Political, Racial Factors in France's Riots

Steve Inskeep talks with Patrick Weil, director of the Center for the Study of Immigration, Integration, and Citizenship Policies at the Sorbonne, about the rioting in France. Weil says the rioting betrays anger over lack of respect from authorities, as well as unemployment.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

We're going to talk more about this now with Patrick Weil. He is director of the Center for the Study of Immigration, Integration and Citizenship Policies at the Sorbonne. He's on the line from Paris. Welcome to the program.

Mr. PATRICK WEIL (Director, Center for the Study of Immigration, Integration and Citizenship Policies, Sorbonne): Hello.

INSKEEP: Why do you think that after 13 nights these riots have simply not run their course?

Mr. WEIL: Because I think these people don't feel that the government has fulfilled their wishes.

INSKEEP: Which are?

Mr. WEIL: Which are more respect, more recognition. Many of them don't have clear claims. They are just wanting to show their anger.

INSKEEP: You do have to ask what it is that has made people so angry. Some people have suggested it's unemployment. We spoke yesterday to a parliamentarian in France who said this has nothing to do with unemployment really. It's just a matter of people violating the law. What do you think is the fundamental cause?

Mr. WEIL: No, the true factor is unemployment. You must try to feel what it is to be in a situation where sometimes your parents and even your grandparents have been unemployed. Because since 1975, France and part of Europe is facing a very big crisis of unemployment. We have a rate of 10 percent of unemployment, which has almost doubled since 20 years. That's unbearable for anyone's family who are facing a rate of perhaps 30 percent, 35 percent, 40 percent in some areas. Because as every French family is fighting for the jobs of their children, of course, the immigrants' family have less resources, are facing discrimination and racism more than others and more difficulties.

INSKEEP: Although we should point out you're talking about millions of French who are unemployed, many of whom have been unemployed for a long time, they're not all looting superstores and burning businesses as has happened in the last 24 hours.

Mr. WEIL: It is why I think there is structural close and there are some circumstances that has provoked this crisis, and it is why I mention the strategy and the words of our minister of interior, Mr. Sarkozy, who provoked these people in their own areas, had some very tough, and in some way, insulting comments. To reply to this provocation, they have decided to counterattack in some way. That's something that is not perceived in--sometime in foreign news, but there is a political dimension.

INSKEEP: You referred to racism. How is that racism reflected in the housing market or in the workplace across France?

Mr. WEIL: It is obvious that when you are brown or you have a name that reflects your North African origin, it's more difficult to get a position in some kind of jobs. There is now established middle-class coming from the second generation immigrants of Africa and North Africa. But there is still 20 percent to 30 percent of this second generation who are facing a lot of difficulties to get a job. They are also facing difficulties to get lodging and, of course, there is a link between job and housing, because if you don't have a permanent salary, it's difficult to rent an apartment from an owner.

INSKEEP: Do you think that these riots are forcing a change in French politics?

Mr. WEIL: What I would hope is that it would force discussion for economic and social policy. You have some ways for the government to treat some part of the problem quite rapidly. Of course, to attack the unemployment issue would not produce immediate effects, but I still think that the government could announce some decisions, some measures, as to fight more efficiently against discrimination that can produce quite rapid effects.

INSKEEP: We've been talking to Patrick Weil of the Sarbonne. Thank you very much.

Mr. WEIL: Thank you.

INSKEEP: And you can read more about the underlying tensions driving the riots by going to our Web site, npr.org.

You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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