Reflections on France’s State of Emergency


Last weekend (November 12-13) the weather was still unseasonably mild, and in spite of the declaration of a state of emergency being in effect, you would never know it within the Paris city limits.
November 11th was a public holiday (Armistice Day), the day to remember veterans and the end of World War I.
Everybody who stayed in town (rather than heading out of town for the long weekend) seemed to be out on the streets and in the stores. There was a police presence at strategic spots i.e.Tour Montparnasse, airports, etc. but none on the streets in residential neighborhoods
These recent days have reminded me of a friend who lived in Bedford Stuvesant during the riots in the 1960s. He told me this: “I watched it all on television.” It is possible to be in the epicenter of cataclysmic events and yet not be a part of it. I think that is perhaps the case for many people in this instance as well. What are French people (and French newspapers)saying about the state of emergency (which may extended until February!) and about the violence of the past weeks?

If you don’t read French, you can check out Le Figaro’s English translationwww.lefigaro.fr/english Alexis Lacroix interviews philosopher Alain Finkielkraut (17 Nov).
He says quite a bit that the politicians would never say and what even some French people would not say for fear of being pegged as ‘Le Pen’ followers (Le Pen is the right-wing leader of the National Front party).
A friend from Brittany recently said she approved of deporting ‘malfaiteurs’ (people doing bad things), but she added, “When you say something like that, people automatically think you’re a ‘Le Pen’ person, so you don’t dare say anything.” Meanwhile the polls show that Sarkozy’s (Minister of the Interior) popularity has inched higher and higher. One of the stories that may not have gotten as much coverage (In papers like the Int. Herald Tribune) was the Oct 27th incident in Epinay sur Seine. Jean-Claude Irvoas was driving home with his wife and daughter when he decided to stop off in Epinay to take a photo of an architectural detail. He hopped out of the car, was accosted by a group of young men who wanted his camera. When he refused, they beat him to death in full view of his wife and daughter. In family oriented France, this was a huge outrage (as it should be anywhere in the world!) I was surprised not to see more commentary about that in the IHT (but maybe I missed those stories). Probably Jean -Claude Irvoas will be forgotten by many, but certainly the accidental death of the two teenage boys living in Clichy-sous-bois and the subsequent riots will go down in history as the beginning of an era of dissatisfaction, distrust and disdain for human life and property of others.
Regarding unemployment and discrimination:
Discrimination does exist in France. There is no question about that. Example: a shopkeeper in our neighborhood said that his wife who owned a skincare salon was looking for an esthetician but she was having trouble filling the job. A perfectly well qualified African woman applied for the job, but she couldn’t accept her.
Why? I asked him. “Because some clients would feel uncomfortable about an African woman touching them.”
So, yes, discrimination is a very real problem. But then there is the question of jobs that supposedly nobody wants, i.e. apartment guardians. For years now, the Portuguese have ‘monopolized’ this job that nobody else wanted. Nowadays even they don’t want it.
The other big problem in France is once you’ve hired somebody you’ve made a huge committment. Recently, the current government has been trying to change laws regarding hiring and firing. But there’s huge resistance. The argument goes – from a worker’s perspective, how can you plan for your future, buy a house, raise a family if you don’t have job security? Security of any sort may be an obsolete word.

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