Archive for July, 2013


‘Ini Avan’. This is a fine movie from Sri Lanka I saw last week—the first I’ve seen from that country (can’t think of any other). The title (Tamil) translates as ‘Him, Here After’—which is what the pic is called in English—, though when written as one word (iniavan) means ‘sweet man’. The double entendre is deliberate. The story is about a former LTTE fighter—his name is never mentioned; he is simply ‘avan’ (him)—who returns to his village near Jaffna after having done time in a government rehabilitation camp (he likely surrendered or was captured in the final Sri Lankan army offensive in 2009, that decapitated the LTTE and put an end to its three decade-long insurgency). The former fighter

[hopes] to find meaningful work, reconnect with his lost love, and create a new life as an “iniavan” in his old village. But the village has turned against Avan and the separatist cause he fought for. From the first moments in the film, his old neighbours, all believably portrayed by amateur actors, stare at him in disapproving silence, and a child runs away from him. An old man comes to shout that Avan “killed” the man’s sons by luring them into the LTTE; we learn that he recruited everyone in the village who supported the cause, and they all died in the war. It was only Avan who survived to return and face those who were left behind to mourn their relatives while living in fear of LTTE extortion and government violence. He doesn’t want to face them, though. When anyone tries to talk to him, he replies, “piraiyosanam illai”: “no point”.

The scene could be from the aftermath of so many civil wars, where villagers supported the insurgents when they were in the ascendancy and the village sons had joined—not always on their own volition (there is a significant degree of impressment in these conflicts or offers one can’t refuse)—, suffered the actions of the army—killings, rape, destruction of property—but also of the insurgents themselves (their “revolutionary taxes”—i.e. extortion—, high-handed behavior, killings, and the like). And, in the case of the LTTE’s insurgency, it was all for naught. ‘Avan’, who was a gun slinging local big shot during the insurgency, is now a pariah. He tries to find work in Jaffna but his identity is known and he has no particular skills—apart from being a fearless tough guy who can be entrusted to do jobs outside the law. On the streets in Jaffna he encounters men from his insurgent past; they don’t look nice and he doesn’t want to deal with them: and they clearly have issues with him. And no one wants to hire him, except a local mafia-type who precisely knows his past. And a story thus ensues. The film is engaging, hangs together, and ends as it should. It has only opened in France so far (reviews here). Hopefully it will make it to the US and elsewhere. Trailer is here and interview with director Asoka Handagama is here.

Another film from that general part of the world seen in the past week was ‘Metro Manila’, which is from the Philippines but written, directed, and produced by the Englishman Sean Ellis (who’s made a couple of films I hadn’t heard of). It’s a sort of ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ set in Manila, as more than one critic has observed. French reviews are mostly good—though Le Monde panned it—and Allociné spectators have given it the thumbs way up, so I was definitely going to check it out. But I regretfully had to agree with Le Monde’s review and part company with the Allociné spectators, whose collective assessment of films is normally on the mark. I did not like this movie and almost from the get go.

It begins in a village in northern Luzon, with a (good-looking) young rice farmer who can’t make ends meet and thus decides to migrate to Manila. So he sets off to the big city, with (attractive) wife, (adorable) five-year-old daughter, and (cuddly) baby in tow. There were several problems right off the bat. First, the family was too well-groomed and scrubbed to be dirt poor farmers. Peasant-wise, they didn’t cut it. And one learns in the course of the film that the husband, named Oscar (actor Jake Macapagal), had worked in a factory before becoming a peasant. Not too credible. Usually it’s the other way around. Secondly, they seemed to have no family in the village—or anywhere (a bit odd for folks from the sticks)—and knew no one in Manila. But when people migrate—whether rural-urban or cross-border—they are invariably imbedded in networks—family, friendship, village—, with knowledge of where they’re going—and that determines that destination—, a place to stay when they arrive, and information about employment. Migrants, even the poorest, possess a degree of social capital. But this couple clearly had none. They were entirely on their own. Thirdly, they were utterly clueless once in the chaotic Manila-Quezon City metropolis—where they’d clearly never been—, both enthralled by it and with no idea of what they were doing, thereby leaving them easy prey for the inevitable predators and swindlers. Again, peasants may be peasants, but they’re not that naïve when in the big city. The clichés here were a little much. Fourthly, Oscar, despite being a rube, had served in the army, so one learns—which normally should have provided some sort of network—, knew how to find the employment office, and make phone calls in English. Again, not entirely credible. Fifthly, they find digs in a particularly fetid, malfamé shantytown, though manage to keep clean, cook food, get the baby’s diapers changed, etc. Not clear how they did all that, and while being flat broke to boot. And finally, they were so nice. Such good people: decent, honest, trusting, ethical, moral… Even the daughter protects a kitten that is being abused by neighborhood boys. And on this level, the film grated, as it tugged at and manipulated your emotions (and I’m a sucker for that sort of thing). And you just knew, almost from the outset, that bad things were going to happen to the family. Bad things happening to good people. I hate that. For this reason alone I found the pic excruciating to sit through—angoissant—and couldn’t wait for it to be over.

