All The More Reason


If only Clichy–Sous–Bois were the Dubai of France
April 21, 2007, 1:25 am
Filed under: French Politics

I’ve just finished watching two riveting documentaries. The first was on Clichy–Sous–Bois since the riots that took place in 2005 and the other was on the surreal real–estate development in Dubai. Amongst other things, although Clichy–Sous–Bois is only 15 km away from Paris, it takes more than an hour by public transport to get there. The man–labour for the famous towers that are being built in Dubai is provided by Pakistan and India. Needless to say, their living conditions are not fantastic. Still, I always find it useful for perspective to think of the essay by Orwell on travelling and coal–mining in England.

One of the dividing debates in France has been on the changing nature of immigration and assimilation. In past generations, previous immigrants have largely given up their identity in order to adopt the identity of a Frenchman. One of the reasons why the extreme right, or at least one of the plausible reasons, has gained popularity is due to the fact that many feel that this generation of immigrants is no longer willing to assimilate (in actuality, they’re not really immigrants as much as they’re the children of immigrants). Then one has the debate about whether or not this is a cultural divide or an economic one. In other words, if there was the amount of work available that there was two generations ago, assimilation might be as powerful as it was back then. On the cultural side of things, there is the argument that the Islamisation of certain banlieues in France nullifies any effect that a bounce in the economy would have.

Well, wouldn’t it be nice if the economic variable were at least removed from the equation? One of the interesting things about the documentary on Dubai was that the Minister of Labour actually gave an interview where he said that because more and more people in the West were investing in Dubai, they were putting more pressure on the government to improve the working conditions of this immigrant labour. And yet, is it not worth asking if France has not gone to another extreme of workers’ rights to the point that it is impossible to create the conditions that would allow this generation of “immigrants” in France to work?

I wish to add that of great interest to me about the youths in Clichy–Sous–Bois was that they all spoke French. This may come across as obvious. And yet, there are places in the States now where “bilingual” education is the vogue, and speaking Spanish is the lingua franca. In that sense that aspect of assimilation, or integration as some feel about calling it, is more than alive and well.

Jonathan Smith

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