Just Above Sunset
November 20, 2005 - A Note to London from Paris via Hollywood

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The last issue of Just Above Sunset had been posted last Sunday around midnight, Pacific Time, and there was an immediate response to Mick McCahill's "Our Man in London" column on the ongoing riots in riots in France as seen from the UK - Vive La Difference.

The response comes from "Our Man in Paris," Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis.

Mike says this:


The odd thing is just how far outwards. There are two things I've found bizarre about the French riots, and I'm hoping someone can explain either or both of them to me. Firstly, that the rioting has spread to such relatively calm, sleepy bourgeois destinations as Rouen, favoured spot for many a English school trip over the years. The other odd fact is just how precise details of the rioting have been. The other morning, the BBC's electronic text service Ceefax was reporting that "408 cars have been torched overnight". Either the rioters have been keeping count, or the journalists covering the story have been unusually precise in their reporting. And what were 400-plus cars still doing out on the streets, given the combustible nature of the nights which preceded it?"


As a reply for Mike McCahill, Ric offers this:



Rouen - has public housing estates just like every other French city. The situation in the HLMs away from Paris may be more hopeless - less optimistic - because the great Paris pot is not merely a metro or RER ride distant. There is simply less opportunity than in the Paris area.

'HLM' - habitation with moderate rent, or, council housing. In Paris, much sought by the vast lower middle-class, for fair rent/size value. Waiting lists are long. The poor face several kinds of discrimination hindering access - they don't have enough family income is a common one; the suburbs are cheaper. Consumer and anti-racist organizations turn up racial discrimination occasionally. It's against the law so it's concealed.

Precise Details

Precise details for the numbers of vehicles fried and arrests come daily from the head of the national police. Between the lines I read I suspect that there is a daily press conference, giving the details that the minister of the interior wants known. Number of convictions, as opposed to arrests, are not given so systematically. The minister likes high numbers.

As for owners leaving their cars where they can be attacked - the HLM estates have free, and usually assigned, parking. If not parked near where their owners live - where else then? France is not a big parking lot.

This raises another question - if there are so many police mobilized, for this emergency, how is it that so many cars can be destroyed? Or, put another way - how many cars are saved from destruction by police? Residents are increasingly out in the parking lots defending their property - except where they are forced to stay in because of local curfews.

A startling number has emerged - on average 80 cars are torched daily in the area around Paris, according to police. Apparently there are few arrests because first the cars are stolen, then joyridden, then torched. Perps seem to be seldom caught in the act.

Another unanswered question - what, exactly, do all the police do when they are not facing urban unrest? This weekend there are an extra 3000 police on duty in Paris - in case of an attack from the suburbs. Routes into the city are being watched. This is supposedly the result of reading other people's online mail, Web sites, telephone SMS messages. There are a lot of police in France but nobody knows what most of them are doing in 'normal' times.

Lacking facts, we live with a blurred reality, in France.


It's odd to be moderating an exchange between Paris and London from Hollywood, but why not?

Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, adds this –



Then again, this exchange began with your photo of "no cruising" zones in Hollywood, to which Ric replied that in his country, young guys have taken to burning cars (it was that first night of trouble, as I recall) instead of riding around in them to look at each other. [That is here. - AMP] I remember being tempted to return that I wish we here might live in a country where young people weren't so spoiled and frivolous and took serious matters more seriously. It would have been a statement made in ironic jest, of course, and now I'm glad I didn't make it.

But the Tale, I suppose, need not be one only of Two Cities, so to speak. The fact that the noise has spread to Belgium and Germany says it could spread through that tunnel under the channel, and causes one wonder if it's of a nature that might bring it even to the states, no?

Since the early and simpler story of it being all about pissed-off Muslims, the latest - probably smug - narrative to emerge here seems to the be that the land that gave a home to Josephine Baker where she seemed to have lost one in America, in fact, probably tries a bit too hard at equalité, and allows so much injustice to occur under the cloak of color blindness. After all, throughout it's history, hasn't the second land of liberty found itself constantly behind barricades, a stream of violent episodes that all run together into one big blur of undistinguished revolution that someone will eventually turn into an epic novel or heroic musical for the Broadway stage?

If this is true, I will feel much more comfortable allowing emigrant and native cultures to "celebrate" their pride than I've previously allowed myself. But somehow, I can't be so sure this idea that the French are just too preoccupied with idealism to deal with the reality of their existence is the true answer as to why this is all happening.

In short, is this a French thing? A European thing? Just something Americans will not be able to sink their teeth into, and something that they will eventually demand that our TV news shows stop showing, since it only serves to remind us how stupid we are about what's going on in the rest of the world?


Well, there seems to be no political agenda with those rioting in France, much less an Islamic agenda. Anyone seen a manifesto - some clear demands? The right-wing reaction over here - that this proves the Islamic hoards are coming for our women or whatever - posits something for which there is no evidence.

These rioters don't want to bring down the state - they seem to want some share in the state and just a few of the goodies. Disenfranchised and alienated beyond anything Camus imagined - remember where he was born - it seems to be "burn it all down" time. The excluded know they're not going to get any such thing. Hell, burn it all. At least one expresses one's frustration.

Yes, 1992 in Los Angeles. Same thing.

"The fact that the noise has spread to Belgium and Germany says it could spread through that tunnel under the channel, and causes one wonder if it's of a nature that might bring it even to the states, no?"

That is already a concern. Langston Hughes ended the poem about the "raisin in the sun" with "or does it explode?" - as this is not new. See A Dream Deferred, of course. That's from 1951.


French Riots Raise Spectre of Los Angeles Violence
AFP - Sunday, 13 November 2005 11:21:00 GMT


The explosion of urban violence in France has raised fears that Los Angeles, rocked by riots in 1992, could again fall prey to unrest as still-festering problems spawn the "quiet riots" of gang warfare.

Many of the same social, economic and racial tensions that led to the worst riots in US history remain rampant, generating anger, frustration, disaffection, street gangs and crime that could turn into full blown rioting if ignited by the right spark, experts and community leaders warned.

"All this is tinder for social and political unrest and, in America's urban ghettos and barrios, the frustration can lead to riots, triggered by an incident of police abuse or something else, as also happened in France," said Peter Dreier, politics professor at Occidental College in Los Angeles.

"While cars are burning on the streets of France, we in the US are experiencing the 'quiet riots' every day: suicides, gangs, alcoholism, drug use and other self-destructive behaviors.

"They don't explode like civil disobedience but they are result of the same sense of social frustration and they are with us every day," said Dreier, who is also director of Occidental's Urban and Environmental Policy Program. ...


Don't the French have an expression about how the more things change the more they remain the same?


Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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This issue updated and published on...

Paris readers add nine hours....