Soldiers in the corridors of the subway / Photo by Léopold Lambert (Nov. 16, 2015)
After last January’s double attack (political assassination of journalists, and antisemitic carnage) in Paris, I had not written anything, in order not to add more noise to the astonishing brouhaha that followed them. The brouhaha, that had gradually lost some strength (but certainly not disappeared) is now back to full volume after last Friday’s (November 13) six deadly attacks in Paris that killed 129 people and injured more than 400 others. Perhaps, the present article will do what I then feared in January: adding useless noise that will only convince the convinced, but just like my series of articles in the summer 2014 when the Israeli bombs on Gaza were killing dozens of Palestinians every day, I simply feel compelled to write, if only for its cathartic function. To you who will read this text, please only know that my argument is full of doubts and that, on the contrary of the many self-declared prophets and experts that saturate our medias, I claim doubt as the only dignified position one can adopt in this situation.
After the attacks that both President François Hollande and Prime Minister Manuel Valls experienced themselves from relatively close (Hollande was attending the football game between France and Germany at the Stade de France where three bombs were detonated, and Valls lives only 200 meters away from one of the attack sites), the French government decreed the State of Emergency, that suspends large public gatherings — although, fortunately, no gatherings at the sites of the attacks or on the Place de la République have been dismissed — and allows the deployment of additional police and military force in the city. On the contrary of the United States, France does not have a constitutional obstacle to have soldiers patrol in the city and, since the series of bombs exploding in Paris in 1995, Parisians are used to regularly see a few of them in the spaces of national train stations. Since January, the military presence was much more visible, in train stations and airports, but also in the vicinity of synagogues and Jewish schools (see the photograph below taken a month ago). In the last days, an important amount of heavily armed police officers and soldiers operates in the city (see photos at the end of this article), implement checkpoints, while others close at will entire neighborhoods (cf. Saint Denis in the Paris banlieue and Molenbeek in Brussels) to lead arrests and assaults in areas defined by the media as “cradle of terrorism.” People who know the beautiful cities of Saint Denis and Molenbeek can only sigh in front of this ineptness. Such terminology associating its largely Muslim inhabiting population to the deadly action of some individuals, can only lead to the numerous acts of islamophobia we are currently observing in France and elsewhere.Read more
The recent outcry that blamed the Western (social and press) media to bring a disproportionate attention to Friday’s deadly attacks in Paris (Nov. 13, 2015) compared to the two bombs that exploded in Beirut a few hours earlier, can only be denied through disingenuous responses. Such disproportion finds it source in what journalists call in a brutal manifestation of cynism “the amount of deads per kilometers,” i.e. as the distance grows between the deadly event, there ‘needs’ to be a bigger amount of people who die to be considered relevant by a given newspaper or TV news broadcast. This cynical affirmation is furthermore inaccurate as it forgets the Westerno-centric component to it, which makes the death of an Israeli soldier more likely to be reported than the one of a Palestinian civilian despite the same distance. However, only affirming that we should pay attention to what happened in Beirut, and doing so, only after the Paris attacks occurred, is not enough and can fall into the same perverse logic than the one it pretends to fight, since it seems that it is only in the context of the comparison than an event (in this case, the double bombing in Beirut) seems to acquire importance. It also creates a false opposition between two cities, attacked by the same armed group and by doing so also forgets the folds of complexity of the situation: for example, the fact that many people feel connected de facto to the two events (there are 36,000 Lebanese people living in France, many of which resides in the Paris region).