And the bad stuff does happen—though not entirely and definitively. The way the bad stuff happens—and the film ends—is also contrived. Somehow I can’t imagine a Filipino director making this movie. It took a ‘Slumdog Millionaire’-inspired Westerner to do so. Now the film does have a certain “authenticity”—it is entirely in Tagalog; the script was in English, with the cast translating as they went along—and one does get a feel for Manila in its teeming, bustling sprawl, seaminess, violence, concentrated wealth and mass poverty—the technical feat of shooting the movie in that city during the workweek is to be commended—, but that’s as much as I’ll say in its favor. US reviews are here, here, and here. Trailer is here.

metro manila

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Thomas Friedman's McMansion, 7117 Bradley Blvd, Bethesda, MD

Thomas Friedman’s McMansion, 7117 Bradley Blvd, Bethesda, MD

That’s the assertion of writer and former Wall Street executive Richard Eskow, who has a brilliant takedown of NYT Über-pundit Thomas Friedman—whom I essentially ceased reading years ago—on the Campaign for America’s Future blog. Money quote

Friedman occupies a unique place in the pundit ecosystem. From his perch at The New York Times, he idealizes the unregulated, winner-take-all economy of the Internet and while overlooking human, real-world concerns. His misplaced faith in a digitized “free” market reflects the solipsistic libertarianism of a technological über-class which stares into the rich diversity of human experience and sees only its own reflection staring back.

Friedman is a closet Ayn Rand in many ways, but he gives Rand’s ugly and exploitative philosophy a pseudo-intellectual, liberal-friendly feel-good gloss. He turns her harsh industrial metal music into melodious easy listening: John Galt meets John Denver…

Great stuff. Read the whole thing here.

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U zemlji krvi i meda

The other day, at one of the universities I teach at, I was chitchatting with an administrative staffer, a naturalized French citizen from Bosnia-Herzegovina (Mostar)—she came to France in the 1990s, in her teens—and who is about to go there for her summer vacation. We talked about the wars in Yugoslavia in the ’90s, particularly in Bosnia, and, as is my wont, I mentioned the movies I’d seen recently on the general subject. One of them, which I caught on DVD last month, was Angelina Jolie’s 2011 ‘In the Land of Blood and Honey’ (in France: Au pays du sang et du miel), on the civil war in Bosnia-Herzegovina, whose narrative hook is the relationship between a Serb militiaman and a Bosniak female prisoner he takes under his protection, whom he had met at a Sarajevo nightclub before the war. Reviews for the film were generally positive in both the US and France, though a few were mixed. I thought it was good and tip my figurative hat to Angelina Jolie for making it (and for it being in Serbo-Croatian, a language she doesn’t speak). Now the film is a tad propagandistic and manichean, as the Bosniaks are portrayed as the victims and the Serbs the bad guys. The latter are really evil in the film, even when one or two of them try not to be. But Angelina J.’s portrayal is correct. The Serbs were the bad guys in Bosnia-Herzegovina. They really did murder at will, rape countless women—and the pic is explicit on this—, and behave in a genocidal manner toward the Bosniaks (as even if what happened in B-H in 1992-95 may not qualify stricto sensu as a genocide, the genocidal logic of the Serbs’ démarche can hardly be denied). One would have to be a fanaticized Serbian nationalist—or a deranged Muslimophobic pro-Serb foreigner—to insist otherwise. I won’t say that the film was perfect from beginning to end but I liked the politics and perspective, found the acting good—and particularly the protag, played by Zana Marjanović—, and it more than held my attention. For details, see the review in Salon by Andrew O’Hehir.

