Priority Security Zones in France lead to increased ethnic conflict

The night between August 13th and 14th was neither quiet nor peaceful for the residents of Amiens, a town located just north or Paris, France. Riots broke out in the streets, reportedly started by a group of approximately 100 youth of North African origin. The violence that erupted in the area left dozens of cars torched, two buildings burnt and ransacked, and 16 injured police officers. This resulted in an estimated 1.23 million US dollars in damage.


The aggressive response of youth in Amiens toward police has been speculatively related to the recent designation of Amiens as one of 15 Priority Security Zones (ZSP) in France, areas in which crime rates are the highest. These so-called “no-go” zones are described as Muslim dominated areas of immigrant populations that are largely off-limits to non-Muslims. French law enforcement hopes to regain its authority and make things safer in these closed off neighborhoods by increasing its presence within them. According to the French government, there are 751 of these no-go zones that have popped up all over in areas of French cities.


As you can imagine, some think that the policy to increase security in these areas is a good idea and that stricter laws should be enforced, while others strongly disagree with this attitude toward the situation. Nonetheless, this is a topic of controversy in France and most people have an opinion about it, especially in light of the recent election of socialist party president, Francois Hollande, who identified Amiens as a Priority Security Zone.


VENITISM says, “The city is infamous for high unemployment, racial tension, and brutal police force” and believes that Hollande’s government is not equipped to handle the current climate of violence and that it would best be handled by the right-wing politician, Marine LePen, who is known for her French nationalism and “continues to fight against the subversion of the country at the hands of Muslims.” VENITISM critiques Hollande as being too hesitant with his actions in the ZSPs despite his pledge to be tough.


Conversely, Walter Russell Mead of Via Meadia calls into question the way in which the French government has been both vague about what exactly broke out in Amiens, and who was involved. His criticism is that the blame is being both ambiguously and unfairly placed on the shoulders of Muslim, North African immigrant youth as a sort of cop-out to the many social issues taking place in France right now. “If the ‘community’ happened to be of North African origin, that would not make us think that all immigrants in France of Muslim faith and North African origin share these attitudes. We have met far too many thoughtful, educated, well-integrated French citizens with this background to smear a whole ethnicity with the actions of some.”


On one hand, I see the need for the French government to pay attention to no-go zones with increased police presence in order to keep peace and protect the safety of citizens. Whenever there is an environment conducive to crime and destructive riots that injure people their property, it should be investigated.  On the other hand, I also disagree with the way in which Priority Security Zones have been pigeon holed as “Muslim,”  “immigrant,” and “North African,”  implying that all people that fit into these categories are  violent, dangerous and inferior to “French” citizens and thus require increased surveillance and fewer social freedoms.  The story of Amiens has been told from the side of the French government and media only, however it would be valuable to hear the story of the riot told by those youth who were actually involved, in order to even out the bias and understand the conflict better.


Personally, I would like to see the investigation of  no-go zones extend beyond the surface description of what is happening in order to figure out why it is happening. Is it a strong sense of French nationalism and perhaps even racism that drives clumps of North African immigrant populations into segregated communities, giving rise to hostile relations? Or, could is be the opposite, a North African nationalism that drives the segregation and violence? Or, more likely, is it a combination of nationalism on both ends? Furthermore, how does the complicated history of France and North Africa still affecting relations today? And is there a solution for moving past these social conflicts, without denying citizens their rights to freely express themselves both religiously and culturally? It seems in this case, that there is much more going on than meets the eye.