Like all developed European nations, confronted with a lack of home-grown labour to satisfy the demands of an expanding economy in the fifties and sixties, France opened up her borders to massive immigration from her former African colonies and protectorates – in particular the Magreb countries of Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. The same phenomenon was, of course, observed in Britain where considerable numbers of workers from the Commonwealth countries of Pakistan, India and the West Indies were encouraged to emigrate by promises of regular work and access to a better life. And in France, as in Britain, not much beyond the economic needs of the moment was taken into consideration. No really serious thought was given to the long-term integration of these expatriate communities who have since profoundly modified the ethnic composition of much of Western Europe, and whose social, religious and cultural divergences still keep them as far apart from the indigenous population as the distant continents they originated from.
In France these immigrants formed ethnic communities in les banlieus – the outskirts of large cities where, over the years, a number of factors, including high unemployment, discrimination and rootlessness have created, especially among les beurs (the original immigrants’ children and grandchildren, born in France but, in reality, only French in name), an explosive atmosphere of insecurity, crime (particularly drug-dealing), gang warfare, hopelessness, hate, violence and, of course, Islamic extremism, which have led to the establishment of ‘no-go-areas’, no longer governed by Republican law but by that of the street, where police fear to tread. Even though politicians have promised to make every effort to find solutions to the problem, very few tangible results have been obtained, and in the absence of any determined policy regarding social, educational and professional integration, successive French governments seem set on entertaining the illusion that pusillanimous, provisional and sometimes unofficial expedients – in total contradiction with the sacrosanct principles of equality before the law – will produce durable, long-term solutions. I’m sure my English part will be only too pleased to help me relate one graphic illustration of this which the experience of my neighbour, Monsieur Martin, recently provided.
A few weeks ago a raging toothache drove Monsieur Martin to his dentist’s. Now, since Monsieur Martin’s dentist’s surgery is located in close proximity to the gendarmerie of the small town where we live, it is hardly surprising he counts a number of gendarmes among his patients. While waiting for the anesthetic to take effect Monsieur Martin and his dentist had a little chat about the state of things in general, and the government in particular. During their conversation the latter informed my neighbour that some gendarmes had been grumbling to him recently about certain instructions they had received ‘from above’. Apparently, they had been told ‘to go easy’ on certain sections of the immigrant population. Monsieur Martin was soon to have first-hand experience of what this really meant.
The following Sunday morning, Monsieur Martin decided to give his car a thorough clean. So, being a man of method, he resolved to begin by the inside. To this effect, he reversed his car out of the garage into the drive, and then popped back into the house for his wife’s vacuum cleaner. Now, given the fact that he had left his car reposing well within those bounds of safety normally provided by his private garden drive, Monsieur Martin might have been forgiven for not removing the keys from the ignition. Alas! He couldn’t have made a more fatal mistake. Emerging from the house only two minutes later he was obliged to give both cheeks a series of sharp pinches: for the cubic area previously occupied by his car had now been replaced by a corresponding volume of thin air. After recovering from the stupefying shock this sudden transformation understandably produced, he came round to see me, explained his predicament, and asked if I would be good enough to drive him round to the police station so that he could report the theft.
Two days later, Monsieur Martin phoned the gendarmerie to enquire how investigations were proceeding , and was promptly informed by the gendarme in charge of the case that he had some good news … but also some bad. He began with the good. By a remarkable coincidence he personally had found Monsieur Martin’s stolen vehicle. The previous evening, he explained, while driving home through the centre of town, he happened to bring his car to a halt behind another vehicle at a red light. Imagine his astonishment when, on closer examination, he saw that the car in front corresponded in every detail to the one Monsieur Martin had reported as having been stolen. So the policeman jumped out of his car, arrested the driver (a youth of immigrant extraction), drove him back to the police station where he was charged and placed in custody for the night. But then came the bad news. The gendarme had just received a phone call from his ‘superiors’ instructing him to drop all charges against the youth! It goes without saying that, on arriving home, the young man received a hero’s welcome from his peers.
And contrary to what might be thought, it would appear that this government policy of appeasement towards certain sections of the population is barely concealed. A few weeks ago a television news report focusing on police work in the Paris banlieus showed the policemen stopping cars to check the vehicle documents of their drivers – mainly young beurs. One youth, when invited to produce his driving license, car insurance certificate and logbook cheerfully replied that this would be impossible as he was, and never had been in possession of any of these. After gratifying him with an engaging smile and a brisk salute the policeman instructed him to continue his way!