Paris is Burning: Racism and Repression Explode in Week of Uprisings


Paris Uprising 2005
Paris Uprising 2005

Africans living and working in Paris have been pushed into ghettoized suburbs of Paris (banlieue), where the state has withdrawn education, health, and other services, while increasing police presence, checkpoints, raids on sans-papiers and levels of oppression in general. This week the suburbs have exploded.

The trigger came on Thursday, October 27th, 2005, as a group of 10 highschool kids were playing soccer in the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois. When police arrived to do ID checks, the kids ran away and hid, because some of them had no ID. Three of the children hid in an electrical transformer building of EDF and were electrocuted. Two of them, Ziad Benn (17) and Banou Traoré (15), died; the third, Metin (21), was severely injured.

On Saturday morning, 1000 joined in a march organised by religious associations and mosques in Clichy-sous-Bois. Representatives of the Muslim community appealed for calm and marchers wore T-shirts saying mort pour rien ("dead for nothing"). The mayor of Clichy, Claude Dilain, called for an enquiry into the deaths of the two boys. All eyes were on Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy. The response? As people were gathering in the mosques for the Night of Destiny, the most sacred night in the month of Ramadan, a night people usually spent at the mosque, the empty streets of the Cité du Chêne Pointu filled with about 400 CRS militant riot police and gendarmes, blocking off the neighborhood. Yet very few people allowed themselves to be provoked into breaking the sanctity of this night, despite racist insults from the police.

On Sunday, however, provocation turned into outrage as the women's prayer room at de Bousquets mosque was teargassed by police. As people stumbled out gasping for air, the policemen called the women "whores", "bitches" and other insults.

[ Reports from Paris IMC (fr): one | two | three | four ] [ Eyewitness account in English: UK IMC kersplebedeb ]

Ever since that night, Clichy-sous-Bois has been burning, with the insurrection spreading on Monday to Seine-Saint-Denis and on Tuesday night (November 1st) to nine other Parisian suburbs. A week after the death of the two boys, the uprising is spreading throughout France -- to Dijon, Bouches-du-Rhone and Rouen.

In a press conference held on Monday, community-based activists named the causes of the continuing unrest: "Clichy is one of the poorest municipalities in France and community groups have less and less money to work with." Things are tense as the press conference draws to a close: young people share their stories, women explain what they experienced and saw first hand. A common theme in all these accounts is anger at the police, who are carrying out more and more foolish – and often illegal – "muscular" interventions, and at the authorities in the ministry who are not condemning the gas attack against the mosque.

There was a consensus that, in order to calm things down, the police should leave the area... instead, Minister Sarkozy has announced a "zero tolerance" policy, labelling the suburban youth as "scum" and vowing to "clean out" troubled suburbs. Sarkozy's position has divided the cabinet, with Prime Minister de Villepin apparently rebuking Mr Sarkozy.

add a comment on this article

Pandering to Criminals Helps No one

CheisDead 05.Nov.2005 18:23

Is there any criminal whom you guys will not support? Are you really a bunch of anarchists? No wonder you are on the fringe of society. Your account of events is highly suspect at best, select; baised and fabricated at worst.

The French continue cowtail to religious extremist in the hope they will be left alone. That is not the case. Islamo-fascist seek only thing...the destruction of the West, and all freedoms (including free press like this site).

There is NO excuse for the vandalizing, looting, burning, and violence a bunch of testerone charge religous extremist have caused. Arrest them, charge them and sentence them. If they are illegals send them back to their countries. Enough of this bullshit!

- CheisDead
Celebrating the death of a xenophob, facist and murdering psychopath.

read abroad before commenting within

Tom 06.Nov.2005 05:40

Hey buddy,
I think your missing all the info out here on these issues right now. THe problem in france is not right wing islamic militants. Its minorities who are being discriminated against and face racism on a daily basis. The poor of the poor here. There treated like skum. If you would take a minute to read any of the "middle of the path" media out there, you'd see this information also. Try reading jackass.

Secondly, how are they supporting them. From the way i read it, there simply telling the story from the perspective of the people who live in those poor suburbs and trying to explain how what started as a peaceful assembly turned into a violent one.

I hadnt heard anything about a gassing of a mosque, so its to be researched, but just try and take some insight from this, rather than rambling like an idiot.


Mr Bastardo 06.Nov.2005 05:59

CheIsDead is correct. This is not class warfare, but an invasion. Europe is being invaded, in her moment of weakness, by the Mohammedan hordes, who are determined to make Europe an Islamic state, and revert us to barbarism, just as they did with the previously Christian and Jewish parts of the Middle East. Whether in the name of Christianity, or of the Enlightenment, Europe must resist this onslought: by converting the Islamists if possible, or expelling them if necessary.

Those who cant think shouldn't speak ...

systemBuilder - USA 06.Nov.2005 08:01

The death of two high school kids merely for being illegal immigrants is a tragedy, but the government didn't have to follow this up with A LIE (that there had been a theft) and then the police action of teargassing a mosque on the most holy night of the muslim year is HITLERISM PERSONIFIED.

Let's see how you act when someone teargasses your church during Christmas Mass.

Let's see how you act when someone teargasses your synagogue during Passover or Yom Kippur.

Your comment shows an alarming degree of ignorance, and a malevolent intent to deceive others.

Disregard the preceeding racist statements

anonymous 06.Nov.2005 08:31

They are made by paid police agents seeking to provoke people. They are irrelevent here; however, should you find them in a demo trying to set you up don't hesitate to follow the example of Autonomia Operaia and deal them some counter-power.

Shame on you

Ray of Hope 06.Nov.2005 11:51

The underlying facts in all violence and riots are poverty, unemployment and ignorance. Religion has nothing to do with it. Paris was just waiting to happen and once incident triggered it. be it a muslim or any other religion, people would have reacted the same way. It was always coming....

its a shame that people discuss religion and try to relate everything to it.

Idiot and criminal

Pierre 06.Nov.2005 14:01

You are an idiot and a criminal (by publishing downright lies). France has spent fortunes of taxpayers' money on this scum that doesn't want to be assimilated, hates the West and only wants to live on wellfare (and many times, also, on drug dealing and prostitution). Europe has reached this situation in great part because of idiots like you. How much was your Al Qaeda's last payroll cheque?

