France riots draw U replies

Nina Petersen-Perlman

French President Jacques Chirac declared Tuesday a state of emergency in France.

He also imposed nationwide curfews after 12 nights of riots and arson that started in a Paris suburb and have since spread throughout the country.

Copycat attacks have started in Belgium and Germany, and the euro has subsequently decreased in value.

Some people at the University are also reacting to the events.

Sylvie Ngilla, a French graduate instructor from Paris, said she and other French speakers are organizing an event to address the issues surrounding the riots.

On Dec. 2, the group will facilitate a discussion and then show the movie “Hate,” which is about unrest in the Paris suburbs.

“We need to understand why (this is happening),” Ngilla said. “Repression is not the solution. Before we didn’t talk about it because it was just in the suburbs.”

Ngilla said the problem is also economic.

“People have no jobs,” she said.

Christian Haddad, an electrical engineering junior who was born in Ivory Coast but lived in Paris for 10 years, said media coverage of the riots is misguided, as it tries to link the violence to deeper social issues.

“(The rioters) are just gangsters,” he said. “As long as they’re doing what they’re doing, people will stay home in fear.”

The riots began Oct. 27 after the deaths of two young men. The men had run from police, hid in an electrical substation and were electrocuted in a northeastern Paris suburb.

Soon after knowledge of the deaths spread, disaffected suburban youths began setting fire to cars and businesses, hurling stones and bottles at police and creating nightly terror to protest treatment by the government.

Humza Khan, public relations officer of the Muslim Student Association and an actuarial science senior, said it was the responsibility of the French government to improve laws to better reflect the needs of underprivileged constituents.

“While the majority of the rioters are indeed Muslim, a good number are not,” he said. “The French economy and the French government’s far-reaching social mandates have not done the impoverished proletariat any favors.”

Haddad said he disagrees with people blaming the government. Because the state provides free, state-funded education even at the university level, he said, there is no excuse not to take advantage of it to get ahead.

“The state takes care of you,” Haddad said. “I was astonished at all the opportunities we had as immigrants.”

The riots come at a politically shaky time in France. Chirac is a lame-duck president and Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin and Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy have used the riots as an opportunity to gain political footing. The two men are considered top contenders in the 2007 presidential race.

Nationwide, vandals burned 1,173 cars overnight into Tuesday, compared with 1,408 vehicles Sunday to Monday, police said. Authorities arrested 330 people, down from 395 the night before. Citizens are waiting to see if the curfews will be effective enough to preclude another night of riots.

“To dumb it down to a religious or ethnic issue shows a gross misunderstanding of the situation,” Khan said. “However, after saying this, nothing justifies such behavior.”

Khan said the rioting has been perpetuated by a “mob mentality,” and “such behavior cannot in any way be substantiated through any explanation.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.