Monday, July 22, 2013

"Trappes Is a Powderkeg"

The citizens of Trappes in the Yvelines are not Trappists. Most, in fact, are Muslims, and one, a Martiniquaise converted to Islam, was wearing a niqab on Friday when she was stopped by police for an identity check, (presumably) under the law banning burqas, niqabs, and other face-veiling headgear in public places. An altercation ensued between the police and her companion, a man of "Russo-Maghrebi" extraction. (French ethnic identities are becoming quite complicated these days.) There were arrests, followed by protests and violence that has persisted in the city for several days.

One can cite any number of reasons for this fairly banal incident. It has been hot. Trappes is a city plagued with crime and violence. There are new buildings, according to one observer of the city, but nothing new in the way of social programs, job opportunities, or educational enticements. The police may have been a little too zealous in enforcing the law, or the alleged instigators may have been a little oversensitive to the unwanted attentions of the police. Police-community relations seem in general not to be very good.

So Trappes is a symptom. But it's a symptom that's hard to interpret. Is residential segregation in France getting worse? Is it really true that nothing has been done for minorities? Are tensions rising because of the lingering crisis? Or was this just one of those random eruptions that occur from time to time in multicultural societies?