French suburbs: The absence of European principles rather than a local problem.

By Elijah J. Magnier:

Violence has erupted in France following the killing of Nael Marzouk, a 17-year-old French-Algerian-Moroccan, by a police officer. The incident occurred when Marzouk, who did not have a driving licence, drove off after an argument with the police and ignored their order to get out of the car. The initial statement from the two police officers falsely claimed that their lives were in danger, but video evidence later emerged, which revealed the truth. It showed one of the officers firing shots without justification, leading to his arrest on charges of premeditated murder, lying and using excessive force. The revelation of this misconduct discredited the police’s original justification for the killing.

Nevertheless, riots broke out in several cities, mainly in the suburbs, where shops, schools and municipal buildings were deliberately set alight, and 2,500 cars burned. Several shops were also looted in various cities across France. In response, French President Emmanuel Macron deployed 45,000 of the country’s 240,000 police officers to restore order, resulting in more than 1,000 arrests. But the question remains: What are the underlying factors behind these events, and why has the chaos spread to several cities? What is fuelling the anger on the French streets?

Europe sees its common values as a society characterised by integration, tolerance, justice, solidarity, fraternity and non-discrimination, where equality before the law and respect for human dignity are paramount. The Charter of the European Union guarantees individual rights, including freedom of thought, religion, assembly, expression and information, as well as respect for private life and personal liberties.

However, these ideal principles that define the European identity have become mere words on paper, applied selectively and according to circumstances. They remain aspirations to which European society aspires. It is impossible to build a society in which leaders do not respect local and international laws or the principles they profess.

Events in France are closely linked to the inequality of the “French Republic”, which is reflected in social and economic disparities. Working-class areas, commonly referred to as the suburbs, have come under severe criticism. The media portrays these areas as lawless, plagued by insecurity and brutality since the 1980s and 1990s. As a result, the security discourse has often targeted these neighbourhoods, starting with the riots in Lyon in the summer of 1981. Since then, the suburbs have been perceived as a “growing social problem”. Various factors have contributed to this perception, including the 1989 controversy over the Islamic headscarf, the emergence of al-Qaeda, the Charlie Hebdo attacks that insulted the Islamic religion and its prophet, and the 2005, 2006 and 2007 riots that embodied “anti-republican” sentiment. This notion of the districts always being more “inaccessible to the police”, in the words of Prime Minister Francois Fillon. 

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