France, the epitome of panache, is a must-visit on the wish list of many travelers, art-lovers, seekers, historians, linguistics and so on. But behind the glaze of its sparkling cities, there exists a dark reality- the French ghettos. When people talk about ghettoes in France, they talk about high-rise complexes that have been built away from the centers of its cities to house its immigrant population.
Almost 2 million French citizens are living in these newly-created urban ghettos. These people are the second and third generation descendants from Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and other ex-colonies of France who came here, mostly unwillingly, to provide cheap labor for the construction work and other menial jobs in France post World War II. Today they are restricted to the outskirts of the cities, living in the neglected public housing project.
The ghettos portray a very grim picture; far from complementing the nearby cities, they don’t even have the provisions for basic amenities. The high-rise apartment buildings house rats, the pipes leak and stink, and water supply is perennially inconsistent. The inhabitants often feel like being caged in prisons.
Blighted by bad schools and endemic unemployment, the suburbs as they are often called, are hard to escape for the young men and women. For those applying for jobs outside the suburbs, even a hint of being a ghetto inhabitant is enough for one’s job application to be thrown into the bin. With little hope of making it out of the rat-hole, many of the young men try to dominate in their neighborhoods, resorting to violence, drug trafficking, gang wars, exploitation of women and other ills. Women in these locations are the greatest sufferers, as they are invariably exploited at the hands of this frustrated lot of men. Young men rule gangland style, combined with male-dominant traditions of their Arab culture. The plight is such that young women only feel safe when they are covered up, or if they stay at home. Girls, who want to look like other French girls, are considered provocative, thus are said to be inviting trouble. Most of these incidents do not even come to light ever and even if they do, the authorities find it very difficult to track the culprit, let alone punishing him.
All this has only exacerbated the problem. All the sections of the community blame the French Government for their misfortune. There is a common anti-French sentiment among these youngsters owing to the social marginalization and discrimination that they face. They often complain about being victimized by both police and the authorities. The recurring riots in France are a consequence of the indifferent attitude of the Government and failure on its part to come up with a fair and successful integration policy. The riots showcase a movement, which is a youth (mostly males aging 12 to 25 years) underclass uprising from destitute neighborhoods. They grumble about being side casted, deserted and abandoned. According to a young Al Assad, “Being an immigrant is like having a limp and competing in a race, limping from the start. It is all about being other-than-white. People in France either don’t know or don’t want to know what is going on here.”
It is a very challenging situation for the French Government as it is already struggling to integrate its immigrant population and its inability to cope with rising unemployment, sexual inequity and extensive discrimination of its immigrant population is proving to be a big obstacle in the way.
The Youth of the ghettoes, however, hold responsible the Government for all their adversity and hardship and accuse it of making false promises. They have come to believe that only violent demonstrations could change things for better.
This leaves the French Government with no option other than to correct its own social stains first and to practice what it has been preaching for centuries now- Liberté, égalité, fraternité.