So, before addressing in the coming days the extremely grave and tragically predictable decisions that the French government is currently undertaking, let’s talk indeed of the way the situation in Beirut has been discursively described by the media. The double bombing conducted by Daech members and that occurred in the Burj al-Barajneh municipality (see map below), which killed 45 people and injured more than 200 others — the intervention of Adel Termos who tackled the second bomber certainly avoided that these figures would reach even more dramatic level — was described by many press organizations as occurring in a “Hezbollah stronghold,” or “Hezbollah bastion.” What follows therefore consists in examining how such a terminology is extremely problematic and heavily consequential in what it implies, as well as describing the minimum degree of complexity that any serious media should consider when describing the current situation in Lebanon in general and Beirut in particular.Read more
“Danger Effondrement” (Danger Collapse) in Aulnay-sous-Bois (North-Eastern Paris banlieue) / Photograph by Léopold Lambert on November 8, 2005 (full photo here)
Since September 2004, I have been taking and selecting one photograph per day in a project that links the short and long term, the banal and, sometimes, fragments of history (during the great French student strike in 2006, Occupy Wall Street in 2011, Hurricane Sandy in 2012 for instance). One of these fragments can be seen in my November 8, 2005 entry, exactly ten years ago yesterday, with a photograph taken in Aulnay-sous-Bois of a car dealership burnt during the October-November 2005 revolt of the banlieues that the recent blog articles and the second issue of The Funambulist Magazine have been examining. Being a 19-year old architecture student back then, I wanted to confront the media discourse that was offering us visions of a civil war to a reality eminently more complex about which the small-town provincial I was only had a vague intuition back then. The testimonies gathered ten years later in various independent medias (Mouvements and Mediapart for instance) attests that the revolt is as much born from the police racist profiling and brutality, as from the media coverage of the events in particular, and of the banlieues in general, which seemed (and continue to be) taking its information directly from police representatives and demagogic politicians. The most vocal of the latter was, of course, Nicolas Sarkozy, then Minister of the Interior and, thus the “chief of the police,” who had already promised to wash out the banlieues “scum” (racaille) with a Karsher a few days before the revolts started (see past article) and who declared on November 10, 2005 that polygamy might be one the cause of the revolt (what most of the French press continues to call “riots”).
Another discursive effort to fundamentally dissociate the Banlieue Black and Arab youth from the rest of French society consisted for politicians and the press to insist on the numerous fires light up in various banlieues burning various cars and buildings, and providing the perfect mix of spectacle for the press and fear for the politicians. In the descriptions of these fires, they particularly insisted on the fact that this youth was burning its own local infrastucture, implying that not only were they violent and dangerous, they were also irrational or suicidal. In La domination policière (La Fabrique, 2012), Mathieu Rigouste (who has been since then assaulted and beaten by undercover police officers) explains that the youth was contained by the police within their own neighborhoods and had to therefore burn what they had “handy” in a gesture that can be seen as a revelation of the banlieues, yet that were also easily instrumentalized by antagonizing, demagogic and often racist political discourses. It is tempting on a platform that had argued numerous times that architecture is to be more thought as a problem than as a solution, to think of these buildings burning as the “positive holes” described by the Situationnists (see past article), or, along the same line to the text written by Guy Debord after the African American Los Angeles revolt of 1965 describing the fires of the city supermarkets as a critique of capitalist urbanism. However, this is something that I refuse to do here. I do not think that there was a constructivist agenda or unconscious to the numerous fires lit in the banlieues back then, but, rather, the desperate (in the proper sense of the term: who has lost any form of hope) catharsis for a legitimate anger of a socially excluded youth.Read more
Tomorow, October 27, 2015, we will commemorate the tenth anniversary of the death of Bouna Traoré and Zyed Benna, two teenagers of Clichy sous Bois (North-Eastern Paris banlieue) who died in an electric transformer after being illegitimately chased by the police. For this reason, I chose this date to publish the second issue of The Funambulist Magazine, dedicated to suburban geographies (with significant contributions about the French banlieues). But, before tomorrow, I wanted to present a photographic report of a small investigation accomplished yesterday about the architecture of four police stations in the Northern banlieues.