Briefly, on two other films from the ex-Yugoslavia seen in recent months (these at the cinema). One was ‘Children of Sarajevo’, by Aida Begić (who lived through the 1992-95 siege). The pic is about a 23-year-old named Rahima (actress Marija Pikić) and her 14-year-old brother, Nedim, who are orphans from the war and fending for themselves in contemporary Sarajevo, she supporting the two of them with a petit boulot. Rahima, one learns, had a dissolute adolescence but has now found religion and wears a headscarf, and is trying to protect her brother from getting into trouble (as he is, notably with a classmate who is the son of a government minister; the corruption of the nouveaux riche ruling class is a theme). It’s a small film, not too bad, but also not essential IMO. Reviews are here, here, and here.

The other one was the Serbian ‘Clip’, by youthful director Maja Miloš. Apparently inspired by the 1995 indie pic ‘Kids’—that I’ve never seen—, it’s set in a trashy, soulless cité in a trashy, soulless town somewhere near Belgrade, about teenage airheads who, when not at their trashy high school, spend their time listening to trashy music, surfing trashy Internet web sites, playing with their cell phones, consuming intoxicating substances, and engaging in porn-inspired sex acts (which are rather explicit). The guys are violence-prone assholes, the girls stupid, and the adults both. I went to see the pic strictly on the recommendation of Le Monde’s thumbs up review. During the thing I was slightly embarrassed to be watching it, wondering why I was subjecting myself to this (not to mention wasting my time), even though the pic is “serious,” has been screened at film fests, and even won awards. The director clearly had a point to make about aimless youth, life in contemporary Serbia, or something. US reviews (mainly positive) are here and here. Chacun son goût.



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Conservative hypocrisy on race


In my previous post, on Americans and (in)curiosity, I cast some aspersions on right-wingers (one of my preferred pastimes). Continuing in this vein, Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic had a pertinent commentary the other day on “Conservative hypocrisy on racial profiling and affirmative action,” in which he pointed out a glaring contradiction in the argument of the ghastly right-wing pundit Victor Davis Hanson, who, like many conservatives, has used the Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman verdict to let loose on the question of race in America. Conservatives have a hard time talking about race. The American right had no problem with the pre-1960s racial status quo in America, had nothing to do with the civil rights movement—when it didn’t oppose it—, and built its post 1960s base on white Southerners who defected to the GOP as the Democrats became the party of civil rights and political home to the vast majority of newly enfranchised black voters (Nixon’s ‘Southern strategy’, etc). Since the 1960s conservatives—such as Victor Davis Hanson—have adopted a color blind discourse and systematically opposed policies that hint at racial preference. But, as Friedersdorf observes, VDH and other conservatives suddenly cease to be color blind when it comes to racial profiling. For VDH & Co., it is not okay to see blacks as blacks, except when it is.

In a recent National Review column on “Facing facts [sic] about race,” that Friedersdorf links to, VDH writes the following

In middle age, [my father] and my mother once were parking their car on a visit to San Francisco when they were suddenly surrounded by several African-American teens. When confronted with their demands, he offered to give the thieves all his cash if they would leave him and my mother alone. Thankfully they took his cash and left. I think that experience — and others — is why he once advised me, “When you go to San Francisco, be careful if a group of black youths approaches you.” Note what he did not say to me. He did not employ language like “typical black person.” He did not advise extra caution about black women, the elderly, or the very young — or about young Asian Punjabi, or Native American males.  In other words, the advice was not about race per se, but instead about the tendency of males of one particular age and race to commit an inordinate amount of violent crime. It was after some first-hand episodes with young African-American males that I offered a similar lecture to my own son. The advice was born out of experience rather than subjective stereotyping.

