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some further comments on ZUS

Reader comment on item: The 751 No-Go Zones of France

Submitted by daniel (France), Dec 2, 2006 at 14:25

Dr. Pipes is correct in noting the issue of ZUS in France has elicited quite a bit of debate and not simply "debunking". There are those such as Messrs. Stanhope and Murphy who claim ZUS are nothing but rundown areas targeted for economic development, and then those such as Messrs Johnson and Jo M (?) who have first hand experience of them and support Dr. Pipe's analysis.

I am not a specialist on urban slums, just an observer and concerned citizen, and my own personal experience is no more representative than that of any other of the readers/commentators I've just referred to. On the one hand I'm aware that quite a few ZUS are indeed economic development zones, yet at the same time the existence of crime and poverty ridden zones, where the French state exercises only limited control at best, is an well-documented fact, as indicated by the "sensitive" label in the document which Dr. Pipes originally quoted. I myself provided two recent examples in my post "denial", and Dr. Pipe's Nov. 28 update offers further evidence of this.

I'd guess the truth on ZUS is probably closer to something like this : they more or less overlap certain, but not all, "no-go" urban areas, and include some that are not. There are at least two reasons for this :

1/ To include only true "no-go" zones on such a list would be a tacit official recognition of their status, while including some run-down areas without serious problems of crime and excluding some other truly "sensitive" areas conveniently ensures some confusion (evidenced in the debate on this Weblog) about what ZUS actually represent.

2/ The urban zones on the list receive extra government funding. To include only true "no-go" areas, would mean that practically all funding would be going to the suburbs of Paris, Marseille and Lyon, which would not sit well with most of the other regions, hence the inclusion of places like Nantes or Annonay so that nobody feels left out.

The apparent contradiction, which has given way to so much debate, can be explained in large part by the fact that according to the standard French social dogma, any violence or antisocial behavior is the direct, unavoidable consequence of economic hardship, for which society as a whole is responsible and not individuals. (Caldwell, in a perceptive article -- which "J.S." alerted me to in "heads in the sands of Paris?" -- provides a typical example of this, in reference to "tournantes", or "gang-banging" : "Daniel Welzer-Lang, a sociologist whose latest book studies manliness and machismo in the ghetto, told Pech that virilism is a strategy of collective defense, "in response to the fear of unemployment, of racism, of lawlessness, to the suffering of not being able to show other aspects of manliness.") Thus the trick for so many years, whenever and wherever social problems such as violence, crime, bus burnings, etc. appear, has been to throw money at them and hope that they will go away.

To properly determine whether certain ZUS in France can properly be referred to as "Dar al-Islam" requires addressing several preliminary questions :

1/ Can all immigrants of North African or Middle-Eastern origin be indiscriminately classified as "Muslims" ? Probably not, in which case this convenient "shorthand" is also misleading. While it is true that many of these immigrants forsake any sort of religious practice, the fact remains however that the percentage of individuals who identify themselves as "Muslim" in some respect is certainly much higher than in the general population.

2/ Is anarchy, or something close to it, in certain areas with a sizeable "Muslim" population (see preceding question) the same thing as "Muslim rule" ? I'd say it's doubtful, this doesn't imply however that Islamic religious influence may not be stronger in some areas than that of the French state. This then leads us to ask the further question :

3/ Do Islam as an ideology and Islamic institutions command a greater sense of loyalty and provide a greater sense of identity, in practice as in word, than the institutions and laws of the French Republic ?

It's often said that attempts to assimilate Islam into the general culture have failed, but I believe it's only fair to recognize that whatever attempts have actually been made were half-hearted at best. In France it has never been clear whether immigrants were to be considered as citizens-to-be or perpetual outsiders. The result that 2nd or 3rd generation youths, born and bred in France, whose parents still only have permanent resident cards, identify themselves as Algerians to the point of jeering the national anthem and breaking up a historic France-Algeria soccer match a few years back. I don't know if such rejection of French culture and identity automatically makes one an Islamist, but it surely doesn't help matters.

4/ Finally, in what ways are Islamist ideology or the Islamic religion materially associated with lawlessness in whatever "no-go" areas exist ?

I've expressed some of my own thoughts on the subject in previous posts, and I must admit that I personally don't have a satisfactory answer to any of these questions, and I'm sure there are some other worthwhile considerations which have escaped my attention. I will be very interested to read Dr. Pipes "longer analysis" which he has promised. At the very least, Dr. Pipes has provided us with an interesting case study in how any inaccuracies in dealing with politically "sensitive" (i.e. incorrect) subjects like the possible connections between Islam and lawlessness, tend to foster instant denial of the problem's very existence.
Submitting....

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