For an important amount of the banlieues inhabitants, in particular the Black and Arab youth, the police incarnate a daily reminder of the structural antagonism at work against their neighborhood and their bodies. As explained in a past article entitled “The Banlieue Battleground: Designing the French Suburbs for Police/Military Interventions,” this antagonism reached its peak during the nine years of Nicolas Sarkozy’s executive mandates (four years as Minister of Interior and five as President) between 2003-2004, and 2005- (see the Karsher declaration, only a few days before the death of Bouna and Zyed) 2012, but it never really dissolved since then — the current Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, also formerly Minister of Interior shares a certain amount of similarities with Sarkozy’s politics, despite being part of the Socialist Party. The strategy of the State vis-a-vis the cités (high density public housing in a low density urban fabric) consists in a gradual withdrawal of its service and an increase of police control. The latter’s violence is characterized by disrespectful discourse, systematic identity control, random chase and/or arrests, and sometimes, the use of a potentially lethal arsenal coming from a prolific security market. The following photographs attempt to show that architecture as well constitutes a weapon both symbolic and effective reinforcing the strong antagonism developed by the police against the banlieue youth. The police stations’ architectures, through their spatiality, their aesthetics and the care in the materials used (brick for the Aubervilliers one, and even some marble imitation for the Pierrefitte one, see below) attempt to present them as authored works, designed by architecture offices that also conceive libraries, schools, housing, etc. However, the agenda of this architecture is fairly explicit to anyone who knows their antagonizing context: these police station are built to respond to the potentiality of a “siege” undertaken against them — a rather odd hypothesis when one knows the police arsenal — by what they imagine to be hordes of barbarian youth (paranoia is necessary to maintain the antagonism). The walls of these stations are thus opaque with various degrees of inclination (a well-known technique by 17th-century fortress architects!), the more transparent parts are elevated, out-of-reach, and the sidewalks in front of their entrances are made inaccessible for vehicles through the presence of metallic cones (ubiquitous on the Paris sidewalks). Architecture is weaponized here again, and architects should be held accountable for the responsibility of their contribution to the antagonism developed by the State and its police towards the banlieue inhabitants.Read more
Between September 22nd and October 3rd, I traveled on the roads of four former Yugoslavian Republics (Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Serbia, and Slovenia), as well as Hungary, in order to document the historical and current (geo)political relationship between architecture/urbanism and the bodies. The four main historical eras that were discussed in seven podcast conversations are roughly summarized here:
– The Second World War, during which Serbia and Slovenia were annexed or occupied by the Axis armies (Germany, Italy, Hungary, and Bulgaria), while Croatia and Bosnia formed “the Independent State of Croatia,” often referred as a “Nazi puppet-state” that persecuted its Serbian minority. Serbian and Communist Partisans resistance led to the reformation of Yugoslavia in 1945.
– The Socialist Era, in particular the years during which Tito was President of Yugoslavia (1953-1980), a period of time that now corresponds for many as a nostalgic memory of prosperity and co-existence between the different ethnic groups of the region. My ignorance does not allow me to understand if it is a retrospective idealized memory — the generation born a few years after Tito’s death contribute to this narrative as well — or not.
– The 1990s wars, triggered by the political conflicts between the Serbian Nationalist government of Slobodan Milošević (1989-2000) and aspiring independentist republics (Slovenia and Croatia in 1991, Bosnia & Herzegovina in 1992, Kosovo in 1999) counting a Serbian minority (except for Slovenia). The dreadful war in Bosnia, as well as the subsequent ambiguous partition of the country between the Federation of Bosnia & Herzegovina and the Republika Srpska (where the ethnic cleansing of 1992-1995 against Bosniaks, i.e. Bosnian Muslims and, to a lesser degree, Bosnian Croats was crystallized by the 1995 Dayton Peace Agreements) was the most discussed during these conversations.
– The current era and its materialization of various borders. Part of the former Yugoslavian territory (namely, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo, and Macedonia), as well as Albania are exceptional in their geopolitical situation: they are “surrounded” by countries member of the European Union without being members themselves. In the current displacements of bodies from the Middle-East and Central Asia towards Europe, these Balkanic countries exercise the E.U.’s externalized politics of immigration, registering refugees and economic migrants, as well as detaining some of them in various facilities, as we previously discussed with Lucie Bacon in a conversation entitled “Collecting Migrant Experiences at the Walls of the European Union.” The recent temporary shut-down of the border between Serbia and Hungary, followed a few days later by a similar action on the border between Serbia and Croatia is particularly symptomatic of the strong contrast between the fluidity of the Shengen space’s internal borders and the fortified characteristics of its external ones.
