Violence in Toulouse Again Raises the Question of the No-Go Zones

Les violences à Toulouse posent à nouveau la question des «zones de non droit» FIGAROVOX/INTERVIEW, 18th April 2018. Several districts of Toulouse have been prey to urban rioting since Sunday night [15th April, 2018 – Ed.]. Guillaume Jeanson, attorney at the Paris bar, believes this violence demonstrates that state security policy is still failing to restore republican order to the “lost territories”.

The facts: In Toulouse, since Sunday night, the neighbourhoods dubbed “hot-spots” have seen violence of a rare intensity. Each night, young rioters torch vehicles by the dozen and attempt to ambush the police. They then try to chase off the firemen and police, going so far as to hurl projectiles or launch artisanal mortars at them. The police station in the Mirail district was also the target of stone-throwing.

FIGAROVOX : The urban violence that has been taking place since Sunday night resembles a game of cat-and-mouse with the police. What are these young rioters looking to gain?

Guillaume Jeanson : What is immediately evident from the urban violence that has taken place three nights in a row in Toulouse, is the enmity between the police and the young rioters. Following the well-known song-sheet, some will not miss the opportunity to interpret these riots as the most recent stirrings of the deep animosity between “stigmatised” youth and the police whose excesses, real or imaginary, they legitimately rage against. Looked at in this way, these events take on the appearance of “resistance to state oppression”.

“What is at stake here is the control of territory. The objective is to remove neighbourhoods from the jurisdiction of the Republic in order to submit them to other laws.”

Without wishing to deny that a good number of young rioters are probably motivated in this way, it is important not to let that overshadow a different reality. A reality already well-known to criminologists and experts in the field, one that we find consistently at work in the social dynamics leading to what have come to be called “no-go zones” [zones de non-droit]. What is at stake here is the control of territory. The objective is to remove neighbourhoods from the jurisdiction of the Republic in order to submit them to other laws. The young rioters, then, want above all — sometimes using methods close to those of urban guerrilla warfare — to chase out all trace of the State. This explains why, in the “territories lost to the Republic”, the firemen, postmen, and doctors are targeted as well as the police. The population finds itself taken hostage. Why the need to exert such control? My colleague, Thibault de Montbrial recently wrote in your columns: “For two reasons: to continue with drug-trafficking unhindered, and to maintain a sectarian regime dictated by radical Islam.”

FIGAROVOX : Some sources cite as the cause of this outbreak of violence the over-energetic policing of women wearing the niqab. Isn’t this form of face-covering forbidden by law? Is it still worn much?

Guillaume Jeanson : Equally, other sources cite as cause for the outbreak a rumour according to which prison warders were involved in the death this week-end of a young detainee in Toulouse. Despite a confirmation from the prosecutor that a suicide by hanging had taken place in the disciplinary ward, numerous incidents followed. The day before yesterday, 200 inmates refused to re-enter their cells, and yesterday 90 of them set up barricades. Officers of ERIS [Équipes régionales d’intervention et de sécurité] even had to intervene in the prison. Given the acuteness of this drama, it is likely also to have been behind the street-commotions in the neighbourhood of  Mirail.

But to return to your question about the niqab, let’s be clear that this is a full veil that covers the face, except for the eyes — a point that differentiates it from the burkha. As such, it appears to many people as a double motif: a sign both of radical Islam and of the submission of women. Over the last few years, a number of countries have banned it. Last year, for example, Morocco banned its manufacture and sale, while Germany banned the wearing of it under certain circumstances. In France, you have to go back to 2010, when a resolution was first adopted (11th May) by the National Assembly, to the effect that “radical practices prejudicial to dignity and to equality between men and women, including the wearing of the full veil, are contrary to the values of the Republic“. A law was subsequently promulgated (11th October), forbidding the covering of the face in public spaces. This law has come in for abundant criticism, and as a result its enforcement has been only sporadic. Everyone remembers the media outbursts of Rachid Nekkaz, the Algerian businessman who is reputed to have paid the fines of women breaking the new law.

FIGAROVOX : Why does the wearing of the full veil generate so much hostility?

