THE FRENCH USE THE EUPHEMISM "quartiers sensibles"--sensitive neighborhoods--for the troubled, predominantly Arab and African working-class suburbs of Paris and other cities that increasingly resemble a ticking bomb at the heart of their society...
A particularly fearsome firsthand account of life in a Muslim slum was a bestseller in 2002. Entitled Dans l'enfer des tournantes (In Gang Rape Hell), it recounts the life of a courageous French Muslim teenager, Samira Bellil, who was repeatedly gang-raped, and in order to survive became a "racaille" (hooligan), beating up other girls to get protection and respect. Teenage girls are the most frequent victims of violence, especially rape, which sometimes happens inside public schools. As one Tunisian mother testified recently, public schools turn out to be not a haven but one more nightmare for families. She lamented, "The Republic no longer protects its children." In fact, mothers sometimes enlist the toughest thugs to protect their daughters. The culture of violence is reinforced on every side, by the anti-police, anti-West gangsta rap kids listen to, and by the blogs where young thugs parade their exploits of arson or mugging at gunpoint, thereby becoming neighborhood "stars" and raising the stakes for other gangs.
An underground economy flourishes in the worst African and Muslim neighborhoods, with trafficking in drugs and stolen goods going on unimpeded and rival gangs fighting over loot. Communal tensions are equally pervasive, pitting white French (or "Gaulois") against Arab and Black, Black against Arab, and Muslim against Jew. In light of this, it is no coincidence that France saw a record number of anti-Semitic incidents in 2004 (970, well over 2 a day), most of them committed by young Muslims from the suburbs.
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