Behind the drama of Nahel, the institutional racism of postcolonial France

Behind the drama of Nahel, the institutional racism of postcolonial France

The revolt of young people from working-class neighborhoods following the tragedy of Nahel’s death has been interpreted differently depending on whether one is on the right or on the left of the French political and media spectrum. The policy of all security in which the French State blindly locks itself, which is slow to seriously deal with the problems of racism and discrimination which undermine French society, as requested by the Office of the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights , augur the recurrent reproduction of this kind of scenes in the future just as the riots of 2005 did not serve to prevent what is happening today before our eyes.

The fact that the extreme right uses acts of violence and destruction, which often and everywhere accompany movements of popular revolt, to raise the specter of “civil war”, which is generally understood as a “race war”, generally leads left-wing analysts to deny the “racial” character of popular protest and to reduce the latter essentially to its “social” dimension, thinking in this way to avoid France plunging into a self-destructive and contrary separatism to the universal values ​​displayed by the French Republic.

In its editorial for the Saturday July 1 edition, the French daily The world offers an illustration of this position by immediately dismissing the thesis which qualifies as “racial” the riots which have shaken France for a few days by emphasizing the “social” and “urban” character of the problem of exclusion social and spatial object of young people from working-class neighborhoods: “France is not struggling with race riots or a war of civilization, as the far right would have us believe, which knows everything it has to gain by throwing oil on the fire. The inhabitants of the suburbs of our cities are French people of all origins and foreigners who have not chosen to be concentrated there, but have been over decades of land policy, town planning and housing.“.

However, The world is obliged to recognize that the situation experienced by young people from working-class neighborhoods cannot be explained solely by the socio-economic factors that it highlights. “Nor can it be reduced to an “identity” dimension, the conflagration of the suburbs cannot be explained by budget shortfalls alone. The death of Nahel M. first refers directly to the rules and practice of the use of weapons by the police during roadside checks, and, more broadly, to the flawed relations between the latter and young people from working-class neighborhoods.”

Like the French left, of which he is one of the spokespersons, The world pretends not to understand that in postcolonial France the social inequalities specific to capitalism hit the populations of immigration from the former French colonies harder and that the systemic violence of the French police against young people from working-class neighborhoods is not than the other side of the war that French imperialism is waging to keep its position in its former African colonies in the name of the fight against Islamist terrorism, against the Russian presence or Chinese competition. Before coming under social psychology, racism is above all an expression of social relations marked by exploitation and domination. It is the real inferiority of the populations forced by the unequal development of capitalism to leave their country to survive which maintains the complex of superiority of the racists of all hairs and not the contrary. And it is no coincidence that the populations who suffer from institutional racism in France are generally populations from the former French colonies of North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa. In this regard, Bernard Dréano was right to wonder about “colonial persistence in social and legal practices in France today” (1) if not how else to explain the fact that a policeman allows himself to kill at the end of his carrying a 17-year-old just because he refused to obey her order?

If the institutional racism to which young people from working-class neighborhoods are subjected did not come under the mechanisms of social reproduction of postcolonial France, how can we explain that the unconditional defenders of the State of Israel in France mobilized in unison against the young people of the popular neighborhoods by calling them names and accusing them of being agents of the “civil war” in France? Historian George Bensoussan, specialist in the Holocaust and anti-Semitism and director of the collective work with the revealing title ” The lost territories of the republic “explains the revolt of young people from working-class neighborhoods by the” denial (of the migration issue) fueled by cultural leftism “. This is how Le Figaro in its July 2 edition summed up the “culturalist” reading of the pro-Israeli historian: “ A misguided anti-racism has prevented us for years from naming reality. Against the herd speeches invoking “racism” or socio-economic conditions to explain the riots, according to Georges Bensoussan, it is necessary to appeal to cultural anthropology to hear the foundations of this crisis.

For his part, Pascal Bruckner, the author of ” white man’s sob “, always explains to us in Figaro that “ Tuesday’s police blunder is just a pretext that sparked Pavlovian anger. It is a perfectly coordinated dramaturgy where the rioters respond to a script already written since at least 2005. The violence is permanent in the neighborhoods, it forms a bit of the soundtrack of daily life, but, on the occasion of this drama, they will be able to unfold with great fanfare. It’s the summer vacation that begins for the young mutineers with nights that promise to be hot.”

Statements by pro-Israel intellectuals are not isolated. They echo what can be read in some Israeli media. For the Israel 24 website, “The question no longer arises, the French intifada is dangerously overflowing » . We will understand how it overflows by referring to the title of the article published in its July 3 edition: Antisemitic overflow from the French riots » quoting in particular the Franco-Israeli MP Habib Meyer: « MP Meyer Habib said Saturday night that the roots of the violence are mostly in areas where anti-Semitism and other forms of hatred are rampant. It looks like an intifada in the heart of France,” Mr. Habib warned..»

The French-Israeli connection does not stop at the symbolic and intellectual aspect. According to the information published by the Israeli press, the French police would have requested the cooperation of the Israeli police in order to deal with the revolt of young people from working-class neighborhoods. ” The Israel Police Commission received a fax from French police asking how to handle the crisis it is currently facing, The Israel Hayom newspaper reported. The French request was revealed by Deputy Chief of the Police Operations Division Shimon Nahmani, during a hearing held by the Knesset’s National Security Committee. According to the same newspaper, Israel Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai ordered his intelligence and operations departments to study the protests in France and the reaction of French police before, during and after the teenager’s death. ” teaches us a dispatch from the Anadolou agency in its July 3 edition.

The very fact of calling on Israeli expertise in the field of riot control says a lot about the common socio-institutional and symbolic springs that could be shared by a republic that presents itself as the “homeland of human rights”. and a state whose policy of apartheid is an open secret. How not to make the link in this case between what is happening in Nanterre and what is happening in Jenin or Gaza? If the repressive apparatuses do not hesitate to get along and cooperate against the multitude in revolt, how can we be hypocritically surprised by the sympathy of young people from the suburbs here with those from the suburbs over there and why try to systematically stigmatize it by sticking him the infamous accusation of anti-Semitism? Of course, the fact of recalling this Franco-Israeli connection should not prevent us from seriously studying its springs and its concrete mechanisms without falling either into the easy denial in which the French left delights or into the amalgam which could prevent us from taking into account the specificities of each of the concrete situations with which the popular protest movement is confronted.

If in the occupied territories, Israeli racism feeds directly on the colonial, militarist and expansionist structure of the State of Israel, the fight against institutional racism in France is indissolubly linked to the fight against social exclusion engendered by globalized capitalism. It is in the field of the fight against social and spatial segregation that the struggle of young people from working-class neighborhoods, whose detonator will remain the fight against racial segregation, will be able to converge with all the other forms of social struggle. To do this, two extremes should be avoided at the same time: on the one hand, it is a question of avoiding essentializing the fight against institutional racism at the risk of isolating the movement of young people from working-class neighborhoods and on the other hand, it is a question of avoiding diluting the concrete struggle of young people against racism in an abstract social struggle as part of the French left seeks to do. In this respect, institutional racism is indeed the blind spot of the French left. The latter would betray all its ideals of justice and equality and weaken its position in the balance of power against capital and the neoliberal state if it continues to deny any longer the existence of an institutional racism inherent in social structures and symbols of postcolonial France.

Bernard Dreano: A residual colonialism? Colonial persistence in social and legal practices in France today in “Where are we from the Empire?” », Editions alfAbarre, Paris, 2014.