By Jean-Claude Mairal
Once again, after Nice that resulted in 84 dead our country has been victim of an attack in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray. Faced with the horror we can only express sympathy and solidarity with the victims and their families. And let’s not forget all the other victims of attacks around the world, to whom we also express our solidarity. Such heinous and barbaric acts can only be condemned unreservedly. But that should not prevent us to understand why we have come to a situation that some call “war”.
Security measures need to be taken, but this should not obscure the necessary reflection on the causes of these deadly attacks, if we want to combat them effectively and allow our society and our Republic find serenity and harmony between all sectors of our population. Otherwise we will be in a state of permanent “war” or even “civil war” that will endanger democracy and our freedoms.
Not to mention the political reactions of some of the right and extreme right ready to challenge the rule of law and some of our freedoms, and the lack of responsibility on the Left, and this for several months, for failing to address what is at the root of this deadly violence. Their only focus – the presidential and the legislative elections. Maintain or regain power is almost their only course of action. While the fire is burning. Appalling! While academics, sociologists, anthropologists, psychologists, political scientists, economists, etc have effectively analysed for many years the malaise and the crisis in our society. We listen politely, but do not hear them.
An obvious element is that it is young people who are behind these bloody attacks. Youth who cause death by choosing to die. Without putting them on the same level there are also young people, which are called “rioters” – using violence as a method of political action to combat this society and those who run it. There are young people called the “zadistes”, challenging a number of projects (Sivens Dam, the Notre Dames des Landes airport, etc.) seen by them as an expression of consumerism. There are these young people in the countryside and in the suburbs who become radicalized to the extreme right, ready to do battle, and some of them vote FN. There are the young people in neighbourhoods abandoned, unemployment, who fall into delinquency and choose trafficking of all kinds (drugs, weapons, etc.) even if it means death[i].
When one’s future is mapped out only as delinquency, with death at the end, for some it is not such a big jump to join the jihad to give meaning to their lives, even if it is death down the road for them, and for innocent people. There are all these young people who no longer vote. There are those who come to find work that our country is unable to give them. In short, a significant part of the youth feel excluded from a society where the values of happiness promoted at length by advertising and media, are money and consumerism. A terrible indictment of our society, unable to give a meaning, positive and altruistic, to the lives and future of these young people.
For over 10 years anthropologist Alain Bertho has been tracking and analysing youth movements and riots in France and worldwide. On the launch of the release of his book (“Les Enfants du Chaos” – “Children of Chaos” – Editions La Découverte) in answer to the question: “What was there to hear and understand from the French riots of 2005,” he replied: “It was the revolt of youth who had had enough of bearing the burden of the relegation of their parents, of the stigma attached to them, to be seen as threatening, controlled three times a day, to be considered as not quite French. The silence of politicians after the death of Zyed Benna and Bouna Traoré[ii] [of the Parisian banlieue of Clichy-sous-Bois] caused the explosion at the national level. The only answer has been repression. The political world as a whole ignored them, condemning the car fires but not the death of two young people! This fracture which was allowed to expand then became confessionalisée, between an aggressive “secularism” of the state and the rise of religious practice. Where politics is no longer of any help, neither to parents nor children, it is replaced by religion.”
He continued: “Which direction can a revolt without hope take, without a collective vehicle for the future. We see only too well, through the rise of racist and xenophobic extreme right, on one side and the murderous and suicidal jihadism, on the other.” Thus journalist Pascale Kremer headlined his article in Le Monde on 25 February 2014: “Frustrated French youth dream of a fight”. The article was based on the responses of 210,000 young people aged 18 to 34 to the questionnaire in the fall of 2013 “Generation What?” by France Télévisions. From this survey it emerged that for these young people defined their generation as “sacrificed”, “suppressed” or “lost.” For 70% of them French society did not give them the means to show what they are capable of. A terrible finding! For sociologists specialised in the youth, Cécile Van de Velde and Camille Peugny, this situation of French youth “is like a pressure cooker that does not have a valve.” They noted, “Just like what happens in the whole of society, a large minority positioned on authoritarian and xenophobic positions.” “A time bomb” feared Cécile Van de Velde. “These are the lives of an invisible youth in a deadlock, the losers of globalization. Many rural and peri-urban[iii], distressed, downgraded. They are often tempted by the National Front.” (Le Monde 25 February 2014). Christiane Taubira, after leaving the [Socialist] government [in January 2016, over disagreements with proposed anti-terror legislation[iv]] perfectly describes the situation of youth in her book Murmure à la jeunesse. (“Whispers of Youth”, Editions Philippe Rey).
