November 07, 2005

Expert Opinion – Riots in France

Prof Danielle Joly was born in France, and is now a senior academic at the University of Warwick at the Centre for Research in Ethnic Relations.

She may be contacted on 02476 524869 or 0121 449 7792

Or contact Richard Fern – Press officer – 02476 574255/07876 217740

Professor Joly said:

Rioting in France

Two decades after the riots which set fire to the main British cities and shook the British Establishment, France is confronted with a similar scenario, apparently much to the surprise of media and politicians. In reality, this conflagration was waiting to happen.

The situation of ethnic minority youth in disadvantaged suburbs displayed all the ingredients necessary for a violent upsurge; in those suburbs, French society was sitting on a barrel of powder and a single spark triggered off the explosion.

The youth of immigrant origin involved in the disturbances suffer from a double jeopardy. All the indices of poverty and deprivation are present while unemployment and school underachievement condemn them to a bleak future. Moreover, the social disadvantage they endure is further compounded by racial disadvantage, racism and discrimination. The promises of the Republican contract were never delivered for their benefit; on the contrary, the colour blindness of French policies and the dearth of effective tools to identify and challenge rampant discrimination have meant that the liberty, fraternity and equality they were urged to aspire to, remained unattainable. Stigmatisation and the non-recognition of their cultural specificity added insult to injury, resulting into the denial of justice and dignity. The violence expressed is commensurate with the frustration caused by thwarted expectations. The law and order approach pursued by the government could only enflame the situation further, all the more as perceptions of police racism prevail among those youths. The lack of hope, meaning and positive projects has led a demoralised and embittered population, deprived of a stake in society to rampage through French cities. The current discourse of government ministers, laden with threats of a police crackdown is a testimony of their failure to grasp the problems involved or to offer any constructive proposal.

Daniele Joly
Centre for Research in Ethnic Relations
University of Warwick


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