[Mb-civic] Rage of French Youth Is a Fight for Recognition -
swiggard at comcast.net
Sun Nov 6 06:58:20 PST 2005
Rage of French Youth Is a Fight for Recognition
Spreading Rampage in Country's Slums Is Rooted in Alienation and Abiding
By Molly Moore
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, November 6, 2005; Page A01
LE BLANC-MESNIL, France, Nov. 5 -- Mohammed Rezzoug, caretaker of the
municipal gymnasium and soccer field, knows far more about the youths
hurling firebombs and torching cars on the streets of this Paris suburb
than do the police officers and French intelligence agents struggling to
nail the culprits.
He can identify most of the perpetrators. So can almost everyone else in
the neighborhoods that have been attacked.
"They're my kids," said Rezzoug, a garrulous 45-year-old with thinning
black hair and skin the color of a walnut.
While French politicians say the violence now circling and even entering
the capital of France and spreading to towns across the country is the
work of organized criminal gangs, the residents of Le Blanc-Mesnil know
better. Many of the rioters grew up playing soccer on Rezzoug's field.
They are the children of baggage handlers at nearby Charles de Gaulle
International Airport and cleaners at the local schools.
"It's not a political revolution or a Muslim revolution," said Rezzoug.
"There's a lot of rage. Through this burning, they're saying, 'I exist,
I'm here.' "
Such a dramatic demand for recognition underscores the chasm between the
fastest growing segment of France's population and the staid political
hierarchy that has been inept at responding to societal shifts. The
youths rampaging through France's poorest neighborhoods are the
French-born children of African and Arab immigrants, the most neglected
of the country's citizens. A large percentage are members of the Muslim
community that accounts for about 10 percent of France's 60 million people.
One of Rezzoug's "kids" -- the countless youths who use the sports
facilities he oversees -- is a husky, French-born 18-year-old whose
parents moved here from Ivory Coast. At 3 p.m. on Saturday, he'd just
awakened and ventured back onto the streets after a night of setting
"We want to change the government," he said, a black baseball cap pulled
low over large, chocolate-brown eyes and an ebony face. "There's no way
of getting their attention. The only way to communicate is by burning."
Like other youths interviewed about their involvement in the violence of
the last 10 days, he spoke on the condition he not be identified for
fear the police would arrest him.
But he and others described the nightly rampages without fear,
surrounded by groups of younger boys who listened with rapt attention. A
few yards away, older residents of the neighborhood, many with gray
hair, passed out notices appealing for an end to the violence.
A man with wire-rimmed glasses handed one of the sheets to the
black-capped youth. He accepted the paper, glanced at it and smiled
respectfully at his elder. The boy then carefully folded it in half and
continued the conversation about how the nightly targets are selected.
"We don't plan anything," he said. "We just hit whatever we find at the
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