What dickheads, both father and son, to give such advice to their kids. As a generally white-looking person who lived for most of his youth and early adulthood in urban America, I could recount plenty of personal stories myself on this subject—of aggressions but more non-aggressions—but will resist that temptation (and which would take up a few hours of my time; I am utterly certain that I have had far more personal experience on this matter than has VDH or any of his politically kindred spirits who may be reading this).

Let me just recount one story here, a discussion with my 19-year-old daughter that happened precisely yesterday evening. Now my daughter has lived her entire life in Paris and (since age five) in our urban inner banlieue. She’s a city kid and has been out and about, navigating on public transportation, and going into Paris with friends or on her own since age 13. And as she entered her late teens, she started going out on weekend nights and coming home very late. As one knows, there is a certain level of criminality in Paris—crime rates in France and elsewhere in Europe are about the same as the US (with the singular exception of homicide)—, and with incivilities and street crime disproportionately committed by young males belonging to what Americans would refer to as racial or ethnic minorities. Now we—my wife and I—have never offered any advice to our daughter—not once, ever—about being wary of males of particular racial or ethnic groups. Not only did such never occur to us but she, as with any minimally street smart kid and with sources of information apart from her parents, was perfectly capable of figuring this kind of thing out for herself. So in the discussion yesterday, my daughter, as she was getting ready to go out on the town with friends, started to talk about—in a specific context—the incessant, daily harassment—sometimes threatening—that she and her girlfriends are subjected to on the street by young males. It was by no means the first time we’ve had this discussion but it’s always interesting to hear about it again. I rhetorically asked her—not for the first time—if the guys who bothered and said stuff to her were mostly renois and rebeus, i.e. blacks and Maghrebis/Arabs. She said of course, that it’s only them, that no blanc—white guy—or Jew would ever harass her, come on to her in public, or make unpleasant comments. C’est toujours les mêmes. But in pushing the discussion further, she specified that it’s not all the blacks or Arabs who may be hanging out on the street or on the train, or even most. She instinctively knows which ones are okay and which are not by their look—by the way they’re dressed and carry themselves—and how they behave. There are a number of cues, not just skin color. And it mainly comes down to social class. The assholes are the lumpenproletariat layabouts from the cités. My daughter and her copines do not racially profile. They read each situation as it develops—or does not develop—and react accordingly. They do not preemptively avoid young men of color. Their default posture is, in fact, not to do so. And they are not going to be wary of guys who are manifestly minding their own business. As my daughter has grown up in an urban multicultural and multiracial environment—and which has been reflected in her friendship circles—, her attitude on this is only normal. And is rather more sophisticated than that of VDH and his conservative crew.

On the Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman verdict—of which I have read much—, let me link to just one commentary, by UC-Riverside English lit prof Vorris L. Nunley, “George Zimmerman never saw Trayvon Martin.” The lede: “Instead he encountered a black trope, a figure occupying the anxiety-ridden terrain of the white imagination.” And that imagination includes Victor Davis Hanson’s too.

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about foreign cultures. Following from my previous post, a few days ago I read the cover article in the current issue of The National Interest, “Wasting the golden hour in America’s Iraq meltdown,” by James Clad, who served in the US occupation authority in Iraq in the aftermath of the 2003 invasion (and, during the last two years of the Bush-Cheney administration, was Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs). An interesting insider’s perspective on what went wrong for America in Iraq and what could have been (my own ten years after assessment of Iraq is here). On the ‘what went wrong’—including, among other things, why Americans were so uninterested in Iraq during the US presence there—, I found this passage noteworthy

NEITHER RETROSPECTIVE nor early reportage comes close to an interesting complaint I heard from the ORHA military chaplain as staff on off-duty hours were watching escapist action films screened on the blank palace wall. “We are not a curious people,” said the chaplain. I’ve thought a bit about this in the intervening years. Whatever the arrogance of European imperialism, there were periods when that continent also took an interest in places that were being explored, mapped or invaded by Europeans.