Video de agresiones policiales en Paris: los keuf de Sarko

ptqk 06.Nov.2005 14:32

En este link se puede descargar un video grabado con telefóno móvil en el que se ve a varios policías de civil disparar a un grupo de jóvenes. Los disparos se realizan con balas de corcho a pocos metros de distancia. El video circula estos días por los barrios de la banlieu y webs activistas.

social protests

- 06.Nov.2005 15:03

solidarity greetings from switzerland. it will also start here.

paris,paris-no justice no peace!

I like the way people react to it!

anonymous 06.Nov.2005 16:55

I like the way poeple react! Come on! there is riot in France, people talk about muslims taking over Europe! Isn't that stupid? Some even think that they should expell "bad" guys and then probably bomb them all together so that "good" guys can live in their very peace in Europe! What the shit is spinning in their mind? How blind or ignorant you should be not to see other poeple, feel their pain and consider them as human... A human can feel others, maybe you are not!

With Pure Heart

Attila 06.Nov.2005 17:06

With Pure Heart

Got no father and no mother
No kisses and no lover
No home country and no god
No cradle and no tomb

Last three days got naught to eat
Not a lot and not a bit
Twenty years are all my power
And I'm lookin' for a buyer

And if that has no appeal
Let the devil have the deal
With a pure heart I will plunder
If needed be, I will murder

I'll get caught and I'll get gallowed
Then with bless'd earth I get covered
Deadly grass will spring and rise
From my heart, so pure and nice


Dr Bastardo 06.Nov.2005 17:39

You guys are very deluded if you think this is some kind of proletarian uprising - the people the estate are incredibly rich by historical standards; they have cell phones, access to email, supplies from the French government. With respect to access to resources, they have no reason to complain, and, even if they did, there are many native French suburbs at similar levels of poverty which are not about to riot.

Religeon, culture, and ethnic identity are the major causes of violence, rioting, and the like in the world today. This is especially true of Islam. In every part of the world where Islam borders another culture - Europe, Israel, Chechenya, Kashmir, Indonesia, etc etc - there are similar bombings, riots and violence in the name of Mohammed. I don't know what the solution is, but we need to find some way of counteracting the Islamists, who seem to be intent on returning the world to a new dark age.

Look Again..

sincere 06.Nov.2005 20:13

It's sad it had to come down to violence, but if this article is accurate, then France had it coming.

This rioting is not without a valid cause. There are certain things that may very well validate violence, such as self defense and survival!

In this case, this social class is continually harassed by police. They have been denied basic health care among other things, and while the government ignored the consequences of their actions, anger inevitably rose up within the hearts of that community. The two innocent children who ran away in fear of the police and were sadly killed, was just the last straw. The government fanned the flame even further by trying to cover the story up with a lie!

They don't each want a million dollar pay check...they want health care, and education; they want to be treated as humans, not subhuman. These people work for crying out loud.

Here it is again..

"Africans living and working in Paris have been pushed into ghettoized suburbs of Paris (banlieue), where the state has withdrawn education, health, and other services, while increasing police presence, checkpoints, raids on sans-papiers and levels of oppression in general. This week the suburbs have exploded."


proletarian uprising is a good term :-)

prolo 06.Nov.2005 20:30

> You guys are very deluded if you think this is some kind of proletarian uprising

"Proletarian uprising" is actually quite a good description. The two kids who panicked did so for a reason: systematic oppression.

> Religeon, culture, and ethnic identity are the major causes of violence, rioting,

Ethnic identity is part of the reason for the oppression. But it remains a fact that the French state is in violation of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights by accepting a market economy model rather than seeking an economic model which is consistent with human rights. In the sense that defending human rights is part of politics, these car burnings are a systematic political action against the capitalist system.

> there are similar bombings, riots and violence in the name of Mohammed.

There are similar bombings, assassinations, mass murders and torture in the name of the Christian God and the Jewish God as well.

> I don't know what the solution is, but we need to find some way of counteracting the Islamists, who seem to be intent on returning the world to a new dark age.

Your statement is correct, but it's changing the subject.

True, we do need to counteract the Islamists.

Also true: this uprising has nothing to do with Islamists (islamic fundamentalists). In this case, islam is only an identifying symbol, like a label stuck onto people which helps them group together in certain ways (but is also problematic).

Method of counteracting the islamists = first stop occupation and invasion of islamic countries, second provide compensation for the colonial era, third allow islamic countries to develop their democracies by *not* threatening military attacks against them.

People in islamic countries mostly want democracy, and fundamentalist islamic parties generally lose electoral support fairly quickly. The "moderate" islamic parties do retain support, just as "moderate" christian groups retain support in the West - but in each case, they are pushed towards allowing more and more individual freedom to the extent that people organise locally, participate in the political process in all sorts of ways, including in demonstrations, etc. Indonesia, India, Iran, Lebanon, Bangladesh - there are plenty of islamic countries which are more or less democratic.

geographical spread - 5 November

wikipedia 06.Nov.2005 20:37

around Paris
around Paris

around France
around France

geographical spread of the anti-capitalist, anti-racist uprising - Parisian suburbs; around France

Criminal behavior

c.smith 06.Nov.2005 22:47

The rioters' behavior has made it impossible for their actions to be considered a political statement -- building schools, nearly burning a disabled woman to death (,11882,1635043,00.html), blocking ambulances, destroying the cars and property of people in their own community (many as poor as themselves).... They are acting like criminals and should be treated as such.

Their actions will only lead to a large and repressive backlash against their communities. Soon enough, we’ll likely see the military called in.

Wikipedia , "The Online Encyclopedia" Article on the Paris Riots

T.Rios 07.Nov.2005 02:20

Wikipedia has a constantly updated article on the events.

Do Not Throw The Baby Out With The Bathwater!

Makhno 07.Nov.2005 03:13

This is in direct response to C. Smith's post on the subject:

While I agree with many of your criticisms about the uprising, you seem far too eager to throw the baby out with the bathwater. In these riots, as in all riots, some very negative things are going to take place, like the examples you brought up - burning schools, lighting that woman on fire or burning peoples' cars or small businesses. Absolutely reprehensible. However, we shouldn't kid ourselves into believing that these are the only things that have taken place. They're not just burning small businesses, they're burning police stations, police vehicles and government offices. At least some of this violence IS being directed towards the people it should be. And who am I to condemn it when that is the case?

