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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: A Trappes, le niqab, un voile qui masque la misère

by Pierre Duquesne

Trappes and the niqab, a veil that masks misery

Translated Thursday 1 August 2013, by L.O.S

According to the inhabitants of Trappes, it is not Islam that’s behind the conflagration in the area of Merisiers. All bear witness to its social problems, but also and most of all to the aggressiveness shown by police toward the youth of the area.

It’s Monday night and the shopping centre in Merisier is seething. The inhabitants of Trappes gather around mouth-watering oriental cakes set up, as Ramadan dictates, at the entrance of a Dia supermarket, bazar or butcher’s shop... Leaning against the "traditional bakery" from which wafts a warm smell of baguette, Ali, a retired man, aged 60, is no longer paying attention to the village atmosphere. Quietly he reads the day’s Parisien newspaper. "Violence again at Trappes" heads one article, "Controversial law on the veil" reads the title of another. "The youths wanted to vent their anger", is the explanation of this ex worker from the long-since shutdown Fiat factory at Trappes. According to him, and contrary to the propagandist use made of them by the FN (French National Front) and Manuel Valls’ pronouncements, the riots are not just tied to Thursday’s police check of a woman wearing a veil.

To score some cops.

"The vast majority of Muslims in the area are against the wearing of the full veil", says the manager of a pay-phone centre. "Muslims are all put into the same bag, so people think the niqab story and the confrontations with police are the same thing. Actually, what the youth really wanted was to score some cops", adds Iliès, aged 28, who came out to say hello to some council workers in front of the school. "I’m against this violence which has no effect except to reinforce a negative image of the area. But at the same time, he continues, I understand them. We’ve had it up to here with the more than aggressive attitude of the police and the CRS (French Republican Security Companies)."

"The insults, systematic condescension and "clear off"s are common currency in the area", recounts 32 year old employee, Kamel, an "old man" in comparison to the majority of the rioters. Nabil, a council worker, drives home the issue: "Even if some behave with respect, there’s a fundamental problem with the police, whose training should be reviewed." This forty-year-old, who has dozens of stories about the identity checks, points out that a video on the internet "shows a father being insulted this weekend by officers just for being outside".

Nabil, who sports the T-shirt of his town, only recently rechristened "Trappes-en-Yvelines", concludes that "the identity check on that woman was the straw that broke the camel’s back". The analysis of Julien Iborra, the town’s representative and the federal head of the PCF (French Communist Party): "They changed the name and repainted the fronts of buildings because they wanted to change the town’s image, but inside the buildings, the same misery persists". Many of the inhabitants have postponed their holidays in order to celebrate Ramadan. Many are those however who, due to their financial difficulties, are not going anywhere. According to figures provided by the town ministry dating back to 2009, 28% of households in the Merisier area received unemployment benefits, in this the poorest town in the department. It’s a sad symbol: the area’s local mission and Unemployment Office have been replaced on rue Paul-Langevin by what are essentially soup kitchens, the Restos du Coeur.

An absence of representatives on the ground.

Far from being an adequate response, urban renovation, according to Stéphane Dumouchy, has "heightened frustrations". The blogger, and critic of the town council, recounts how he had to face a certain degree of hostility when he moved into the new co-ownerships built on the rubble of the old council flats. "This is our home, is actually what numerous youths say to the media", according to Stéphane Dumouchy, who deplores the absence of representatives on the ground and the lack of mediation after the events.

"In Merisier, notes Stéphane Dumouchy, associative activities have been severely weakened since 2001". Apart from the football club, it’s mostly the Trappes Muslim Union or the mosque that create social ties. Isolated as it is, the area’s inhabitants are isolated even more so by kilometer-long barriers, and brand new door codes and parapets that line every avenue. "Residentialisation", is the word promoters of urban renovation like to use. A security architecture where CRS vans, on Monday night, at around 8 o’clock, resumed their ballet. Is this the return of the Republic so dear to Manuel Valls?

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