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"It’s social segregation which leads to riots" Interview with Romain Garbaye

Translated Sunday 21 August 2011, by Nicole Hawkesford and reviewed by Bill Scoble

Romain Garbaye is a professor of British Civilisation at the Sorbonne (new Paris-III) University. He is the author of "Riots vs Integration; Anglo-French comparisons", published last January by the SciencesPo publishing house.

For some months, we have denounced multiculturalism as a failure in favour of what you call "neo-assimilation".

Romain Garbaye: "Great Britain experienced a wave of very big riots, in 2001. The towns involved were in the north of England - Bradford, Burnley, and Oldham - towns in which minority groups, often Pakistani or Bangladeshi, were concentrated in certain districts, and the vast majority of rioters were young Pakistani men. As in any period of rioting, the reasons behind the violence were complex, mixing socio-economic disadvantages and a climate of defiance between young people and the police. But they had been provoked by incursions from small groups of "whites", often of the extreme-right, in the areas with a high concentration of British citizens of Pakistani or Bangladeshi origin.

Have the rioters from that time got a link with those of today?

Romain Garbaye: Before, they were essentially young people of Indian sub-continent origin who then violently confronted the police forces, injuring hundreds of officers. Therefore those riots had quite a clear ethnic element. The Blair government reacted by initiating the first official criticisms of multiculturalism in Great Britain, in establishing a link between its most excessive aspects and residential and educational segregation. Under this analysis, it’s segregation which leads to riots. The solution proposed by Blair and his allies was the creation of a citizenship ceremony for the newly naturalised, the teaching of citizenship at school, an insistence on common values and social policies built around the notion of social cohesion. It is difficult to evaluate the impact of these policies on today’s violence, since the current conflict is being played out in very different areas to Bradford, Oldham or Burnley. The districts affected today are, in contrast, very culturally diverse; with populations of black, Indian, Pakistani, African and many other diverse origins. In any case, an analysis on the basis of ethnic segregation is not a logical approach for interpreting the current riots. The question of social segregation, on the other hand, seems to be of increasing importance, since London harbours pockets of poverty that are sometimes right next to rich areas. The focus of the rioters on looting seems to reveal a frustration with not being able to participate in the consumer society, which propels the question of social inequalities to the forefront.

Is the drastic reduction of the budgets allocated to young people and to social policies, and the absence of employment prospects, a viable explanation then?

Romain Garbaye: What is clear is that these policies don’t favour a climate of harmony between the leaders and the working class sector of the population. The significance of looting suggests the significance of the social inequalities which were less visible previously, on account of the more asserted ethno-racial dimension behind the violence. This is why the continuation of dismal cuts in the social budgets will probably be more difficult for David Cameron to justify. It is also ironic that he chose to justify his policy of state withdrawal with the notion of the "big society", which means a society in which local groups of citizens take charge of services which were formerly controlled by civil servants. As some British commentators have had no hesitation in pointing out, we can see the first realisation of the "big society" in the appearance of the self-defense groups in those areas given over to the riots, and deserted by the overstretched police force... This kind of commentary sparks an animated debate on the police budget cuts announced by Cameron, indeed a debate which has already begun in the House of Commons.

Interview conducted by Ixchel Delaporte

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