Guillaume Jeanson : In France, wearing the niqab in public exacerbates tension because it is a visible symbol of the frontal opposition between certain religious obligations — upheld by a particularly rigorous conception of Islam — and a legal prohibition. It is therefore perceived on the one hand as contempt for the authority of the State, and on the other as a pretext for islamophobic stigmatisation and harassment.

In January 2017, France 2 broadcast a report by François Chilowicz on the district of Mirail (Toulouse), entitled “quartier impopulaire” [“unpopular district”, a pun on quarter populaire, or “working-class district” – Ed.]. Having carefully explained, face to camera, why he was “NOT Charlie” [i.e. not sympathetic to the Je Suis Charlie movement – Ed.], one of the locals questioned went on, “I think they bottle us up, they stifle us by talking about the veil, we mustn’t do that here; I’m just saying it’s looked down on here, the heavy beards and all that, it’s stigmatising…“. A voice-off continues, “Might as well get used to it, any discussion in the neighbourhood usually ends up with a reference to Islam, that’s the way it goes here, religion fills the void and makes life bearable“. Further on, referring to a rapper who warned that “without Islam, Reynerie would be Chicago […]; but there is Islam, and there are guns around“, the voice-off explained: “he was the first to make me realise how much the inhabitants of Mirail erect Islam as a security fence around themselves, a sensitive skin that must not be injured“. ‘Injury’ seems here to come in the form of police control of women wearing the niqab. If this is in fact the case, then it is extremely worrying that police intervening merely to enforce respect for the laws of the Republic, could in itself constitute an “aggression” in the eyes of a section of the population.

FIGAROVOX : The neighbourhood of Mirail, in Toulouse, was classified “ZSP” [zone de securité prioritaire] by François Hollande. It seems that peace still hasn’t returned…. Is this an exception, or is the situation much the same in many other neighbourhoods?

Guillaume Jeanson : The ZSP was a provision introduced in 2012-13 by the Ayrault government. It was rolled out in three successive implementations, marking out first fifteen, then forty-nine, and finally sixteen zones, all of them viewed by the authorities as “suffering more than others from constant insecurity and entrenched criminality“, or as having “experienced over several years significant degradation in security“.

To put it in a nutshell, the idea was to endow these areas with greater numbers of police and gendarmes. The ZSPs were numerous and distributed across the nation. In this sense, you could say that the Mirail is not an exception.

Have the ZSPs been a success? Alas, no, as the events in the Mirail have shown us, and as illustrated by other examples. The very first ZSP, that of Barbès-Château-Rouge in Paris, which includes in particular the neighbourhood of the rue Dejean, has seen bitter resistance from the residents, primary victims of the intrenched criminality. Faced with the inertia of the authorities and the ineffectiveness of the police, and mobilised as a pressure-group, la vie Dejean [Dejean Life], these residents have not ceased to take all sorts of courageous initiatives, including going to court. For example, in 2016, the Administrative Tribunal of Paris laid blame for the general insecurity and dilapidation of the neighbourhood at the feet of Police HQ and the Town Hall. The following year, The Administrative Court of Appeal of Paris upheld the judgement. And rather than respond directly to complaints on the ground, the authorities have preferred to continue in the same vein by approaching the Council of State.

FIGAROVOX : How does it come about that the State remains powerless to maintain republican order here?

Guillaume Jeanson : As we have seen, the ZSPs have been too weak a response relative to the size of the problem. We can only hope that the new community policing units will be more effective in dealing with this scourge. But the challenge is huge. It is as much juridical and political as it is cultural. Asked recently by the Institute for Justice about these new police units, Patrice Ribeiro, police commander and secretary-general of the Union, Synergie-Officiers, threw back the question: “How can police officers retain their credibility and project authority when, in their straightforward view, the gang-bosses of the neighbourhood — strengthened by their sense of impunity — insult and physically attack them, then return the next day to gloat and beat their chests? It is they who represent authority in the housing developments. We shall regain authority only when the whole penal apparatus is fully functioning, and when the magistrates stop merely “stating the law” without immersing themselves in local realities. It would often be enough to imprison the most violent offenders in order to appease the community. This is a point that too often escapes attention during a judgement”. Le Figaro