To be clear, this is not to excuse the barbaric acts which we have just witnessed again in Nice or any other form of violence or delinquency – which we must condemn and repress – but we must drain the swamp from which it feeds. Otherwise we are heading into dark and terrible days. Certainly there is no fatalism in this situation, provided you take the necessary action. It is now urgent and essential and must be the priority of all public policies, to give France’s youth hope and a future. Putting young people at the heart of the decision-making processes, to trust and give them their rightful place, in all instances. Yet calls, analyses and proposals of the youth movements and for popular education have been made for years. Aware of the problem, [communist] Marie-George Buffet, Minister for Youth and Sport had upon her arrival at the Ministry in 1997, mobilized all stakeholders and initiated the departmental meetings of youth.
A genuine dynamic was launched but was unfortunately not followed up by action by government, despite the efforts of the Minister. In 2012 we saw the creation of the French youth forum, an autonomous assembly of public authorities bringing together 18 leading youth organizations (managed and animated entirely by them) including the Movement of Communist Youth. In June 2015, 26 popular education organizations called for “a big bang youth policy” with specific proposals. Three interdepartmental committees of youth have also been in place since 2012. Following the attacks of 13 November in an open letter, on 18 November, to the President of the Republic and the Prime Minister, the Rural Christian Youth Movement proposed “open spaces for debate in all neighbourhoods and villages. Why not carve out half days in businesses, or schools, to allow every citizen to make its contribution to building an alternative that is less costly in terms of life?’
In an appeal on November 29, 2015 entitled “The generation of the crisis will not be at war”, a whole range of youth organisations – trade unionists (Jeunes CGT, Turkish/Kurdish workers youth section DIDF-young) students (Union Nationale des Etudiants de France, Union Nationale Lycéenne), christians (Jeunesse Ouvrière Chrétienne, Mouvement Rural de Jeunesse Chrétienne), neighbourhood associations, environmentalists, political parties (Communist Youth, Jeunes Radicaux de Gauche, Left Party) called for “the constitution for spaces for exchange and debate open to all youth to ensure that the society of tomorrow is not build without us. ” It is now up to the government, politicians and elected officials to promote such initiatives and places of exchange! The urgency is clear.
It’s through this synergy between concrete actions on the ground (the lives of young people), reflections, democratic debate and actions in favour of a ‘big bang of youth policies’ at national and European level, actively involving citizens, that we can create an alternative to this dehumanizing and deadly capitalist society, meet the expectations of youth and restore hope. And in this way create the opportunity to drain the swap that breeds the violence. But to do so, we must have the political will and ambition!
Jean Claude Mairal is chair of a community association in central France (Conseil de développement du Pays Vichy Auvergne) and author of “Peuple citoyen, la démocratie le défi de notre temps” (éditions Arcane 17)
Translation by Revolting Europe
[i] See the investigations in the newspaper La Marseillaise by Philippe Pujol, Albert Londres prize “in northern Marseille and published under the title La fabrique du monstre” (the Making of the monster)”, the Arena editions.
[ii] It was the death of Zyed Benna and Bouna Traoré which sparked the 2005 riots.
[iii] Outskirts of a city, or hinterland
[iv] Christiane Taubira stepped down from her job shortly before anti-terrorism proposals that she disagreed with went before parliament. If passed, the laws would mean that people who are convicted of terrorism offences are stripped of citizenship. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-35417732