and religion.In other words, quite the opposite to the UK, where diversity is celebrated and enforced by printing of all council leaflets in a multitude of languages, and the proliferation of quangos and fakecharities ensures that no-one need consider themselves 'English' or 'British'.
And things are no better, are they?Welcome to Clichy-sous-Bois; twinned with Leeds...
Despite an outcry about the urban riots, some racially diverse estates in Clichy-sous-Bois still face over 40% unemployment for the under-25s. A recent study of French citizens with immigrant parents found that they suffered higher unemployment, fared worse at school and faced more discrimination than other French people. Over a third felt society did not accept them as being French.And they are getting worse:
Another leaked report for the prime minister's office warned of a "ghetto effect" in some schools where integration had failed and children were identifying more with religion and immigrant roots than being French.Sound familiar? It does to me:
Paradoxically these second- and third-generation French children, raised and schooled in the republican tradition, were less integrated than their often semi-literate immigrant grandparents who came from north and sub-Saharan Africa, Asia or southern Europe to work on building sites after the second world war.