The late Egyptian president called those who took to the streets against the rising price of bread thieves, Algerian officials described the confrontation between citizens and the police, following the death of a young man in police custody. Last week, the French interior Minister, Nicholas Sarkozy, referred to the rioters as rabble and scum.
They might well be a mob but this doesn’t necessarily mean they do not have legitimate grievances that need to be addressed. They were a match in a box about to catch fire. Rioting has spread to 90 towns and cities around France. The cause of this rioting is relatively minor and does not in itself explain all the anger and violence since the two youths were not the victims of police brutality as was previously believed. Despite realizing the two teenagers died of electric shock, riots continued and spread to other towns in protest against poverty and exclusion. Sarkozy should realize that calling insults such as calling the rioters scum and hoodlums will not resolve the crisis. Trouble will return following a period of relative calm.
France was known as the most diverse country in Europe, the closest to countries in the southern Mediterranean and culturally, more to the left that other Union members.
Yet, the land of law and freedom has failed to solve an old problem it inherited after the end of colonialism, that of integrating its immigrants. An estimated 5 million, including French citizens of foreign origins, live in poor conditions and long-time immigrants have yet to be absorbed into mainstream society. It is truly unbelievable that, in the land of freedom and democracy, this sizeable minority has yet to be represented in a parliament supposed to stand for all its citizens, the scum and elites alike.
French political parties have not sought to include representatives of millions of French citizens of foreign origin, Arabs and Muslim, and have not defended their rights on their behalf.
Amid this continuing amnesia, it was normal that Parisian awake to the smell of burning. Neighborhoods with such long-term problems only require an excuse to awaken its inhabitants and challenge society.
In their behavior, the rioters may indeed appear scum. Those at the forefront of revolts are usually the hoodlums, louder and less likely to consider the consequences. Of course, their actions, whether to burn schools, attack pedestrians, or batter individuals to death are wrong. Unfortunately, however, these are the voices of a society where political representation is totally absent.
Let us distinguish the rioters from their demands; the protesters would have never enjoyed such popular support, despite all their destruction, if it weren’t for the injustice many had suffered for some time.
European societies are faced with the problem of how best to deal with millions of their own citizens that cannot be considered as the residents of a faraway land. The problem of immigration is not impossible to solve; their legal status needs to be addressed and their children need to be integrated into mainstream society through education and employment. Otherwise, these poor and victimized men and women will remain a volatile group liable to catch fire at any time.