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Accueil > fundamentalism / shrinking secular space > France : Where is the left standing against the rising Islamic-right  (...)

France : Where is the left standing against the rising Islamic-right ?

vendredi 6 mars 2015, par siawi3

Source : Le Monde Diplomatique, March 2015

Jihad against all other Muslims — and the West

The estate boys’ story

Foster homes, delinquency, radicalisation and death are commonplace in
French banlieues, a background not confined to the Kouachi brothers.
Life was never good, and it’s worsening.

by Pierre Souchon

“It took two days, just two days to find the Kouachi brothers and
shoot them down.†Wissem, 22, was driving. The motorway was bathed in
winter sunshine as he zigzagged between the lanes (1). “I think of my
own brothers, see ?†He fell silent and turned up the car radio. His
two older brothers were killed before they were 30. One, Bachir,
burgled a villa with his friend Julien. A man passing by on his way
home from a boar hunt saw Bachir and shot him in the head as he fled
by car. After an hour in custody the hunter was set free and the case
was dropped. There was no proper trial, even though the hunter had not
fired in self-defence.

A few months later the other brother, Yassine, was killed in the
street by a burst from a Kalashnikov. “The whole town knows who did
it, the cops too, but they won’t lift a finger. One Arab less suits
them fine,†said Wissem, almost without anger, as if it was the most
normal thing in the world. Then he broke into a popular rap song :
“More young people in the morgue, that’s fewer in the courts/You know
the life I live by heart coz it’s the same everywhere/I’ll keep
fucking France until the day she loves me†(2). Wissem told me Yassine
had been obsessed with justice for Bachir.

When I first met Yassine back in 2012, he said : “The hunter is free,
that’s crazy isn’t it ? If a Mohammed had killed a Cedric, do you think
he’d still be walking around free ?†The division isn’t just ethnic,
because Julien, “a white from the same neighbourhood†, who escaped two
shots unharmed, was convicted of larceny and jailed.

So was it a social issue ? Yassine thought it was. He had been in and
out of police stations since he was six : “My father was a builder and
got a terrible slipped disk, so he was bedridden at home. My mother
had cancer, so she was really ill too, and we had no money. So I
started to nick stuff for my little brothers : toys from supermarkets
and charity shops. And each time, it was off to the cop shop.†His
childhood and teens had been one long confrontation with the law ; he
was placed in care, and had carpentry training (never completed). His
teen escapades — the only glimmers of light in his existence —
included joyriding and painting graffiti on the walls of the town hall. At 18, Yassine was no longer just cautioned, but jailed for theft and a little dealing. “Then at 23, I stopped it all. Because of how others saw me, and with God’s help.â€

He grew a beard and wore traditional clothes, and opened a small halal
grocery where he would pray in a back room. He took interest in trends
in Islam, was very devout, and wanted “to do good†, having repented of
his youth. He spent several months in the Middle East at a school run
by the Muslim Brotherhood to improve his knowledge of the Koran. On
his return to France, his profile attracted police attention — a former delinquent turned practicing Muslim. But it was a feud from that delinquent past that killed him.

‘You never get to live your own life’

In one of our last interviews Yassine said : “When I was young, there
were lots of people here doing things for young people. We had social
workers, people from the town hall ; now there’s nobody. I try to talk to the kids, tell them to calm down, but they don’t care. They’ve got no work, just two days in some training programme, one day of temporary work filling a cement mixer... it’s got worse compared to when I was young. You never get to live your own life, you live the life the state inflicts on you.â€

Wissem’s life was turned upside down by the death of his brothers. He
never finished his qualification in vehicle maintenance. “My choices
were simple : either dealing, and therefore prison or death, like most
of my friends. Or doing a bit of manual labour here, delivering pizzas
there, a few days a month. There’s no work, and that’s a form of death
too.†The unemployment rate for 20-24 year-olds in his neighbourhood
was 57% in 2012 — compared with 13% nationally.
Wissem parked outside a kebab shop run by “beards†for lunch. It was his way of getting closer to his brothers. “I’m working on my faith. I pray and fast, and soon the time will come when I’ll let my beard grow and be a good Muslim, but I’m not quite ready yet.†Wissem said of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons : “They were vicious. The Prophet, praise be upon him, is all we believe in and they even attack that.â€

What about school ? He called it a machine that consigns kids to dead-end jobs. The police and the law ? They buried his brothers without thinking twice. State job creation or apprenticeships ? “There are never any jobs once they’re over.†The media ? “They’re full of crap. It wasn’t the kids from the suburbs who were responsible for the [Charlie Hebdo] killings, it was professionals, the state. That way they can accuse Muslims afterwards.†Wissem and his friends aren’t likely to respond to calls to say that the French republic is free and equal.