To tell people they have no right to revolt is, I think, ridiculous. Particularly in France. However, what we ought to be stressing is that while we recognize their right to revolt, they ought to seriously consider what they're revolting against and choose their targets accordingly. Angry at the police? Focus on the police. Angry at the government? Focus on the government. That lady on the bus who got burned had nothing to do with it. Violence against random people helps nothing. Destruction of random peoples' property helps no one.

This provides a good opportunity for people in other areas of the globe to reassess their stance on different forms of protest/revolt, to have some serious dialogue about the morality of revolt, and to perhaps prevent these same types of random acts of violence in our own countries in the future. I'm not saying property will not be destroyed or people will not be hurt, but perhaps through an open, honest dialogue, MOST of the property that gets destroyed will be property of those responsible for the outrage, and the people who get hurt at least somewhat related to the issue (not random people on the street...).

Yes, pandering to criminals helps no one

Satan 07.Nov.2005 08:07

This is exactly the point. France is running a criminal enterprise by their ruthless treatment of minority populations and immigrants.

What exactly are you supposed to do when a government persistently and systematically commits violent crimes against your community? What most people do eventually is take up arms against their oppressor.

I am supposed to like muslims now?

Bob 07.Nov.2005 16:06

So we've seen islamic terrorists kill innocent people time and time again. Now muslims are torching innocent peoples cars, burning schools and people..... Are we now supposed to be sympathetic to muslims? I think not. I distrust them even more now. Nice job muhamed.

hey bob

Isaac 07.Nov.2005 17:10

I don't feel like getting in depth or really arguing with you at all.... but I would like to inform you that you are a fucking idiot.

What do you think is really happening?

Steve 07.Nov.2005 19:33

Do you think these rioting looters are going to walk all the way to Paris's affluent districts to burn cars, trash shops and attack police? No! They are attacking the homes of property of working class people and immigrants living in Paris's poor suburbs just like them. They aren't revolutionaries. They aren't heroes. They are opportunistic criminals who have no regard for their fellow man.

I understand Isaac

Bob 07.Nov.2005 20:19

I understand why you would not want to discuss anything, you do not have the intellect. No problem, I understand that your type exist.

Property destruction

T.Rios 07.Nov.2005 20:51

So far in 11 days only 1 person has been killed. Regrettable as that may be that is not a large number for such widespread conflict occurring in so many different localities. In fact the man killed was apparently attacked by a single assailant acting on his own accord and not by any group of assailants acting in concert. It's appears that by and large that property destruction is far outpacing violence against bystanders. Property unlike human life is of course replaceable.

video of undercover police shooting people

me 07.Nov.2005 23:19

video of french cops shooting people almost point blank

Fairweather Revolutionaries

Makhno 07.Nov.2005 23:21

In Response To: >>

As I said earlier, don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. Yes, there are many things that are condemnable happening in these riots but there are also many brazenly revolutionary moves being made with the torching of police stations, police cars and a variety of other government buildings. Does that excuse the torching of small businesses (depending on what they are) or the cars of random civilians? No. Never said it did. All I'm saying is that there has been both good and bad in this riot, like all riots. To condemn the whole works is idiocy. The fact that you're so eager to dismiss everything that's going on because it doesn't follow your ideology 100% is ridiculous and awfully shitheaded. Get off your high horse and realize that in revolution, you are not capable of controlling everything. Let go and give our brothers and sisters in the street some respect for a change.

Response to Fairweather Revolutionaries

Steve 08.Nov.2005 02:22

Makhno, your attitude towards the Paris rioters is what is responsible for imprisoned dissidents in Cuba, violent assaults on anti-Chavez demonstrators in Venezuela and, earlier in the 20ths century, the decimation of entire populations in the USSR and Maoist China. "Oh sure. Innocent people may be being assaulted and murdered, but it's okay as long as the intent and end result is progressive." The blood of the murdered man, the woman who was burned alive and scores of people who've been and continue to be robbed and/or assaulted by rioters is on the hands on not only these criminals, but on the people who openly support them. You are responsible as well. I support the French police, and am not afraid of being responsible for anything they do to stop these violent thugs.

IT'S RIGHT TO REBEL!!! - "The Fire in France"

"Revolution" newspaper; posted by Jaroslav 08.Nov.2005 03:17

Following is an article from latest issue of "Revolution" newspaper, published by Revolutionary Communist Party USA, website ; RCPUSA is part of Revolutionary Internationalist Movement along with Communist Party Nepal (Maoist) & many others, website

Pour infos revolutionnaires en francais:
- (journal "Un Monde A Gagner")
- (Parti Communiste Revolutionnaire du Canada (comites du organisation))


Revolution #022, November 13, 2005, posted at

As we go to press, the youth of France are on their tenth day of an uprising that began in the belt of impoverished suburbs that surround Paris.

The uprisings started in Clichy-sous-Bois, a working class suburb of Paris. On October 27, two teenagers, Bouna Traore, aged 15, and Zyed Benna, 17, on their way back from playing soccer by some accounts, ran from police and, clearly afraid for their lives, climbed the 9-foot barbed wire fence of an electrical substation and burned to death.

Fed up with intense and increasing discrimination and police brutality, largely immigrant and working class youth took the streets of their communities and refused to back down in the face of heavy police attacks.

The youth, mostly the children of Arab and African immigrants, have made burning cars their symbol--setting more than 2,000 cars and buses on fire in the first week of rebellion.

In one rally in one housing project, rebel youth demanded the resignation of Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy--who has made himself notorious by called immigrant youth "scum" and saying that suburbs need to be "scoured with industrial cleanser."

Sarkozy deployed the hated and brutal national riot police against the rebels-- including 1,000 into the suburbs north of Paris. And even with such invasions, the police have still not been able to maintain control after dark.

Night after night, the uprising has spread from Paris suburbs to other parts of France: to Rouen and Lille in the north, Marseille and Toulouse in the south, Rennes in the west, and Dijon and Strasbourg in the east.

France has more than 700 working class suburbs like Clichy-sous-Bois with the endless rows of aging apartment buildings, as shown in the film La Haine (Hate).

For decades, millions of immigrant workers were drawn to France to perform hard and degrading work for the lowest wages. And then, as the economy changed, many were simply thrown out of work and abandoned in these rundown housing projects outside the major cities.