Consider Alexander in Persia, Napoleon in Egypt or the British in Asia. In just a three-year occupation of Java in the early nineteenth century, the governor wrote a two-volume encyclopedia about the place. What set these conquests apart from other depredations, aside from blood and the overwhelming of subject territories? I think the answer is “curiosity.”

Back in World War I, the British Indian Army took four years to get from Basra to Baghdad. Mishandling the aftermath led to a revolt in 1920–1922. But an abiding reality of that experience, apparent in the writings of T. E. Lawrence, Gertrude Bell and others influencing British policy, was an insatiable curiosity about the place. Earlier European archaeological discoveries, in Nineveh and Ur before the First World War, had become common knowledge. Even if we call this “Orientalism” and steeply discount it for abundant European condescension, the British in Mesopotamia, like the French in Egypt a century before, at least realized they had shot their way into a very deep place. The British knew Iraq held claim to the world’s earliest literature, the earliest crop-rotation schemes and organized city-states. After a week’s diet of Hollywood sitcom films and other escapist fare, the chaplain sought to locate BBC or National Geographic documentary films about Arabia and about Iraq’s history and archaeology.

But the chaplain, to put it gently, was out of sync with staff preferences. In the same week, Garner commented about ORHA staff spending time “sending e-mails to each other, instead of getting out and learning something about the place we’ve just taken over.”

There are, of course, many Americans who are curious about foreign cultures but they’re not the kind who wanted anything to do with America’s Iraq adventure. Nor did those who spearheaded that adventure want anything to do with them. In one of the Iraq war books I read—I think it was Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s Imperial Life in the Emerald City—an anecdote was recounted of a lunch table conversation at one of the Green Zone cafeterias, at which there were several CPA staffers, one of whom happened to be a Democrat. When he mentioned in passing his partisan preference, the others at the table reacted as if he had just farted. Embarrassed silence. The American enterprise in Iraq was partisan; it didn’t involve America as a whole. Those who led and staffed that enterprise were Republicans, and during the CPA period many were directly involved in Bush’s reelection campaign. Moreover, Republicans are nationalists—far more so than Democrats (and liberals are not at all)—and, as one knows, nationalists tend not to be curious about foreign cultures or histories (when they are not militantly incurious). If one wants to engage the curious classes of American society—curious about foreign cultures—in some foreign enterprise, then one needs to reach out to the left side of the political spectrum, ’cause that’s where most of them are (and this is a fact; it is true and educated, curious conservatives—and there are a few—know it’s true). So the next time—God forbid—that America embarks on some imperial adventure, make sure it’s bipartisan, involving the universities, and, if the adventure is in the Arab-Muslim world, has the support of people who write for publications like this. Good luck.

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Political scientist Stephen Holmes—who is quite brilliant—has a must read review essay in the LRB on Mark Mazzetti’s new book The CIA, a Secret Army and a War at the Ends of the Earth, entitled “What’s in it for Obama?” It’s one of the best analyses I’ve read of the Obama administration’s drone warfare strategy.

In a similar IR vein, Stephen Walt has a post on his FP blog in which he links to the full text of political scientists Keir Lieber and Daryl Press’s recent article in the journal International Security on “Why States Won’t Give Nuclear Weapons to Terrorists.” Walt concludes his post with this

I might add that this is the kind of important, nonpartisan, policy-relevant work that more social scientists ought to be doing. It is also important to disseminate these findings widely, so that 1) U.S. policymakers won’t keep chasing phantom dangers, 2) the leaders of nuclear-armed states understand that their arsenals are good for deterrence and not much else, and 3) said leaders also understand the need to keep whatever weapons they might have under very reliable control.


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[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below]

I’ve been intending to comment on the Trappes riot of last weekend (if one is not au courant, see here and here), which almost a week later continues to défrayer la chronique. What happened in Trappes more or less followed the same dreary scenario as almost all banlieue riots, as I discussed in my posts on the one in Amiens last August (see here and here; also see my post here on the London riots of August 2011, where one noted similar dynamics to those in France). I was going to spell out once again the utterly predictable unfolding of events but, as it happens, the latest issue of Le Canard Enchaîné (July 24 2013) has a front page piece that does precisely this (and in LCE’s trademark style). LCE has no website to speak of and one normally cannot find its content online, but I managed to do so with this one, so voilà, here it is (N.B. for those whose colloquial French is less than impeccable, poulets—in this context—and poulaga are argot for ‘cops’).

