French suburbs known as “zones of banishment”

The French suburbs are getting more media attention in the lead-up to the run-off election. This article talks about the current status of the “urban sensitive zones”:

Inside the French suburbs, referred to here as “zones of banishment” or “the lost territories of France,” the 2012 presidential elections seemed like a good time to wake up the nation.

In a small office in the suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois, a group of mostly Arab and African 20-somethings hit on an idea: Create a “crisis ministry of the suburbs.” It would address France’s ignorance about the 731 areas ringing the country’s biggest cities, known officially as “urban sensitive zones,” where most of France’s non-European minorities live. Geographically, they are suburbs, but socioeconomically, they resemble the US inner city.

Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe gave the upstart “ministry” a temporary office next to City Hall. For two days, rappers, artists, and activists merrily held court with a French media that rarely makes it to the suburbs and worked on a 120-point reform plan. Several presidential candidates, including front-runner François Hollande, showed up.

But the good vibe didn’t last. Days later, Mohammed Merah, a self-styled Islamist radical born to Algerian parents in a Toulouse suburb, shot and killed two soldiers, three children, and a rabbi. The killings seemed to reinforce all the stereotypes and fears about the troubled suburbs.

A fascinating overview.

A few quick thoughts:

1. I think many Americans would have difficulty processing this given our images of the suburbs.

2. Issues of race/ethnicity and class take place all over the world. The article suggests French students hear that their country is “an egalitarian utopia without issues of race and religion” but the situation on the ground suggests otherwise.

3. It would be interesting to read a more complete story of government involvement in the suburbs. How did this happen (politically and funding-wise) and is this what the government prefers?

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