Map below created by Léopold Lambert for The Funambulist (2015) / license: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommerical-ShareAlike 4.0 / A similar map, more focused on the center of Jerusalem itself was published in The Funambulist Magazine‘s first issue to illustrate the article “Jerusalem: Dismantling Phantasmagorias, Constructing Imaginaries” by Nora Akawi.Read more
Map created for the purpose of this article (see the full version below) / Download it here in high resolution (10 MB) / (license: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommerical-ShareAlike 4.0)
Continuing the current series about Paris and its banlieues (suburbs), here is a new map illustrating why I call the Paris municipality (only a fifth of the total Parisian population), “Fortress Paris.” The “Boulevard Périphérique” that surrounds Paris is a 35-kilometer long highway that, to a few exceptions (mainly the two forests of Boulogne and Vincennes), mark the separation between the Paris municipality and suburban municipalities. Such a wide gap built in 1954 creates a “canyon” (see a past article about urban highways as canyons) that recalls its former function of fortifications. In fact, the same route was formerly used by fortified walls supposed to defend Paris against foreign armies. Built between 1841 and 1844, following a decision of the infamous Adolphe Thiers who will order the slaughter of the Paris Commune thirty years later (see the many past articles), the walls were finally destroyed after the First World War and the liminal land of Paris remained relatively empty until the 1950s.
The map presented below is, of course, only so much illustrative, insofar that it implies a pedestrian access to Paris, something that only a little amount of bodies experience on a daily basis, most people using the subway or regional train to access Fortress Paris (see past map). Nevertheless,this map aims at illustrating the unequal logic at work in the organization of urban space in Paris, as well as the imaginary it creates for the population discriminated by it. The three symbols showing the gates to access the city center on the map represent three different gate typologies that have a significantly different impact on the bodies crossing them. Rounds show a condition where the Périphérique is underground, thus allowing easy if not unconscious crossing. Squares are bridges that cross over the highway; they are almost always wide but don’t prevent the separative gap to be fully marked and the traffic noise reinforces the uncomfortable feeling of the crossing. Triangles, finally, imply a crossing under the Périphérique, which is by far the least inviting option: often dark, noisy and smelly, the border is materialized not only by a medieval interpretation of the gate, but also by an atmospheric condition calling for all senses to experience it as such. Bodies are not equal when it comes to the feeling of insecurity and it is easy to understand that some of them (women for instance, but not exclusively) only cross these gates reluctantly and with a feeling of strong anxiety.Read more
Map created for the purpose of this article (see the full version below) / Download it here in high resolution (8 MB) / (license: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommerical-ShareAlike 4.0)
This article and map are in the continuity of the five others made in the past year (cf. “The Banlieue Archipelago,” “Another Paris,” and “15-minute walk from a train station” maps) and, more generally, to the on-going series of articles about the Paris banlieues (suburbs).
On October 26, 2005, recently re-nominated Minister of Interior Affairs (i.e. chief of the police), Nicolas Sarkozy, who will be elected President two years later, was visiting the banlieue of Argenteuil when he addressed a person at her window: “You’re tired of this scum [racaille], aren’t you? Well, we’re going to get rid of it for you!” (see video). The next day, Bouna Traoré and Zyed Benna, two teenagers from Clichy-sous-Bois, died of electrocution while they were trying to run away from the BAC (Brigade Anti-Criminalité, i.e. a particularly aggressive branch of the police in the banlieues), chasing them illegitimately (see past article). These two events sparked the important revolts of the banlieues that were only responded with a state of emergency and more police control. Although Sarkozy’s policies and speeches have been consistently relying on fundamentally racist and colonial principles — many of uf will remember the 2010 speech of Grenoble about immigration or the 2007 one in Dakar about “Africa, not having yet entered history” — we can give him the benefit of the doubt that his definition of scum (racaille) consists in people despising the law and arrogantly disobeying it, regardless of their race.