Et hop ! à la Trappes !

Tiens, ça s’est passé dans quelle banlieue, cette fois? Où ça? A Trappes. Ah, oui, la ville de Lilian Thuram. Non, pardon, celle de Jamel Debbouze et d’Omar Sy. Comme d’habitude, le même scénario, suivi du meme cinéma…

Scène un: le contrôle. Ou comment une étincelle, même la plus petite, suffit à embraser illico tout un quartier. A Trappes, donc, des poulets contrôlent une femme en burka et ça se termine en émeute devant le commissariat.

Scène deux: les versions. Famille burka : les flics ont déboulé comme des cow-boys et ont traité tout le monde de «sale pute». Famille poulaga : des fous furieux se sont jetés sur la police, qui faisait tranquillement son travail.

Scène trois: l’arrivée du ministre. De l’Intérieur, bien sûr. Roulement de caisse et petits muscles bandés: «C’est inacceptable!», «L’Etat ne les laissera pas faire et ne l’acceptera pas! », «II n’y a qu’une loi dans notre pays!» Bravo, monsieur Valls! On dirait (presque) du Sarkozy. Et le ministre (PS) de la Ville, François Lamy, n’est pas venu? Déjà en vacances? «Mon rôle n’est pas de réagir à l’évènement, mais de m’inscrire sur le moyen et le long terme (…). C’est d’abord un problème d’ordre public, à lui (Valls) de gérer», balaie l’intéressé («Le Parisien», 23/7).

Scène quatre: l’interpellation du ministre par une mère. Il y en a toujours une (généralement proche des émeutiers), et il lui répond toujours. C’est le clou du spectacle, le numéro d’acrobate le plus périlleux, mais le passage obligé dans la forêt de cameras et de micros. Valls s’est-il dérobé ? A-t-il bien répondu ? Mieux que l’ami du «karcher contre la racaille» de 2005 ? «Acceptez les lois de la République! Vous les acceptez, chère madame », a balancé Valls. Verdict: bof, peut mieux faire.

Scène cinq: la justice et la République implacables. Attention, les sanctions vont pleuvoir, les comparutions sont immédiates. Résultat, lundi 22 au tribunal correctionnel: débats sans fin, manque de preuves … Cinq prévenus dans le box et un embastillé (10 mois). Famille burka: scandalisée! Famille poulaga : scandalisée!

Sixième scène: les commentateurs. Récupération politique oblige, bon vieux refrain du retour au laxisme, à droite toute! Le patron de l’UMP, Jean-François Copé : «La violence monte d’autant plus que les messages gouvernementaux de laxisme se multiplient depuis un an.» L’ami des Auvergnats, Brice Hortefeux : le gouvernement «doit avoir le courage de faire preuve de sévérité face à des voyous qui ne respectent rien et qui insultent les lois de la République». Et merci surtout pour celle sur la burka : une belle loi électoraliste sous de sympathiques dehors laïcards, qui concernait trois pelés et deux barbus et qui, comme prévu, de l’aveu même des poulets sur le terrain, se relève inapplicable. Elle crée des situations de crise à tout-va, attise tous les fantasmes pro-islam et anti-islam, excite les réacs et déchaîne les mollahs. Elle a même réveillé quelques militants de l’habillé intégral qui s’amusent à cumuler jusqu’à 30 amendes à elles seules … Mais, pendant ce temps, toujours pas de grand «plan Marshall pour les banlieues», promis sous la droite comme sous la gauche.

