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Locals monitor French unrest

Nov. 15, 2005

By EMILY INGRAM, reporter

Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité. France's motto: Liberty, equality and brotherhood, its universal raison d'etre or reason for being. And also the heart of recent rioting.

The Oct. 27 electrocution deaths of two minority teenagers thought to be hiding from police in a power substation ignited widespread rioting that has yet to quell.

Faculty and students at Baylor with ties to France, such as assistant French professor Marie Level, are paying close attention as the riots persist. Level's family lives in Lyon, France's third-largest city and the site of much of the rioting. Her brother lives in Paris.

Associated Press photo
The Clichy-sous-Bois market, east of Paris, bustles with customers around the remains of a recently torched car in this Nov. 2 file photo. While immigrants from former colonies helped rebuild post-World War II France, many of their children and grandchildren have been tearing much of it down in riots across the country.
"It looks pretty bad, but I'm in contact with my family," Level said. "This is bad, but they feel safe. My niece (in Lyon) said she feels safe walking on the streets in town. She is safe going to the store and doing everyday things."

Aggravated by the teens' deaths, black and Arab French citizens in Clichy-sous-Bois, a Paris suburb, began a series of late-night riots that quickly fanned out. Starting in the Paris region, rioting and violence has spread throughout the country in recent weeks, culminating in President Jacques Chirac and the French government requesting on Monday a three-month extension of emergency powers Monday.

"These events testify to a a profound malaise. ... This is a crisis of direction, a crisis of reference points. It is a crisis of identity," Chirac said. "We will respond by being firm, being just and being faithful to the values of France."

Associated Press photo
A woman wipes a tear as Clichy-sous-Bois residents gather in the street during a march for peace in this Oct. 29 file photo.
Rioting in the major cities has occurred more in the suburbs of cities such as Paris and Lyon, French professor and division director David Uber said. Contrary to American society, Uber said the majority of a city's lower-income bracket and minority population live outside the city's center in its suburbs.

"Paris is so expensive," Uber said. "Those who can't afford (to live in the inner city of Paris) move to the suburbs -- homeless, minorities and etc. The suburbs are quite nasty."

The rioting centers are in the cités of the suburbs. These cités, lower-income housing areas, are home to a large concentration of minority groups. Mainly populated by Beurs, French-born citizens of Arab descent, and minority groups with African roots, the cités are areas characterized by unemployment, drug activity and high crime rates, Uber said.

Although the teenagers' deaths sparked the most recent rash of rioting, Uber said the feelings were there before any tragedy brought them into focus. That includes the perception of unequal employment opportunities in political offices and the media, he said.

"The perception is that young minorities feel alienated living in the banlieue," Uber said. "They live in the bad parts of the banlieu, the cité where it's dirty and grim. The situation is complicated."

Level also pointed to the persistence of French class consciousness. Social class discrimination, between minorities as well as other French citizens, also fueled the riots.

"It seems to me that this is a class conflict problem," Level said. "It's easy to blame this on race, but poverty touches everyone."

High unemployment rates touching all social classes are a sore point for citizens, Level said, and are a factor to consider in the genesis of the riots.

Chirac's announcement Monday is a step in returning France to peace and an end to the rioting, Uber said. Although the situation is still dangerous, Uber said an end was in sight, and the riots would not affect any programs planned next summer for Baylor's French department.

"I'm hopeful that order will soon be restored," Uber said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.