Unemployment among immigrant communities have risen to 30 percent. The youth in particular face constant beatings and worse from the police. And the abuse has intensified because of a growing anti-immigrant climate in Europe, and in France in particular--where harassment and repressive laws are encouraged by government leaders and reactionary parties, often under the guise of protecting the country from "terrorism" and "Islamic extremism."

The response of the government officials and much of the media to the rebellion has been to escalate their calls for a crackdown on working class immigrants and the youth. The youth have been demonized as "gang members." The conservative newspaper Le Figaro claimed that the current rebellions "are the consequence of an uncontrolled immigration policy", echoing the demands of the fascist politician Jean-Marie Le Pen that France be "cleansed" of immigrants.

Arab and Muslim people are treated like criminals and unwelcome strangers--after their home countries were colonized by France, after their labor was exploited in France for decades, and even after many of the youth were born and raised in France.

This righteous rebellion is their answer: that they will not accept this mistreatment and that they demand profound changes in the direction France has taken.


"When you're an immigrant here, you're just stuck in your shit. Does it really surprise you it's going up in flames?"

Momo, Age 26, Aulnay-sous-Bois

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolution Online
Write: Box 3486, Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL 60654
Phone: 773-227-4066 Fax: 773-227-4497

To Steve

Makhno 08.Nov.2005 05:11

Steve, what is most striking about your post is your claim that if one supports SOME of the actions carried out SOME of the rioters, one is responsible for ALL of the actions carried out by ALL of the rioters - after which, you go on to voice your support for the French government and police. Frankly, I think your standards are bullshit, but my saying so in itself will not be enough to prove it to you. So let's do it this way: since those are the standards you're working with, let's apply them to you as well. Then we'll see how valid you honestly think they are.

You say if one supporters the actions of some of the rioters, once is responsible for the actions of all of the rioters. Ok, sure. You support the French government and police forces therefore, by your own standards, you're responsible for the actions of the French government and police forces. That means that through your innane praising of the French state and police forces, you're now responsible for the harassment, beating and jailing of young immigrants by French police forces, you're responsible for creating a climate of fear, hatred and racism so large it prompted young men to flee the police - which, in turn, led to their deaths, you're responsible of TEAR GASSING people as they gathered at a mosque for a rememberence service, etc. In short, by your own standards, by voicing your support for the French state and it's thugs, you're responsible for virtually everything that led up to this riot (including the years of oppression). Still think those are fair standards you're using? Because to me, in both instances, they look like bullshit.

You've gone on and made some pretty wild statements in this latest post which really need to be address: I never said all of the rioters had "progressive" intentions. I never, not once, justified attacking innocent people - in fact, if you'll re-read my posts, I openly condemned such acts. However, what I'm not going to do is sit here and say that if only these people had sat at home and wrote letters, things would have gotten better. That's bullshit and you know it. As I said earlier, which apparently you didn't read, some good has happened and continues to happen in this riot, just as some bad does. The best thing WE can do is to condemn the bad and praise the good. Because when the next riot breaks out here, I want to be fighting side by side with the type of people who will NOT torch random women.

Lets see...

Tom 08.Nov.2005 05:21

Let's see how you act when someone teargasses your synagogue during Passover or Yom Kippur. It is specifically because of Islamic extremism that every synagogue requires armed guards and police protection.

Having said that, on the tragic occasions when a synagogue has been bombed (forget tear gas) the Jews didn't spontaneously start setting fire to mosques or rioting in the streets.

Compare this to the culture of victimhood, mixed with a healthy dose of Jihadism which is now burning (literally) Paris. Your comparison is as flawed as your diagnosis of the real problems in France.Alleviating Muslim unemployment and poverty will not ultimately do anything to alter this rejection of European values by growing numbers of people who are only Europeans by way of geography, nothing else.A popular conservative columnist, Dr Jack Wheeler wrote: "The problem is not that these Moslem kids are unemployed, but that they are unemployable. They are illiterate, unskilled except in crime, don't speak French well, refuse to assimilate into French culture and think being Moslem is more important than being French. Worse, they are paid by the French welfare state not to work, living well off the dole (and crime). The problem was epitomized by these words of a young Moslem rioter to a French reporter: 'In the day we sleep, go see our girlfriends, and play video games. And in the evening we have a good time: we go and fight the police.'And if you don't believe it is an Islamic issue, rather a poverty one, then have a look at the video of rioters online here and explain why they are shouting "Allah Akhbar". Fifty francs says they aren't Buddhists...

Wisdom of the ages 08.Nov.2005 15:36

The Embrace - Frederick Douglass and John Brown
The Embrace - Frederick Douglass and John Brown

"Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe."

— Frederick Douglass

it would suck to be french today

RandomAnonymousAss 08.Nov.2005 17:22

The rioters probably regard anyone who isn't clearly one of their own as either passive or active supporters of a system that they feel oppresses them. That means everybody in France who is French (or looks French) and any or all infrastructure is a target. Old ladies in wheelchairs, the police, heck... probably anyone wearing a beret and eating a loaf of French bread is an instant target for retaliation. Not saying this is a good thing just that it is a reality.

Maybe if the French didn't want a bunch of angry ppl wandering through the streets with Molotov cocktails they wouldn't incite them to riot. There's a thought... don't systematically oppress ppl and piss them off and they won't feel the need to burn down your buildings and beat you up in the street.

what are you?

mapachi 08.Nov.2005 17:33

i cannot believe how blinded people are by their own hate and ignorance. people set against people over petty stupid shit that does not serve any purpose but to separate people even further from reality. reflect a little, and please realize your reaction would be different if your child died.

Le Pen

Le Pen 08.Nov.2005 21:21

I always thought these riots were bad until I realized that the French could have had Le Pen elected a while ago. The muslims will likely help him get elected next time around, which would be good for France.

keep fighting

graham 09.Nov.2005 05:15

the kids in here in the us wish we were there on the front lines with you. dont give up!

