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Roots of Violence
By Ram Puniyani

Deprivation, Alienation, not Polygamy is the cause

The violence in France has been sparked off by the death of two youth. These young men were trying to avoid being spotted by police as they did not have the proper identification papers. Police was making a search in the aftermath murder of a white man. The way the violence is spreading it seems as if the pent up frustration has found an outlet. Nearly three hundred cities have been gripped by this painful process. The immigrants, mostly Muslim are staying in the suburbs, are the one’s who are more involved in the violence. Is it one more example of Islamic terrorism? Does it reconfirm that wherever there are Muslims there is violence? Gerard Larcher, the employment minister of France, hinting at the involvement of Muslims, stated that (Nov 16, 2005) large polygamous families sometimes led to anti-social behavior by youths who lack father figure because of which the employers are reluctant to hire them. It is also being said in the ruling circles that there is problem with integration of immigrants and more importantly with their children. Also their number is too big to be integrated in the society. Some of the important public figures went on to abuse this section of French population by calling them as scum, barbarians, gangrene and what not.  

The section of population being referred to is from the ex colonies of France, from different parts of Africa, Morocco, Tunisia, Mali, Senegal and Algeria, the countries from where a big section migrated to France in the decade of 50s and 60s. There is also a substantial chunk of people who have come from Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia. They also include substantial section of Blacks. Most of these are poor Muslims, who came to France in search of greener pastures. The prevalent laws, norms and mores did not treat them on par as equal citizens and they were discriminated against in jobs and other social facilities. Their lot became that of a second class citizens and a ‘different France’ came into being, which is not regarded as the ‘mainstream’. The rate of unemployment amongst this section is three times higher than the national average. Economically bypassed, socially ostracized and politically sidetracked, these sections of society lapsed into ghettoes. The mentality, which goes with deprivations, the conservatism of worst kind sets in, makes it a fertile ground for the orthodox Ulema, underground criminals and even the terrorist elements.

Interestingly the plan of integration devised by French authorities laid out that, housing colonies should have provided low rent housing to the extent of 20% of the units, so that these immigrants can also stay in the main areas. Failing this, housing colonies had to pay a fine. Most of the housing colonies preferred to pay the fine rather than have these economically and socially deprived in their vicinity. Identity becomes the main bulwark of the psychological makeup of those forced to live in ghettoes. It is in this background that one has to look back the at ‘desirable secular’ norms of uniforms in schools. Authorities did not permit hijab and other Muslim identity symbols in schools. It created yet another cause of giving the sense of humiliation.

Such ghettoes become the hub of underworld activities with high crime graph. Education takes the backseat and religious identity takes the driving seat amongst such communities. The whole process of social and economic deprivation triggered the process of alienation. This was well reflected by one participant of the violence, “We hate France and France Hates us, I don’t know who I am, and what I am. I do not have a house here; my grand parents live in Algiers. France is humiliating us. We are like mad dogs jumping to bite whosoever we see. If we don’t burn cars who will listen to us. This is the only symbol of our unity with the deprived masses. By doing this we are letting out our anger against the enemies.”

This poverty through exclusion of the particular sections of society has reached a critical limit bursting in the form of the blind violence. One is sadly reminded of some of the similarities with Indian Muslims, who being the inheritors of the legacy of partition tragedy; victims of communal violence and social discrimination have also been forced to live in ghettoes, ‘mini Pakistans’. Many a similarities of the suburbs of Paris can be seen in the life of large section of Muslim youth and Muslim community here as well.
At most of the times social phenomenon appears to be obverse of what they are at the roots. The same phenomenon can be seen in a different many ways. One, it is the deprived sections indulging in the violence out of frustration; second, it is the Muslims who are indulging in this. The latter is a more convenient view for the ruling establishment. The point however is to look at the trajectory of the events and the dilemmas of communities facing discrimination of one or the other type. Even here the superficial observations lead one to think as if polygamy and bigger families are the cause of the plight of Muslims. To put it in the perspective it is because of discrimination, poverty of exclusion, which in turn leads to the social backwardness, large families etc.  Tragedy is that such phenomenon is emerging world wide to give the bad image to Muslims and Islam. It is from such superficial observation that the likes of Samuel Huntington derive their thesis of ‘Clash of Civilization’. The twin track demonization of Islam, through the training of Al Qaeda by U.S. for its interests in the Middle East and the legacy of colonial problems being reflected upon the Muslims of today in the form of discrimination are contributing to this bad image. The truth is standing on its head.  Islam and Muslims are not the cause of these tragic events. These tragic events are an outcome of the political processes, some coming from present imperialist exploitation and some coming as the legacy of the colonial rule of yester years.