For all their vitality, the banlieues feel isolated from the city, and from France itself. Parisians and tourists rarely visit them, and residents complain that journalists drop in only to report on car burnings and drug shootings. The suburb Clichy-sous-Bois—the scene, in , of youth riots that spread across the country—has tried to raise revenue by offering a tour de banlieue for curious outsiders. Many suburban residents, meanwhile, never even think of going to Paris.
Many have no street addresses, obvious points of entry, or places to park. Being from the banlieues is a serious impediment to employability, and nearly every resident I met had a story about discrimination. Fanta Ba, the daughter of Senegalese immigrants, has taken to sending out job applications using her middle name, France, and Frenchifying her last name to Bas, but she remains out of work. Are they going to put crosses on the apartment doors of Muslims or Arabs? Ben Ahmed has a friend from Bobigny named Brahim Aniba, an accountant who, like many banlieue residents, once endured a period of unemployment.
To receive state benefits, he had to meet with a job counsellor. Because Bobigny—really? Simply defining who is French can make small talk tricky. In a poll taken by Le Monde after the attacks, a majority of respondents agreed that Islam is incompatible with French values. Withdrawal, she said, was often a reaction to exclusion.
France remains a caste society where social capital is king. This is increasingly true in America, too, but the U. What the two countries have in common—and what makes them unique—is a national identity based not just on history, blood, soil, and culture but on the idea of popular sovereignty.
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In France, this is called republicanism, and in theory the idea is universal. In practice, being part of the French republic has to do not just with democracy and secularism but also with what you wear, what you eat, and what you name your children. Tradition requires French Presidents to inaugurate national museums, but Nicolas Sarkozy, who had used immigration as a wedge issue in his election campaign, refused to attend. Last December, after seven years, Hollande, a Socialist, finally inaugurated it. When I went to the museum, in February, there were few visitors, and many Parisians remain unaware of its existence.
That struck me as a missed opportunity, for the exhibitions tell a rich story, going back to the mid-nineteenth century, when France was receiving new immigrants while the rest of Europe was creating them. From the Italians at the end of the nineteenth century to the Africans of today, the stereotypes hardly change: immigrants are too numerous, carriers of disease, potential criminals, aliens in the body of the nation.
This xenophobia, recurring in times of crisis, is often paired with anti-Semitism and fed by racism. When Algeria was settled by Europeans, in the early nineteenth century, it became part of greater France, and remained so until , when independence was achieved, after an eight-year war in which seven hundred thousand people died. On October 17, , during demonstrations by pro-independence Algerians in Paris and its suburbs, the French police killed some two hundred people, throwing many bodies off bridges into the Seine.
It took forty years for France to acknowledge that this massacre had occurred, and the incident remains barely mentioned in schools. Young people in the banlieues told me that colonial history is cursorily taught, and literature from former colonies hardly read. Andrew Hussey, a British scholar at the University of London School of Advanced Study in Paris, believes that the turmoil in the banlieues —periodic riots, car burnings, brawls with cops—is one more front in the long war between France and its Arabs, especially Algerians.
Among the pieds-noirs , Harkis, and Algerians who immigrated to France for economic reasons, guilt and recrimination have impeded a candid reckoning with their shared pasts. Most immigrants of that period entered France as laborers—factory hands, street-cleaners—and lived in shantytowns. Their presence was expected to be temporary. Ben Ahmed was thirteen. But by the nineties it had become a center of heroin trafficking. Once, Ben Ahmed walked into the lobby of his building and saw a man holding a bag of drugs and a wad of cash.
Ben Ahmed fled. He was an indifferent student, forced to repeat several grades, but his mother made him stick with it, because her welfare benefits would drop if he quit school. He helped support her and his little brother by delivering washing machines to Paris apartments. Some of his friends were drug dealers, and Ben Ahmed might have become a criminal, too, had he not met Carolina, the daughter of political refugees from Chile.
When they were eighteen, she told Ben Ahmed to choose between his crowd and her. One youth Ben Ahmed tried to help was J. Ben Ahmed, twelve years older, had known J. His grandfather had emigrated from Algeria in , and became a street-cleaner. His father belonged to what J. At fourteen, he was expelled from school and began selling drugs and stealing. I chose to get into it.
He never took out his earphones, and he often withdrew into a haze, only to emerge with full powers of focus and articulation. He had been imprisoned three times since Ben Ahmed recalled that he and J. When the boyfriend saw the group approaching, he pulled out a pistol and fired warning shots. That would help!
We dropped him off at a Senegalese cafeteria. In , the French parliament passed a law forbidding religious symbols in public schools. The law emerged in response to Muslim girls coming to class with their hair covered. In America, the intent of secularism was nearly the reverse, prohibiting state interference in religion.
But many French Muslims interpreted the ban as an act of gratuitous hostility.
Some of them told me, inaccurately, that the law had made an exception for the Jewish kippah. After the Charlie killings, dozens of mosques around France were defaced, and in a few cases fired upon. Veiled girls and women were harassed. Some French Muslims complained that, while the government sent armed soldiers to guard Jewish sites, Muslim sites were initially left unprotected.
jeudownredta.ga On January 8th, there was a nationwide minute of silence for the Charlie victims. At least a hundred incidents were reported of students in banlieue schools refusing to observe it. People in the 93 explained that some rebellious kids were just acting out. But the public was outraged.
Kuhnmunch is a fifteen-year veteran who teaches banlieue youths because she loves their humor and energy. One boy discovered that his father had been among the Algerians thrown by police into the Seine. He survived.
In school on Monday, a Muslim student raised his hand. Others echoed the conspiracy theories on social media, including one dreamy, funny boy who was among her favorites, but who had closed up in anger. Kuhnmunch turned the discussion to the history of secularism.
I didn't protest I took his arm and shook it to stop him rambling:. But as I've already said, I was selling myself over and over, I was being taken advantage of. The narrator, realizing what will happen, refuses to leave the prince's side. In a letter to Jean-Baptiste Rousseau in March , Voltaire concludes by asking that, if Rousseau wishes to send him a return letter, he do so by addressing it to Monsieur de Voltaire. This whimsical cafe caught our attention with bright purple chairs and tables, together with toy roosters that decorate the window grilles. I looked around the diner with its black and white checkerboard tiles, and back to my plate, where the yolks from two eggs ran out over a piece of toast. Someone like Coulibaly, J.
The class discussed laws, passed in the eighteen-eighties, which eliminated religious education in public schools. He rarely went there himself; his attachment to Islam had less to do with faith than with cultural identity. One Friday afternoon, he showed up at the concrete shopping mall in the town center wearing a glossy black hooded coat, a long black skirt over gray sweatpants, green-and-yellow sneakers, and earphones—religious gangster attire. We followed a footpath away from the projects, under railroad tracks, up to a scrubby clearing beside a junk yard of decaying freight containers.
A double trailer stood next to a white tent. This was the central mosque of Bobigny, a town of fifty thousand people. A new mosque, planned for years, remained unbuilt. There was a bottleneck where men streamed through the door of one of the trailers. Women, out of view, were presumably in the other trailer. In the entryway, shoes were piled waist high. We squeezed inside the sanctuary, which had barely eight feet of headroom, and found places at the back. At least two hundred men were kneeling, heads bowed to the carpet.