The revolt of France’s “low-class scum” lights up the sky

A World To Win News Service; posted by Jaroslav 09.Nov.2005 05:45

** The revolt of France’s “low-class scum” lights up the sky **

7 November 2005. A World to Win News Service. The rulers of France are facing their worst crisis in decades. Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin has invoked a half-century old law that has not been used since France’s colonial war in Algeria, allowing local authorities to declare a state of emergency and impose a curfew forbidding anyone to be on the streets at certain hours. Although de Villepin ruled out turning to the army at this point, his critics point out that once such measures are imposed, they can be taken as a challenge, and if sufficient force is not used to enforce them, the government could find its situation deteriorating still further. The problem, for them, is a revolt by the people France’s Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy called not human beings at all but racaille, rabble or low-class scum. The once-voiceless youth from the cités (housing estates or projects) have put themselves at the centre of events, and forced everyone else to define themselves in relation to them.

Shortly after he took his present job, Sarkozy declared “war without mercy” against the “riffraff” in France’s suburbs. He said he would take a Karcher, a high-pressure water hose most famously used to wash dog excrement off sidewalks and streets, to “clean out” the cités, home to much of the immigrant population and the lower section of the working class of all nationalities. This was not just talk. He unleashed his police to harass and humiliate youth even more than usual. It is common for young men walking down the street alone at night to be suddenly jumped by a carload of cops for an “identity check” that often means getting thrown on the ground, handcuffed if they open their mouth to protest, and slapped around. In recent weeks, the police have sharply stepped up this persecution. From time to time youths responded by burning cars at random, something that has become a common act of rebellion in France in recent years.

Their smouldering anger first burst into flames on 27 October in Clichy-sous-Bois, a suburb to the east of Paris formerly considered a quiet town. A group of young teenagers were coming home after an afternoon spent playing football. Later the police claimed that someone had tried to break into a construction site office in a vacant lot that lay in their path, although there are no offices on the lot, or anything of value. A carload of police showed up – the BAC, a special brigade whose job is to brutalise cité youth. The kids ran. Three of them tried to escape by climbing over a metre and a half-high wall. Several youth who had been arrested earlier and were being held in other police cars overheard the cops’ communications. One cop radioed in a report, saying they had seen some teenagers climbing over the wall into an electrical power substation. “They’re in mortal danger,” he said. “Well,” came the response, “they won’t get far.” Almost an hour later, the firemen’s rescue squad showed up and finally had the current cut off. They found two boys dead, and a third severely hurt.

Small groups of youth burned rubbish bins and cars and threw rocks and bottles at police that night. The next afternoon there was a silent march in solidarity with the families of the two dead youth, Bouna Traore and Zyed Benna. The media described them as 15 and 17 years old, although some local people say both were younger than reported. Bouna, whose family came from Mauritania, was known as a good soccer player. Zyed, of Tunisian origin, was considered a nice kid by older neighbours because he offered to run errands for them. The next night saw more local outbreaks on about the same level as the previous one.

In the following days, Sarkozy helicoptered into a nearby town – local youth say he didn’t dare come to Clichy. Striking his most macho pose, he ranted about “hoodlums” and racaille in what his critics and supporters alike took as a deliberate provocation. On 31 October, the police fired a tear gas grenade into a mosque crowded with worshippers celebrating an important night of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month. The effects lingered for the rest of the week. The authorities refused to apologize for anything. The parents of the two dead boys stood firm in the face of government efforts to conciliate them.

Instead of dying out after the weekend, the flames grew higher and spread. Hundreds of cars were burned and scores of people detained every night. A week later, as the fighting died down here, an even bigger clash between youth and police took place in nearby Aulnay-sous-Bois. Small groups of very young teenagers set cars on fire in some 20 towns around Paris, many of them in department 93, east and north of the capital. A police station, an unemployment office, big and little stores, two schools and a bus depot were burned down. By Friday 5 November, 900 cars had been burned in the Paris region; the next night flames consumed 500 cars in the Paris region and nearly 800 more in half a dozen cities across France from north to south.

With one possible exception, a retired autoworker killed in his parking lot in murky circumstances, there have been very few reports of the youth deliberately attacking ordinary people of any nationality in the cités or anywhere else, although a handful of bystanders have been hurt. In fact, there seems to be much less fighting between youth of different neighbourhoods than usual. The targets of the youth are very clear and not at all random in the broad sense: the police, the government and anything seen as its representatives, and the prevailing social order. Burning cars is a form of disorder and challenge to authority that the forces of order, as they call themselves in France, cannot tolerate.

The police answered with water cannons – Sarkozy’s Karcher, and especially rubber bullets, along with tear gas and clubs. Youth say the “flash ball” bullets really hurt, especially in the face or neck. On 4 November, for the first time in France, helicopters hovered just over the rooftops of massive public housing complexes in Paris and at least one other city. They shined searchlights onto walkways and into apartment windows, filming everything and coordinating mobile squads of police. But the tactics of the authorities have gone through stages. At first there were not many arrests. The police would sweep up everyone they could catch at a given scene, and later release most of them. The authorities seemed to be hoping the youth would lose heart, and worried about further inflaming them. Almost a week and a half later, with the youth becoming bolder than ever, Sarkozy proclaimed, “Arrests – that’s the key.” After that, hundreds were taken into custody every night. By 7 November about 20 had already been sentenced to prison and 30 more were awaiting trial for what the government threatens will be very serious charges. According to official figures, half of those in jail at that point were under 18, and almost all under 25.

The authorities are howling that the youth are “using real guns”, which would be unusual in France. In the only such incident reported, police in Grigny, south of Paris, said they were “ambushed” by groups of young men with baseball bats and guns. It turned out that two officers were slightly wounded by non-lethal birdshot. The police claimed they had found an empty real rifle shell on the ground afterward. This may be a way for the state to justify the use on their part of far more deadly force.

An editorial in the so-called leftist daily Libération claimed that the fighting is being “organised” by “gang kingpins eager to clear out the police so they can deal drugs, and by imams seeking cannon fodder for their jihad.” As far as the first charge is concerned, the press itself has quoted cité residents pointing out that serious dealers are not going to organise anything that disturbs business. As a man from Aulnay said, “It’s the state that’s very happy to see drugs flood into the ghettos.” The underground economy in all forms thrives in the cités, but that’s not what lies behind this outbreak.

Some politicians claim to see the hand of Al-Qaeda behind it all, which is a coded way of saying that the proper response to these youth’s actions is a bloodbath. But even the charge that it is a consciously Islamic upsurge or that imams are leading it is totally wrong. Muslim leaders in the cités have been sending out their followers to try and pour water on the outbreaks since the beginning. Even if they sympathise with the youth against the government, they are against what they consider unruly behaviour. The Union of French Islamic Organisations issued a fatwa (religious ruling) forbidding all Muslims to participate in or contribute to “any action that blindly hits private or public property or could constitute an attack on someone’s life.”

