So how bad is the "social fracture?" The phrase "social fracture" sends us back to the 1995 presidential campaign, when Jacques Chirac employed these words, borrowed from Emmanuel Todd. Of course, he was then talking about the divide between established France, employed France, secure France, and the minority of the unemployed, precariously employed, and generally disaffected. Then it was only in part an ethnic and religious divide. Today, the ethnic and religious component is essential. But still we are not talking about all Muslims. As I argued in a previous post, the usual institutions of integration are working as they have in the past. What has happened, however, is that the socioeconomic fracture of which Chirac spoke in 1995 has come to be concentrated within an ethnoreligious and ethnocultural divide reinforced by geopolitical conflict between Islamic radicals and Western powers. This changes the way the problem is perceived.
Whenever there is a palpable social fracture, criminality takes on a new dimension. Crime becomes more than simple lawbreaking. It becomes a political act, an attack on authority deemed to be alien and oppressive. The convergence of jihadi ideology with everyday criminality transforms a foreign threat into internal subversion. This has a corrosive effect. It magnifies fear beyond all reason. People cease to feel secure in their homes, because, they believe, the enemy is already within the gates. Suspicion feeds on itself.
France faces such a moment now. Sunday's mass demonstration--the largest in French history, which is saying something--reflected a yearning for unity in the face of this social fracture. It was an impressive statement but also, as such statements always are, misleading. As French history has shown time and again, "Paris is not France." Indeed, the Paris of les honnêtes hommes is not even Paris. On Sunday, even though there were marches in cities across France, the marchers, despite their numbers, did not represent all of France. Paris is not France: the perpetrators were also born in Paris, and they still have friends and supporters in Paris as well in other cities and especially in the tough suburbs, as the incidents in the schools demonstrate (we need a better geography of where these incidents occurred). So France is uneasy. Both Frances are uneasy, each afraid of the other. Decisions will soon be taken that may determine whether this anxious standoff results in a withdrawal from the brink or spills over into more overt expression of what until now has been sullen mutual suspicion, if not contempt. It is a fraught moment, a dangerous moment, and I can't say which way things will go.
UPDATE: A hopeful note, perhaps:
Après une nuit blanche suite à l’attaque de Charlie Hebdo, passée à relire l’histoire de la République, Zimba Benguigui, enseignante d’arts appliqués dans le 20e arrondissement de Paris, est arrivée dans son établissement avec une conviction : la nécessité de se donner du temps « pour écouter les élèves ». « Et c’est eux qui ont pris l’initiative de se recueillir. » Dans cet établissement chargé de prendre en charge des adolescents en grande difficulté scolaire et sociale, parfois handicapés, le temps est, depuis, comme suspendu. « Impossible de faire cours depuis mercredi, raconte Mme Benguigui. Les jeunes ont besoin de parler, ils oublient la récré… La prise de conscience a jailli. On frôle parfois le concours d’éloquence. Je suis éblouie. »
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