Courneuve, to the north of Paris described by Andrew Hussey as "run-down and dangerous" JACQUES DEMARTHON/AFP/Getty Images
By ADRIAN TAHOURDIN
In his excellent book The French Intifada: The long war between France and its Arabs (2014), Andrew Hussey opens with a discussion of the concept of the banlieues: “For all their modernity, these urban spaces are designed almost like vast prison camps. The banlieue is the most literal representation of ‘otherness’ – the otherness of exclusion, of the repressed, of the fearful and despised – all kept physically and culturally away from the mainstream of French ‘civilization’”.
Ok, the quotes around the word civilization were perhaps unnecessary – after all, we can see where Hussey is coming from. Yet it does bring to mind the phrase “mission civilisatrice”, the nineteenth-century notion, promulgated by the statesman Jules Ferry, that French colonialism was in part a quest to bring Western, specifically French, values, culture and ideas to “backward” peoples, mainly in West Africa and what the French refer to as le Maghreb, i.e. Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia (which, I learn from Hussey’s book, had a “thriving Jewish community of some 100,000” before the German occupation of 1942).
Hussey goes on to say that “the banlieues are made up of a population of more than a million immigrants, mostly but not exclusively from North and sub-Saharan Africa. As the population of Paris has fallen in the early twenty-first century, so the population of the banlieues is growing so fast that it will soon outnumber the 2 million or so inhabitants of central Paris”. A staggering thought.