The French government’s attitude toward Islam is two-faced. It attacks the rights of Muslims under the guise of secularism. It banned women wearing a head covering from entering a school – as if depriving observant young Muslim women of an education is anything but racism and more oppression of women. At the same time, Sarkozy has spent great efforts to pull the imams under the government’s wing, so that the government presides over their appointment and financing, and in some ways turn them into an organised arm of the state to be used to control immigrant communities. In Aulnay, a woman remarked, “Every time something like this happens they build a new mosque. That’s not what all of us want.”

The basic problem with this revolt, as far as the powers that be are concerned, is not who is behind it, but that no one is. No one started it, so there is no one to call it off. The foreign media have exaggerated certain aspects of the fighting. There have been few full-scale pitched battles, and even the hit-and-run actions have left very few police seriously injured. Most youth most of the time seem to be avoiding head-on confrontations they feel they can’t win. The reason for the French government’s crisis is that whatever Sarkozy thought he was doing, the situation has gotten out of his or anyone else’s control. It has turned out to be not proof of the power of the state’s steel hand, as Sarkozy may have hoped, but of its limits and of the power of the streets. The state has been unable to stop these disturbances so far. Not only have their efforts failed; they have just fanned the flames, and worse, spread burning oil to every part of the country. Their state itself is not in danger, but the youth are contesting their authority.

The Minister of the Interior’s CRS, the national riot police, are said to be stretched thin and tiring. Significantly, an emergency meeting of ministers on 4 November included not only Sarkozy and the various ministers responsible for aspects of life in France’s ghettos, but also the Defence Minister. Calling out the army, however, may not be a solution either, especially in the longer run. In one town in department 93, a shopkeeper who was critical of the youths for destroying property explained why he thought the government was hesitant to bring in the regular armed forces. “If the army comes it, that’s it. I’m shutting down and so will every other shopkeeper in 93. No one will stand for that.” In fact, extreme hostility to such a government action would extend far more broadly than the department and its shopkeepers. It might create a polarisation in which many people who do not stand with the youth now would consider the government unacceptable. For historical reasons that have to do with the French state’s collaboration with the Nazi occupation and with the French colonial war in Algeria and the May 1968 revolt that rocked the country, dislike of the forces of order runs particularly broad and deep in France.

This crisis has had contradictory effects on the ruling classes and what in France is called “the political class”, those who take turns running the government. It has set them against one another at some moments, and pulled them apart at others. At first Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin tried to distance himself from his Interior Minister, Sarkozy, a political rival whom he criticised for using intemperate language. For the first few days and to some extent afterward, President Jacques Chirac distanced himself from both of them with his silence. Criticism of Sarkozy’s language even came from one of Sarkozy’s fellow cabinet members, the token Arab junior minister for “Equal Opportunities”. One of the several police unions called for Sarkozy to shut up because he was endangering cops. But a week or ten days later, very few establishment figures had anything bad to say about Sarkozy in public – his big mouth had become the least of their worries.

The youth are demanding Sarkozy’s resignation. That demand is almost universally repeated by people from immigrant backgrounds and very widely supported by people of all nationalities in the cités and far more broadly, including a large part of the middle class. Sarkozy is the most open face of repression, a man who styles himself as an “American”-style politician in the sense of a boastfully reactionary bully who doesn’t try to hide it. That suits his position as Interior Minister, which is probably why his rivals gave him that office. His job is to represent the hard edge of the state against the people, using force against not only immigrants and their children but also strikers, and imposing repression in general. Maybe at first de Villepin and Chirac were hoping that Sarkozy’s arrogance would be his downfall. But no one in the political class could accept a situation in which the racaille drove the country’s chief cop from office.

The Socialist Party doesn’t dare try to take political advantage of the situation to reverse their own decline, at least right now, even though their rank and file would welcome going after Sarkozy. Their leaders argue that “restoring calm” is a precondition for even talking about anything else and explicitly refused to join the call for his resignation.

The revisionist Communist Party is no less unhappy with the situation. They try to heap all the blame on Sarkozy and the right, as if when they were in power the so-called “left” parliamentary parties didn’t take the same stance toward the cité youth (a Socialist education minister called them “savages”) – and more importantly, as if during their many years in office these parties didn’t help make French society what it is today. The party does call for Sarkozy’s resignation, but at the same time it has distanced itself far away from the cité youth. Asked on radio if youth who burn cars are “victims or offenders,” party head Marie-Georges Buffet quickly answered, “Offenders.” Her party’s press called the rebellion “the disastrous result of disastrous policies.” They clamour for an “investigation” of the death of the two boys, as if the facts weren’t clear enough – as if this were not clearly a case of right and wrong and the people had not already reached a verdict. While CP elected officials held a “peace” demonstration in front of the Prime Minister’s offices, their local forces tried to organise “peace” demonstrations in working class neighbourhoods. In the last weeks youth have risen up in towns run by Socialist, Communist and rightwing mayors without distinction because which party is in power makes no difference in their lives.

The truth is that France has seen far too many years of “calm” in the face of oppression and the kind of “peace” that comes from the downtrodden accepting their fate. What’s so good about quietly accepting the kind of life imposed not only on these youth but on the great majority of people in France? Violence within the ranks of the people seems to be at a low point right now and the spirits of the youth are soaring. Their rebellion is not a “disaster”. It is very good. It represents fresh air amid political and social suffocation – something positive amid a pervasive atmosphere of cynicism and just putting-your-head-down-and-trying-to-get-by that has prevailed for far too long since the defeat of the May 1968 rebellion and the betrayal of people’s hopes represented by the Socialist-led and revisionist-supported Mitterrand government. These youth want to fight, not vote – and they are going up against the predominant idea that nothing can be changed in a country where the electorate united against the openly fascist candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen a few years ago, only to elect Chirac and get Sarkozy. Whatever mistakes the youth may be making, this rebellion represents the best hope that France has seen in decades for a different kind of society.

