Extensive coverage of police violence during the Democratic National Convention shocked and psychologically tasered the liberal American population who believes in civil rights and the necessity for a state to promote a trustworthy, reliable, and respectful police force on which the citizens can lean in times of inorderly conduit and criminal violence. Democratic societies have been failing one after the other to prove their population they knew how to control internal security issues, make the difference between political trouble and peaceful protests, anarchy and political activism… as well as not making any difference between any citizen, whether the bias is racial, religious, or political. The irony lying within the same countries’ foreign policy being based on exporting their own so-called democratic system is not lost on the victims of police violence. If the Grant case was easy for you to stomach, let’s turn to Paris where the question of national identity, that has been plaguing the nation of Voltaire ever since the independance of Algeria, is now reaching new heights of violence.

Last Wednesday – November 18th – Algeria wins over Egypt in a football match many French citizens of Algerian descent wish to commemorate. Anyss Arbib, a twenty-two year old student at the well-connected, internationally renowned National Institute of Political Science, decides to join the party on the Champs-Elysees in the capital, from his suburb in which most of the population is of northern african origin. North Paris, and specifically the 93rd regional district – Seine Saint Denis – has only gained a reputation through repeated violence, riots, and organized crime. Luckily for Arbib, who is himself entering the preparation for the National School of Governance, France is a soccer country, in which it is widely accepted to honk, scream, yell, and wave flags at whichever country has managed to shoot a ball inside a net.

Anyss Arbib has two major flaws going against him: he is coming from the aforementioned district, and is of Arab descent. Regardless of his qualities as a student, his deep and humble knowledge of the law, his ambition to become part of a government someday, and his writing abilities, Anyss Arbib, born a French citizen on French territory, is suddenly forced to question his own identity. Once the Champs-Elysees are invaded by a group of violent rioters, Arbib and his friends decide to leave and come back home, not willing to be assimilated to people whose behaviour they have always disapproved of. Back on the freeway, they suddenly encounter the police forces, stopping cars at random, dragging their drivers out on the road and beating them severely in front of terrified families and young people. Insults flow from members of the police: “get the fuck out, you dirty Arab”; “what the fuck are you looking at”, to a witness screaming that someone is going to die, before being teargassed by the same polician. Anyss Arbib tries to keep his composure.

Anyss Arbib here on the left with Richard Descoings, director of the National Institute of Political Science

“I have been nothing but polite”, he tells the policeman pushing him against his car. “There is no reason to behave so aggressively.” “Shut the fuck up”, replies the policeman. “I know my rights, I am a political science student”, Arbib calmly replies. “Well fuck political science!” is the reply he gets before being teargassed at close range, and losing consciousness. He comes to still on the freeway to watch a father of several children being dragged out of his seat and beaten up by batons. His friend has also been teargassed and is partially blind. “Go away, you Arab” says a policeman. “I’m French”, Arnyss replies. Was it at that precise moment he realised he wasn’t? A friend later told him, “Ivy League or not, you’ll always be an Arab, even with a French ID.”

When Nicolas Sarkozy introduced his best friend Brice Hortefeux at the head of a new yet controversial Ministry Of National Identity and Immigration, he knew he was just throwing more fuel into a already burning pan. Immigrants – often from the Maghreb, issued from France’s former colonies – are confined into suburbs and withdraw into a dangerous tendancy to communautarism and religious defiance to France’s secular system. With a crumbling education system and a government exacerbating violent opposition through cheap provocation, the 2006 riots so heavily documented worldwide were just one detail of a much bigger picture. France, unable to deal with its colonial past and fully integrate the sons and daughters of those who rebuilt the country after World War II, is now facing religious integrism clashing with other communities of faith, a growing illiteracy rate, decaying women’s rights in the face of integrism, and civil unstability. President Sarkozy was elected on agenda based on tough control and “zero tolerance”. In return, the difference between the upper middle class and the lower working class has grown to a deep, incrossable manhole, and national identity is nothing short of tacky patriotism sprinkled with daydreams of a glorious past that looks nothing like the contemporary bleak, dull reality.

Anyss Arbib is lucky; educated, smart, righteous, and well-guided, his story reached the frontpage of a national newspaper (Libération, November 24); complaints reach the inspection of the police forces, the IJSS; his outcry, firstly published on his Facebook page, touched national consciousness. But for the hundreds of thousands with no access to a network of media consultants or the knowledge of the complex administrative legal process, the mass of those left behind, no recourse is possible and ghettoism is the only answer.

In a word, Arbib is not just seeking accountability. He’s also searching for himself, tied between two worlds – one he barely knows, but is forced to reach out to for support; and one he thought he was a legitimate part of, but rejecting him on the basis of difference. France has never been a homogenuous melting pot of faiths and ethnicities. Under the pretext of assimilation, France just pushed every identity under the rug of the shining Republic. The Commission overseeing and evaluating police forces (CNDS)  will be dismantled by the end of the year despite increasing number of registered complaints  -19 in 2001, 152 in 2008 and 158 for the first three months of 2009). Now what’s a Republican to do?

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