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Monday, August 08, 2005

Dans Les Bainlieues

Fadela Amara wants to break the law of silence which has masked the violence of the suburbs, mafia-style.

The petite woman with the narrow face and the little pig-tail grew up in a suburban housing development in Clermont-Ferrand, a working class city in the South. "We thought at the time that the French republic was going to give us immigrant children a chance as well." Freedom, equality, fraternity – France's founding principles – are still seminal terms for the 40 year old. Like many daughters of immigrant parents, she didn't enjoy equal rights as she grew up in the 1980s either, but the common commitment to anti-racism movement brought the sexes closer together. The number of forced marriages decreased and the number of female Muslim students increased. Since the economic crisis of the 1990s, however, the clocks have started ticking backwards again.

Fathers in immigrant families don't only lose their jobs when they're unemployed. They lose their authority in the family. This position is then occupied by their eldest sons who, although they may not be able to find legal employment, can provide for the family through their work in "parallel economies": car theft and drug dealing. With the authority they inherit, they are able to impose their conservative notions of religion and morality onto their social surroundings. Their spiritual nourishment comes from the Islamic fundamentalists, whose influence in the suburbs continues to rise.

For girls in the neighbourhood the message is: take on traditional female roles, dress chastely, don't go out and most importantly, remain a virgin until you marry. This unwritten law doesn't only apply to Muslim girls. The north African young men, although they constitute a minority, command the non-Islamic populations in the suburbs as well: African immigrants and lower class French.

Rebecca Hillauer "Neither Whores Nor Submissives"

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