Is important to note that one of the main carrots offered by Prime Minister Villepin, who plays the “good cop” to Sarkozy’s stick, is a programme that would allow youth to leave school at age 14, instead of 16, so that they can start working as “apprentices” in below-minimum wage jobs of the dead-end kind reserved for school dropouts. In other words, the best that is being promised them is more or less what their parents endured, when their parents endured that in the hopes that their children would get something better. What the phoney socialists and revisionists refuse to admit is that even if the capitalists and their government wanted to, they couldn’t offer these youth decent jobs and still employ them profitably. That’s why the ruling classes consider the unemployed and especially the immigrants and their children “useless” people to be suppressed and gotten rid of to the extent possible. Sarkozy’s policies are an _expression of this underlying economic reality.

The often-heard complaint among mainstream and even many “far left” “political people” that these youth are “apolitical” is one-sided and mainly nonsense, although these youth have not gained the conscious understanding that would be necessary for them to go further, even in the limited sense of having a clear understanding of the nature of their enemies and seeking allies against them. It is not “apolitical” to reject the only life the system can offer them – it is breaking with the bourgeois definition of what politics are allowed and whether the starting point of politics is, as another article in Libération said, the “recognition” that the present system is the only possible one. In fact, not only have the youth refused to accept the circumstances in which they themselves are imprisoned, they pay more real attention to key world affairs such as in Iraq and Palestine, or at least feel them more deeply, than many of their elders who have let their opposition to imperialist crimes go soft because “their” government tries to appear uninvolved.

These youth are neither “victims” nor “offenders”. They have become makers of history, taking action on a scale that no one else has in a country where the majority feel ground down at best. They have stormed onto the stage of political life that has been forbidden to them. There is a consensus among mainstream political parties and the tolerated opposition that this outbreak should be stifled and/or crushed, but above all ended – quickly. These youth are struggling to awaken, in a country full of sleepers, and it’s about time.

** From a reporter’s notebook: conversations in Clichy-sous-bois **

7 November 2005. A World to Win News Service. In the early evening about a week after the death of Bouna Traore and Zyed Benna here in Clichy-sous-Bois, at the bottom of a hill where the cité ends and a neighbourhood of small one-family houses begins, a bar/tobacco shop with an after-work crowd was the only public place for several kilometres in any direction.

A reporter walked up to the bar and told the people there he wanted to hear what they had to say about what was going on. The sole woman was a young girl at the cash register. The men in the front were all white. A man about 30 and his friend, in his 60s, were the first to speak. The younger man complained that burning the cars of people who need them to go to work was just a matter of people hurting their neighbours. His car was fine, but he expected insurance rates to skyrocket. He’d lived his whole life in the cité, practically since it was first built in the early 1970s, like so much of French working-class housing. It had been pretty at first, he said, with flowerbeds, but little by little it had fallen apart. The building owners did nothing about upkeep at all, but he blamed his neighbours as well. Too many people didn’t really want to find a job; they were content with living on the dole, a few hundred euros a month. “Practically none of these kids have a steady job,” he said critically.

The older man seemed to agree with him at first. “I started working construction when I was 15, like we all did then. I had 50 years of social security payments when I retired. Kids nowadays don’t find permanent jobs ‘til they’re 30, hardly any of them. Like you, for instance – you just started work as a truck driver, and I helped you get that job.” Nearly everyone in Clichy – in both the big cité tower blocks and the family houses – is a worker. One of the main differences is not which industry they work in but how much their particular job involves skill or a strong back and how steady their jobs are. Many of the fathers of the older generation worked in construction and their mothers, if they worked, as cleaning women. Among their children, especially the youth of Arab and African origin, as many as half are unemployed at any one time, and most of the jobs don’t seem to last.

All of the dozen men at the bar were upset about the deaths of Bouna and Zyed. They all felt that a crime had been committed and someone had to be punished for this killing. The young truck driver started to say, however, that if the boys hadn’t been doing anything wrong – which was what everyone said, and has even been admitted by one of the officers – they shouldn’t have run from the police. The bartender, in his early 20s at the most, and maybe from a Portuguese family, came over to interrupt him. “You know the cops would have smacked them around. They do that to all of us. Me too, I’d run.” The men nodded in agreement when one said, “If Sarkozy becomes president, we’re all fucked.” But they were upset about the burning of property. “It’s not them who’ll pay”, the driver said, gesturing toward Paris and the world of wealth and power. “We’ll be left to foot the bill.”

A young man left from the other side of the bar for a back room, carrying a cup of coffee. There 15 or 20 young men, from teenagers to a 30-year-old, were playing two old-fashioned pinball machines. None were drinking alcohol. “We’re not from around here,” they said warily in response to questions. At first they claimed to be visitors from Brittany in the north. “Everyone around here is doing fine; they have no problems.” Then they made it plain that “not from around here” meant they were from “up there,” the cité just up the hill. “Around here” meant the small houses down across the street from the bar, the neighbourhood to which the bar “belonged”. They were “down here” tonight, they said, because there was nowhere up there where they were allowed to be right now. When they shook hands, they touched their hearts with their right fist, an Islamic gesture adopted by French lower-class youth in general in the same way that the African-American “high five” greeting has been adopted even in the UK. They were relaxing before going out to a nightclub.

They began by describing the housing. Their cité was privately owned. They felt this explained why it been allowed to deteriorate so badly. It is far from the worst, they said, since most of the buildings are inhabited by only a few hundred people, rather than the many thousands in grotesquely enormous towers of the biggest HLMs (government-owned public housing). But because it is private, the rents are comparatively high, around 600 euros for a family, which doesn’t leave much left over from the thousand or so euros a worker with a full-time job could expect to bring home. “Do you think it’s normal,” they demanded, “for a whole town not to have a library or even a cinema?” A major complaint, heard everywhere in the suburbs, is that these housing complexes were deliberately located far from everything, from any place people might want to go, with public transportation only to where they’re supposed to work and practically no good way to get around at night – certainly not to Paris. “Even if you have a car, department 93 plates are like a signal to the police to humiliate you,” the youth said. “Why did they build blockhouses to keep us in, instead of normal housing?” one young man insisted. They call the cité a ghetto, not in the American sense of being inhabited almost exclusively by one or two nationalities but in the original sense of a place where certain people are forced to live and barely allowed to leave.

“It’s because of who we are – foreigners – from Algeria, Morocco, Mali and Turkey.” As the Portuguese, Spanish and other white kids who live in the cités will tell you – the bartender, for instance – the cops don’t like anyone who lives there.

