I find it immensely sad that it has taken 11 days of violence in France for politicians to finally come under pressure over the appalling way that Magrebins are treated in their society.
It was incredible to hear and read this morning the analysis of why it is that violence – stone-throwing, arson, some gunshots etc – has not only continued in the face of immense pressure from the government and CRS, but has actually spread.
Some ridiculous media outlets are even tying it to the idea of an Islamic intifada.
I lived in Paris for a year over 10 years ago and I knew all about the problem. There are virtual ghettos dotted around Paris – the worst in the north but some also in the south – where immigrants, mostly from North Africa are forced to live in appalling conditions. They are treated as second-class citizens, are often unable to get jobs, and get the real rough end of the stick from the frankly sadistic CRS.
This has been building up for years. In fact, one of the most popular French films of modern times La Haine – hailed as a masterpiece all over the world – was exactly about this problem. It was made in 1995. I have seen at least three or four other films that all touch on this disaffected group of cut-off and extremely angry communities.
About six months ago, there was another huge incident in which one of these Magrebin was shot by police. The police got away with it and there were riots. The district is now a virtual no-go area for the police.
The French government has been avoiding dealing with this problem for so long, the only amazing thing is that it hasn't blown up before now.
But what is depressing is that it has taken this enormous and sustained violence for anyone to notice or anything to be done. Even now there are lots of people supporting the Interior Minister's response which has been: more CRS, more arrests.
If anyone has even been faced with the CRS, they will know that with them does not come calm, compromise or understanding. They are a law unto themselves. They have a very violent and racist culture and they are absolutely loathed by the ghetto communities for obvious reasons.
Coming onto my usual theme: the media and its interaction with society. This is a prime issue that the media could have and should have pushed to the forefront by covering these people's legitimate concerns, by making them understandable to the wider French community, and by highlighting the abuses of the CRS and so putting political pressure on them to behave.
If this awareness had been built up, it strikes me that we would not be seeing the violence we currently are, and France could not have turned a blind eye for so long to the dispossessed in its own society.
Just as an anecdote. When I lived in Paris, I stayed on campus at the elite Ecole Normale Superieure in Cachan in the south of the city. It was were many of the sons and daughters of the political and industrial elite studied.
There was a small nightclub on the campus, and I remember one night, a load of what were clearly North African immigrants turned up on the dancefloor. They were obviously being mischevious by turning up but weren't causing any trouble.
I was then dismayed by everyone's reaction. They were refused drinks at the bar. And suddenly everyone was spilling out the doors. The immigrants also went outside – at which point, the doors were slammed shut. There was a real sense of hatred and fear about these unwelcome visitors.
I insisted on being allowed to go outside being the nosy sod that I am and was warned not to be so stupid. But I went outside to figure out why these people were so apparently dangerous. I barely had a chance to talk to one of them – they seemed alright to me – when someone shouted “CRS” and they all scattered.
Within minutes there were 10 heavily armed CRS standing there. Strange thing about the CRS is that even when they're there for your protection, you don't feel very comfortable around them.
Now you try to tell me that there wasn't a dangerous misunderstanding of cultures going on there. When I was younger gangs of one kind of another would turn up uninvited at parties. It was only when they got out of hand that you called the police. And then about an hour later one police car would turn up.
What I saw was 10 heavily armed CRS appear on the scene within 10 minutes of these people even arriving.
France has brought these problems entirely upon itself.