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Integration through negation

An interview with Andre Glucksmann about the rioting in the French suburbs

The rioting in France delivers timely evidence for the thesis of Andre Glucksmann's most recent book: that hatred is spreading like a virus in today's world, quite independently of political ideas.

Frankfurter Rundschau: In your book, you describe hatred as a primal force, which appeared in antiquity and which is reappearing today in force. And you describe it in three stages: as pain that is directed inwards in the form of self-pity, which then unloads as rage and hatred into violence and finally becomes the desire to destroy which can go to the point of self-destruction. How do your see your description of hatred with respect to the current rioting in France?

Andre Glucksmann: What's going on in France's suburbs is basically suicidal. The rioters don't want to kill but they're willing to risk their lives, they are igniting primary schools, houses and cars, but these are their neighbour's or their father's cars. They're igniting the factories where they work. Secondly it has to do with outbreaks of rage and fury, with the will and the intention to kill. Youths got into a bus and poured petrol everywhere, even onto handicapped people – there was actually a handicapped woman who couldn't get out of the bus who was doused in petrol. In another case, someone threw petrol over the bus driver. This is the second level, murder. The third level shows elements of the game. The pleasure of setting the world on fire, the twilight of the idols.

Why is this happening today? How do you explain this return of violence in the suburbs?

There are two reasons. One is that today, terrorism functions worldwide, globally. The youth of the suburbs say: this is Baghdad today. They see it on television and they think it's great. Unfortunately, television doesn't show that the bands of murderers in Baghdad are killing pedestrians, students, whoever. It's not a normal war, it's a war against civilians. So there's an international element and a French element. Sorry, but the French voted no to Europe; the French have used their veto wherever they could, at the U.N., in the negotiations on world trade, on agriculture policy. Every time, the French say no. By the French I mean Chirac's government. In my view, these youth who are turning into murderers, are imitating the big guys. They're imitating the politicians. A nihilistic atmosphere is now prevails in France, far beyond the suburbs.

Does that mean an end to the politics of integration, an end to secular morals, an end to the principle of equality in school and through school, based on the model of Jules Ferry?

I don't think that it's the end of integration. On the contrary. These are French youth. Good, they have parents that come from sub-Saharan or North Africa, but they are French youth. They integrate themselves by setting fire to cars, to people even. They integrate themselves through protest. That's very contemporary in France. Didn't you see the hijacking of the Corsican ferry? The Corsicans launch attacks, sometimes it's the Bretons or the Basques. There is a typical French integration through negation. Everyone in France, all parties, businesses, workers, believe it's possible to accomplish things through violence. There were the strikes at Moulinex, for example, where the workers threatened to blow up the factory. There were strikes in chemical factories where employees threatened to dump acid into the rivers of the region. In France, many people believe that the ability to inflict damage on someone else is a sign of strength. I think, quite on the contrary, the youth of North African descent are in fact integrating in this way.

This is everything other than integration. The rioting is taking place in the most underprivileged parts of the city, where the unemployment rate among youth is between 30 and 40 percent. The schools are kaput. The youth are living in residential ghettos. These ghettos were built in the 1960s and 1970s for people from the former colonies who were returning to France, they were built for settlers and immigrants. The explosion of violence must be socially motivated.

No. The conditions may feed the problem but you can't use them to explain anything. We tend to use them in order to excuse everything else. Why? Because there are people who live under these adverse conditions but who don't set cars on fire, who don't set people on fire. Either you say that the majority is wrong. Or you say: the majority is right, because it's not lighting cars on fire. But then you have to add that the majority of the youth are cowardly. For not setting the cars on fire. At least that's what those who are setting the cars on fire say. But when the sociologist says that, I find it hard to believe. There's something particular about people who ignite cars and are willing to kill people. You have to analyse that particularity in them – what's particular to them is the hatred. You have to recognise the particularity of this hatred and acknowledge its virulence.


Interview: Ruthard Stäblein

This article originally appeared in German in the Frankfurter Rundschau on November 10, 2005.

André Glucksmann is a French philosopher who was active in the protest movement of the 1960s and opposed the communist regimes of Eastern Europe. His most recent book, "Le Discours de la Haine" recently appeared in German as "Hass".

translation: nb

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