Saber Blidi on France’s North African Community

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Attitudes and popular reactions in Algeria to the riots and protests which shook France following the killing of the 17-year-old Nahel, have been divided.

There were those who spitefully rejoiced at the events and those who remained neutral. There were also those who felt concern at the situation and its possible impact on Algerian expatriates in France. In fact, there is no Algerian family which does not have a relative or family member living in France.

Algerians constitute the largest immigrant community in France. Their presence there dates back to the beginning of the last century, when the size of the community was officially put at about 13 percent of the total number of immigrants in France.

There is now a sense of anticipation and wariness within the Algerian public about where the current violent turn of events in France could eventually lead.

 

Circumstances have created an impossible situation for generations of Algerian immigrants in France who fled the social, economic and political  conditions at home only to find themselves facing exclusion, marginalisation and racism in the “ghettoes” of the Paris suburbs.

 

There is no reason to consider these events among other Algerian-French confrontations, although the fuse that ignited them is Algerian, and the popular base that that fuels them is also Algerian.  The nature of the crisis has however deep domestic social roots as confirmed by the United Nations when it denounced the seepage of racism into the French police.

Because of its size, the Algerian community in France remains a major player on the French social scene. It has found in the behaviour of official institutions an opportunity to ally itself with other African and Maghrebi communities against a social system which, over decades, has planted the seeds of this explosion, with its discriminatory policies.

Circumstances have created an impossible situation for generations of Algerian immigrants in France who fled the social, economic and political  conditions at home only to find themselves facing exclusion, marginalisation and racism in the “ghettoes” of the Paris suburbs.

France, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, a global economic power, which wields much regional and international influence, has not yet discovered how to enable its citizens to live side by side instead of continuing their face-off.  It has yet to move away from trying to impose stereotypical identity values and adopt a model of pluralism and diversity that includes everyone.

While riots and protests spread like wildfire to French cities and provinces, part of the French discourse continues to pour oil on the fire.

Official France has not learnt the lessons of previous events nor heeded similar experiences stemming from racist attitudes and the failure of social integration. Despite the violence and riots that occurred in the past for similar reasons, France still relies on a security approach to silence the voice of the oppressed, instead of developing a social approach which enshrines pluralism, diversity and equality for all citizens, as it deliberately marginalises and  discriminates against millions of immigrants.

Perhaps, France has not realised that this time things are different.  Feelings of resentment and anger are no longer an internal matter, related to a specific origin or race. Such feelings have spread to its former African colonies in a remarkable shift of attitudes that requires Paris to re-examine its internal and external policies towards various communities and its power structure, before it is forced to pay a heavy toll for its failings.


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