Let’s thus keep this definition in mind while introducing a piece of legislation that directly addresses the social (and by extension, racial) segregation that spatially organizes Paris and its banlieues: The SRU Law (Solidarity and Urban Renewal), voted in December 2000, obliges each municipality counting more than 3,500 inhabitants — other exemptions include the impossibility for a municipality to build more on its land — to comply with the ratio of 20% of its total housing to be social housing. The map presented below shows the quasi-totality of Paris’s urban area and its municipalities, including the 20 arrondissements that compose Paris proper. Municipalities showed in green are compliant with this legislation, and those in bright green even includes more than 25% of social housing — the 95 cités showed on the map in white are, of course, almost exclusively in these municipalities. On the contrary, the map shows no less than 149 municipalities that are not compliant with the law, including 60 that do not even reach a percentage of 10% (in red). For instance, Sarkozy’s city, Neuilly-sur-Seine — he was its mayor between 1983 and 2002 — counts less than 5% (1,435 out of 30,448) of social housing. Hence the question that gives its title to this article: “Who is the scum now?”Read more
nb. Although the term of banlieue can define all suburbs in France, I use this word here to specifically talk about the suburban neighborhoods inhabited by a population in economic precariousness and composed, for an important part, of French citizens of North and West African ancestry, as well as more recent immigrants. Although my thoughts are not fully in sync with the political party of the Indigènes de la République (The Republic’s Indigenous), I will also use this term to refer to this population for its useful provocative expression: by referring to colonialism, this phrase connects the current situation to national history since a great majority of the Indigenous’ families experienced French colonialism between the 19th and 20th centuries.
This article is a prelude to an article written by Hacène Belmessous in the second issue of The Funambulist Magazine dedicated to the politics of the suburbs, and entitled “French Banlieues: Neighborhoods in State of Exception.” I commissioned him to write this short essay after reading his book, Opération Banlieues (La Découverte, 2010) that examined, in the most intense years of the Sarkozy administration, the potential scenarios that would lead the French army to intervene within the banlieues of the country. Although the antagonism between the French government and the Indigenous has always been strong, the seven years of Sarkozy’s governance (four as Minister of Interior Affairs, and five as President) corresponds to the explicit climax of this antagonism. This is why, the first chapter of Belmessous’s book written in the form of a fiction, appear so credible: in a given part of the Paris banlieue, a few young individuals engage in live fire with the police, killing three officers of the infamous BAC (Brigade Anti-Criminalité), and thus triggering a carefully prepared political process of emergency leading to the deployment of the army in various neighborhoods of the country.Read more
Map created for the purpose of this article / Download it here in high resolution (4.5 MB)
(license: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommerical-ShareAlike 4.0)
The map presented above was made in the continuity of the four previous ones that established an inventory of Paris Banlieues’ Cités (July 2014) and a cartographic alternative to our geographical imaginary of Paris (January 2015). This map consists in a simple graphic (and probably too approximate) exercise: tracing a rough 15-minute walking distance radius around each train station (Metro/RER/Regional train) of the “Greater Paris” — a notion only in formation at the administrative level. In such a centralized city, the connection to its center is fundamental in order to exercise a potential “right to the city.” As this map and the others show, the train lines are all oriented so to reach the center of Paris, which admittedly allows a more direct path to it; yet reinforces the pre-eminence of “fortified Paris” (see past article) to the detriment of banlieue-to-banlieue exchanges. A few tram lines allowing such displacements recently opened to support the bus system; yet, these vehicles are not comparable to the trains’ speed in any way.
The access to the train system is thus crucial to the banlieues inhabitants (80% of metropolitan Paris) in their daily experience of the city — at least for the 5 million of them that do not own a car. In this regard, the 800,000 people who live in the cités that I mapped (in red on this specific map) occupy a particularly precarious situation where they either have to stay where they live — 24% of them are unemployed — or spend several hours a day in public transportation. As the map above show, about half of the cités are situated outside these 15-minute walk radiuses and therefore have to use a bus or a tram in order to reach the train network. Rather than describing at length theoretical daily lives experience, I would like to propose three examples of contrasts between the daily trip that someone needs to accomplish to go to work when living in one of the circles and one that does not.Read more