One of these youth talked about the killing of Zyed, his neighbour. They also described the recent police raids on buildings occupied by recent immigrant squatters and Sarkozy’s pledge of mass deportations. These things showed what they are up against, signs that official society sees them all as less than human – in fact, worse than animals because they are considered dangerous. They were all French citizens, but that made little difference. “If they say our communities have to be cleaned out, that means they think we’re filth, that we should be gotten rid of,” one of them explained bitterly. Another added, “If you have a certain kind of name, most companies won’t hire you. And if your address is in department 93 and someplace like Clichy, you’ll never even get an interview. The only place most of us can work is in an illegal garment sweatshop in somebody’s apartment, and now there’s even less of that. Besides, we don’t want those jobs.” Some of the older among them did have jobs; the younger ones weren’t eager to discuss how they got by.

The youth in this bar thought of themselves as Islamic, in the sense of that background being part of their identity and especially the identity by which the world judged them. But their thinking was more secular and their goals in no way religious. Many people all over the region were especially angry about the tear-gassing of the mosque (in this case, a converted warehouse). More than an attack on their religion, they considered it an insult to their humanity. These youth explained it like this: “There are two or three churches around here and a synagogue” – the synagogue is, in fact, practically adjacent to the cité. “No one has ever attacked any of them. That’s because we respect people no matter what their religion. If they attack a mosque, it’s to show us that they have no respect for us at all.”

They were asked what they hoped to accomplish by their actions. “If they don’t give us what we want,” one said, “it’s war.” It was pointed out that the other side had a real army and couldn’t be defeated by stones and Molotov cocktails. But they didn’t see it that way. The government couldn’t deal with them, they said, especially not all of them all over the country. The police would have to back off eventually. They didn’t have much to say about the threat of facing the army.

“We’ll make them listen to us!” said Zyed’s neighbour. When you go home, turn on the television – you’ll see all of France is burning.”

This marked the end of our conversation. The bar was closing, and the youth were ready to move on. It was shortly before this point that one of them said something very illuminating. The question was put to all of them. “This guy at the bar over there says that it’s wrong for you to be burning the cars of your neighbours who need them to go to work. What do you say to that?”

“We burn cars, monsieur, because cars are what burn best”, hotly retorted a young man who had played a leading role over the last several hours. This seemed to convey what was best about these youth, and their shortcomings. They are determined to rebel against injustice by any means at hand, they feel they have nothing to lose and sometimes they are fearless. But they also need revolutionary science so that they can understand more clearly what they were up against and what would have to be done to bring about radical change. Mao Tsetung said that the most basic truth of Marxism is that it’s right to rebel. When these two elements come together, proletarian rebels and a scientific outlook, the future of France, and of the countries like it all over Europe, will look very different.

Sucesos suburbios de Francia

rafabru. 09.Nov.2005 18:23

Ya veo que nos siguen ocultando la verdada los medios oficiales de información.

this is what happens

Rebel 10.Nov.2005 01:55

What did they think was gonna happen. These punk fat cat capitolists try to enforce thoughts, values, and way of life on the whole society. They oppressed the youth in france, and tried to conform them to sociey's ideals for so long of coarse it was gonna explode. This is what happens when you exploit people for to long, only in America, the government never lets it get this far, they always make some dumb little consessions, to silence the cries of the oppressed, and always the movement dies. To often have movements in the past stopped when violence got to high, and the government raised minum wage or somthing like that. I hope this movement in france does not end untill these law makers quit trying to enforce lame principlas, and the muslim community takes back control.

point of view

stoney 11.Nov.2005 00:15

an article, that helps to understand the rioters:

greetings from switzerland

@all racists: shut up if you don't know the circumstances, or better: shut up in general and kill yourself!

Émeutes en France : la presse belliqueuse se réjouit 11.Nov.2005 16:48

An article about the axis media coverege of the event:
Émeutes en France : la presse belliqueuse se réjouit

An article about the axis media coverege of the event: 11.Nov.2005 17:09

Émeutes en France : la presse belliqueuse se réjouit

lumpen-proletarian Rising

T. Rios 11.Nov.2005 21:02

The uprising seems to be more proletarian, or more properly lumpen-proletarian in nature then explicitly Islamic in nature. In fact the Muslim leaders in France have gone as far to issue Fatwas against the uprising. According to wikipedia: "A Fatwa is a legal pronouncement in Islam, issued by a religious law specialist on a specific issue".

Rather then an specifically Muslim uprising the events seem more to be a spontaneous uprising aroused by the long simmering tensions of an angry, institutionally and socially oppressed and disaffected youth who just incidentally happen to be Muslim or from Muslim communities. When similar uprisings have occurred in the U.S. or in Latin America we rarely think to say that these are Christian inspired riots, though the people rioting may be from largely Christian communities.

These young people certainly have a lot of reasons to be angry considering the that many of them were in fact born or raised in France since early childhood but are still basically treated as second class citizens at best through the institutionalization of oppressive polices by the French government that severely neglect and often target their communities.

Of course the French government made these laws to protect the 'good decent' Middle Class and wealthy folks of France who through their consumerism, voting and payment of Taxes support the French government as it travels around the globe in the pursuit of capitalistic enterprises which it then holds together with the use of it's armed intelligence forces, it's despotic local proxies and their often brutal intervention into local politics throughout it's global areas of interest.

Of course saying that one understands and sympathizes with the demands of those communities in which the uprising has stemmed does not necessarily mean that one supports all of the actions that are carried out in the name of the uprising. Attacks on unarmed noncombatants are always reprehensible but still don't nullify the validity of the issues that were the catalyst for the uprising in the first place. Even considering their faults I personally choose to support the rioters and the oppressed immigrants of France over the French government. Perhaps if their rising was explicitly Islamic in nature, with the desire to set up an Islamic state my feelings would differ in this regard, but that doesn't seem to be the case.

I hear today that the French Government is planning on deporting those who have taken part in the riots even if they are legally present in France. I wonder if this means that French citizens will be deported if they took part in the riots as well? I ask becuase from my undestanding many of the youth in the immigrant communties are in fact life-long French citizens, even if only in name.


"No government fights fascism to destroy it. When the bourgeoisie sees that power is slipping out of its hands, it brings up fascism to hold onto their privileges."
Buenaventura Durruti