“When the army is called in to protect some French citizens against others, it’s the beginning of a civil war.”
In our documentary released earlier this year, Je Ne Suis Pas Charlie, Max Blumenthal and I surveyed the landscape of French society in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks, interviewing representatives of French Muslim and Jewish communities, political activists, academics and average French citizens. The accounts we recorded told of long-exacerbating pressures on inter-communal relations that are rapidly approaching a state of low-level civil conflict. The minority citizens we spoke with were seething under a system that has given rise to daily encounters with discrimination and systematic exclusion from the public space.
In turn, French reality has been punctuated by seemingly random, spectacularly gruesome acts of violence carried out by individuals who come from the most excluded sections of French society. They are at once native-born citizens of France and the country’s ultimate outsiders. The main perpetrators of the Charlie Hebdo attacks and the atrocities this November were not a foreign presence which has disturbed a peaceful status quo in French society, but the unwanted, outcasted byproducts of the French Republic and its imperial legacy in the Middle East.
Whether or not we are willing to describe the situation in impoverished French banlieues (suburbs) as outright apartheid, as Prime Minister Manuel Valls did this year, the toxic combination of militaristic government policies abroad and draconian, discriminatory policies at home have unleashed an authoritarian mood among the general public. For French Muslims and other minorities, the situation increasingly resembles the plight blacks faced in apartheid South Africa and even that of the Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation. Though French minorities confront only a shadow of the disproportionate violence that Israel has visited upon Palestinians, they have found themselves in a permanent state of exclusion enforced by a regime of increasingly brutal repression.
Houria Bouteldja, a founder of the leftist minority party known as the Indigenous Peoples of the Republic, claimed it was “the figure of the Christian, white, European person” who the state privileges with power and wealth in the society, who is legally positioned above “the black, the Arab, the Muslim and the Roma” person. It isn’t a visible form of apartheid, but a regime of separation which is enacted through systemic, naturalized forms of domination and violence. As her fellow party leader Youssouf Boussouma described to us how the French authorities banned demonstrations against Israel’s 2014 assault on Gaza, then meted out harsh punishments to young Arab males who took to the streets, “this government behaves toward certain sections of its populations as if they really were citizens of an occupied country.”
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