Riots, Iraqi Restaurants, Goodbye Seine

Well it’s my last night here in Paris and I’ve chosen to return to the best restaurant we’ve been to so far, an Iraqi restaurant around the corner from Laura’s apartment here in a Marais.

I am using all my willpower right now to avoid having a political outburst re the quality of Iraqi food versus the intelligence of George Bush etc etc. I’m traveling; iraqi restaurant I don’t want to get into politics except to say that my dislike for the current El Presidente was no small factor in my decision to go abroad. But now that I am abroad I prefer not to think about politics too much.

At the same time I thought I should mention that yes, there are riots in the suburbs around Paris right now. As a matter of fact I had to take a bus out to Charles DeGaulle airport rather than the train, because they shut down the RER to the airport yesterday evening since it passes through the rioting neighborhoods. A number of people have emailed me concerned about the riots and my safety. Prior to the fifth or so such email, I hadn’t paid any attention whatsoever to the riots. And it turns out that some gasoline bombs were set off within walking distance of Laura’s house. That said, you would never know there are riots just from looking about on the streets. Even the local papers aren’t exactly screaming New York Post-style headlines like Paris Burns! or whatever.

And I think the fact that Paris is ignoring the riots is sort of symptomatic of the point that the rioters are trying to make. Lest you be misinformed by the hyperbole prone sensationalism of the America press, I did a little digging and proffer this little summary. About two weeks ago some police officers were chasing three young men. The young men tried to hide in an electrical substation and two of them were killed, presumably when they touched some sort of electrical current. Now obviously, while tragic, this event alone is unlikely to start riots. Unless. Unless the young men were of North African descent and police force in Paris were almost exclusively white. Unless the North African community in the Paris suburbs were marginalized, discriminated against, and generally repressed by the white population of France (I’m not sure if anyone remembers all the apartment fires in Paris this summer and French governments response, which was to round up the displaced from there lean-tos in the street and send them off to god knows where).

When you have a situation where a large population (there are five million first and second generation North Africans living in France, if you would like to know why, google the terms “French Algerian War”) feels marginalized and basically discarded by the dominant population some sort of flashpoint is inevitable. I’m not going to pretend to understand French politics, but my cursory understanding is that top French political officials are generally speaking, inept, out of touch and often blatantly racist in their political decisions. More or less just like top political officials in the United States.

And so you get riots (New Orleans anyone?). And then you hear officials call the rioters “thugs” and you get more riots. And then the officials hold meetings, and you have more riots. And then the officials vow to “catch the crooks” and you have more rioting. And then the officials hold meetings…. Who knows, maybe France is on the edge of some sort of um, restructuring. Probably not, but they could certainly use a little adjustment. I’ve only been here two weeks and I’ve seen two acts of blatant racism, the likes of which I can’t imagine in the United States (and I did live in the South for four years). The French, and more generally, all of Europe has a growing population of Muslim immigrants that it needs to address and to find a way to live with, otherwise bad things are going to happen. Are happening. Will continue to happen.

So yes, there are riots outside Paris, but good lord the US media can blow things out of proportion to sell a newspaper. For instance, yesterday the New York Times headline read “ten French police officers shot in riots.” The reality? Well someone fired a scattershot gun into a crowd of cops and several of them were injured. Okay technically you could say they were shot and no doubt it does not feel pleasant, but come on, printing a headline that says ten cops shot implies some serious shooting, a gun battle even, especially to American audiences whom are used to gun battles occurring in the streets. Not only is such reporting misleading, it’s just plain wrong.

So take the headlines with a grain of salt. Or even better keep a whole salt lick by your side when you watch the news. As for me, I appreciate the concern, but I am fine. I even made it here to airport without any trouble and about an hour I’ll be on my way to Cochin, India.


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