Enfin, septième scène: municipales de Trappes, mars 2014. Tiens, le Front national est au second tour. Famille burka : “la France est raciste”. Famille poulaga: “ça devait finir par arriver…”

C. N

Le Canard absolutely nails it (though the last bit, about next year’s municipal election, is tongue-in-cheek, as the FN’s presence in Trappes is minimal, as is its electoral clout). A few remarks about the Trappes riot. First, Trappes really is la zone: spatially isolated—one only ventures into the town if one lives there or has an excellent reason to go—and with some two-thirds of its 30K inhabitants (heavily Maghrebi and African-immigrant origin) living in public housing (the tours et barres of the cités). If riots are going to happen anywhere in the Paris area, they’ll happen in Trappes. As far as banlieue-ghettos go, Trappes is one of the worst (though I shouldn’t dump on the place too much, as one of France’s leading social science specialists of political Islam is a Trappiste and feels that her town is unfairly stigmatized).

Secondly, this is the first riot that was set off by an encounter between the police and a woman wearing the niqab. In an April 2011 post on France’s “burqa” ban (here), I wrote that the police were strongly opposed to the law, as they dreaded having to enforce it (and saw it as unenforceable in any case). Well, now we’ve seen one of the perverse effects of the law—a law enacted to make a symbolic point and that has ended up creating more problems than those it was intended to eradicate.

Thirdly, in the conflicting versions of the initial incident—of the police vs. the couple whose IDs were checked—, the truth is likely somewhere between the two—as it invariably is—but, in this case, I instinctively lean toward the couple’s side of the story. Knowing how the French police act in such circumstances, the couple’s description of the cops’ behavior rings true. As for the barbu husband and niqab-wearing wife, who are manifestly extreme in their practice of Islam (both are converts), I wouldn’t put it past them to behave aggressively toward the police in turn, at least verbally. But as for the police assertion that the husband, named Mickaël, physically aggressed them first, I don’t buy it. Not in the absence of eyewitnesses.

The police were not obliged to stop the couple, check their IDs, and give the wife a ticket. Wearing face veils may be illegal but this is Ramadan, the weather is hot, and it’s Trappes. The police could have just let this one go. That they decided to stop the couple suggests that they were looking for a confrontation, as they certainly knew that the risks of an incident were high.

Fourth remark. It is striking the extent to which the media is giving play to those whose version of events contradicts that of the police. Husband Mickaël has even been on TV to give his side (here; also here and here). And there are new websites that track and expose the police in their acts (and lies), such as Copwatch (don’t worry, the site’s safe). A positive development.

Fifthly, it all comes back to the contrôle au faciès—ethnic/racial profiling by the police—, which I wrote about in June 2012. The new Socialist government pledged to reform the practice but then backed down in the face of hostility from the police unions. So long as this pratique à la française is not drastically reformed, relations between the police and a part of the French population will remain execrable. And with the certainty of more riots.

Here are a couple of good commentaries by gauchiste politicians (EELV): Noël Mamère on “Trappes, les musulmans et le racisme d’Etat” and Esther Benbassa (who is also an academic historian and specialist of French Jewry), “Trappes brûle-t-il?” And Carine Fouteau in Mediapart has an analysis entitled “À Trappes, les violences font écho à la montée de l’islamophobie.”

UPDATE: Political scientist Jacques de Maillard, who teaches not too far from Trappes, has an op-ed in Le Monde on the Trappes events and in which he critiques the police, “Le voile révèle les failles du pacte républicain.” In the same issue of Le Monde (dated July 25th) is an op-ed by Jean-François Copé expressing his (rather predictable) point of view on the matter. No link to that. The interested reader may look for it him/herself.

2nd UPDATE: Journalist Jean-Laurent Cassely has an informative article in Slate.fr on urban renewal in Trappes over the past decade, “Les nouvelles déchirures de Trappes la «recousue»,” that is progressively reducing the percentage of public housing units in the town.

3rd UPDATE: Journalist Julia Pascual has in-depth report in Le Monde’s February 11th 2017 issue, “Police et jeunes des cités: la confrontation.” The lede: “Dans les quartiers populaires, les contrôles d’identité récurrents sont l’occasion de face-à-face tendus avec les forces de l’ordre.”

Interior minister Manuel Valls in Trappes, July 22 2013 (photo: François Guillot/AFP)

Interior minister Manuel Valls in Trappes, July 22 2013 (photo: François Guillot/AFP)

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