Demand for firearms

Nor is the republic very fraternal in Jalès, a small town set among
vineyards just 30km away, but a world apart from Wissem’s suburb.
“There’s a simple way to help Arabs get over this jihad business,†said a hunter in the local gunsmith’s. “You just set up military tribunals and, boom, a bullet in their heads.†There were some timid rebukes, but this kind of talk is good for business. “The day after the Charlie Hebdo attack I was sold out. By 11am I was right out of shotguns ... I’m snowed under with orders. My customers all tell me they’re going to retaliate,†said the shop owner.

Wissem’s father, Moncef, still defends republican values : “I left Algeria in 1970. The little work you could get was pitifully paid, but as soon as I arrived here I found well-paid work on building sites and I had social security. France made us welcome.†Moncef did remember a more difficult time. “From about 1982-83, after Yassine was born, it got harder to find work. There was far less building going on, fewer orders and more competition, first from Spaniards and then from the Eastern Europeans who slashed wages. It was harder but I’m not complaining. I still pick up small undeclared jobs here and there. It tops up my pension, which is just €700 a month.†Moncef hitched up his back support belt. Wissem later said : “In the 45 years my father has worked here building villas for the rich, he has almost never been declared. His back is completely gone and his pension is so pitiful he has to keep doing plastering and cement work at 67. He wanted me to be a bricklayer like him but I said no thanks.â€

Shortly before his death, Yassine had spent an evening with his friend
Nabil : their parents were workers from Algeria, they were brought up
in the same neighbourhoods, shared the same taste for pranks. Nabil
was the “only Arab†in their housing estate to get into a non-vocational secondary school, where his talent as regional karate champion won admirers. Nabil told me : “A white kid asked me where I was from and, pow, I just exploded. On the estate that kind of where-you-from question shows a lack of respect. Later I found out it was normal, a way of introducing yourself.â€

Nabil’s talent for sports made him a natural leader on the estate.
Without getting directly involved in trafficking, he levied a “tax†on deals, threatening force. Soon he had a monthly income of several thousand euros. “I was still at school and my lifestyle was attracting police attention. I needed a cover, so I got a job in a fastfood restaurant when one opened here.†Again he was the “only Arab†, hired under pressure from the town hall, because of his karate trophies.
Later, spurred by complaints from “whites†that the management wasn’t
logging working hours, Nabil kicked in the door to the manager’s office, pinned the manager to the wall and demanded their pay. The response was immediate and the manager apologised. A trade unionist heard about this and contacted Nabil to suggest that he establish a union section. “I discovered that there are labour laws in France and I got really interested in that.â€

‘We won most of our demands’

Around the time Yassine took up religion, Nabil abandoned his tax to
become a delegate for the Confédération Générale du Travail (CGT).
That has been his obsession for the past 15 years : industrial disputes, strikes, occupations, works councils and dismissal interviews. A former colleague, Ayoub, now a civil servant, told me :
“I joined that fastfood outfit when I was 25, and there was this great
guy, Nabil. He talked all the time about our working conditions, and
politics, I learnt so much. In the end we went on strike for 18 days to demand that all the short-term contract workers be hired. We had a
100% turnout for the strike, out of a team of 20. And we did it, we got satisfaction for nearly all our demands.†Today Ayoub is an activist for the leftwing Front de Gauche party, and Nabil is hoping to get hired again by the fastfood chain, which has just fired him for the umpteenth time.

Nabil was offended by the Charlie Hebdo cartoons, and is considering
moving to Algeria, especially since the CGT has grown weary of an
activist who is able to call on reinforcements of a hundred or more estate boys ready for a fight if the riot police threaten his pickets.
A representative at the CGT headquarters told us : “We have differences
of opinion on organisation and the type of protest action with young people from immigrant backgrounds.â€

How many other Nabils are there in this town, long a Communist stronghold, where the National Front recently triumphed in the European elections ? Ayoub would be unlikely to meet a politicised trade unionist today, when religious devotion has often replaced traditional leftwing activism in the estates — and acquired a political dimension. And how can the matter of origins be merged into a broader social issue when even the CGT can reduce Nabil, and others, to their “immigrant†identity ? At the local CGT office Bachir used to visit, the unionists chose their words to describe their discomfiture.
They hear stories like those of the Kouachi brothers every day : from
teenager in care to unemployed youth radicalised through religion.
“The problem is that even when we believe in what we’re doing, there’s
still no work,†said Aurélie. In the hallway, “Je suis Charlie†posters still hung on the wall. These different social spheres are hermetically sealed from each other.

Wissem drove me back to the station. I contradicted him just once, when he said “the Jews†control the media. “No,†I said, “it’s capitalism.†“Yeah ?†he said. “What’s that ?â€