November 8, 2005

Where It Started Before It Started


Judging from the thoughtful discussion here regarding Saturday’s Mazar-i-Sharif photo, I realize that I’ve been way too tentative in taking on the French rioting/rebellion.  I’ve been looking at images of Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy for about a four or five days now, but beyond that, I’ve been sitting on my hands.

Obviously, there are different narratives being spun to explain what’s happening.  From the left, however, it appears that Sarkozy — hoping to stake out a rightist, anti-immigrant (anti-African? anti-2nd and 3rd generation non-white?) platform for a Presidential bid — has helped push French racial and economic frustrations past the boiling point.

Most of the media trace the unrest to October 27th, when two boys —
one of Tunisian origin and the other whose family comes from Mauritania
— were accidentally electrocuted
at an electrical substation after attempting to escape or avoid the
police. When the news spread, civil disobedience broke out that evening
in the northern Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois, where the accident
took place.

According to a November 4th LA Times article,
however, the first spark of the outbreak can actually be traced back to
October 26 when Sarkozy led a media contingent to the poverty stricken
community of Argenteuil. There, Sarkozy engaged in a test of wills with
(what the reports describe as) gang leaders and Islamic
fundamentalists, declaring that poor areas would be reclaimed with
tough policing. Youths at the scene reacted to Sarkozy’s comments by
throwing objects and Sarkozy responded by calling them "thugs."

The photo above was taken on October 25th in Argenteuil.
According to the A.P., the visit spawned a confrontation with local
demonstrators at the time, which was exacerbated when Sarkozy vowed to
return the following day.

One of his main critics, French-Algerian Azouz Begag, the Cabinet minister for equal opportunity, has
accused Sarkozy of "pouring gasoline on the flames" through the use of
"warlike semantics" and media displays in rough neighborhoods. The rest
of the government, including his potential rival for the Presidency,
Prime Minister de Villepin, and the President Chirac (who is said to
distain him) have largely given Sarkozy — who claims to have lowered
the crime rate during his two terms — wide latitude to operate

Exquisite Corpse has a good summary
of the first seven nights of unrest with emphasis on Sarkozy’s role.
According to this account, events slowed down on Sunday the 30th, upon
which Sarkozy went on television and stoked things up again through
incendiary language and general threats of retribution.

Besides the critical shot of Sarkozy in Argenteuil, there is no
shortage of images of the Interior Minister with the boys in blue. The
images bring a few impressions to mind: Do most French police look so
bad ass, or does Nicolas’ people select out the type? Is it just me, or
do at least two of these shots conjure skinheads. Also, if you thought
the shot below of Sarkozy flashing the canines was incidental, it’s not
— that expression shows up regularly.


Shaking hands with officers in Bobigny on the fourth night.


Central police station in Bobigny on following the tenth night.


Central police station in Evreux after the eleventh night.

image 1: Mehdi Taamallah/A.P. October 25, 2005. Argenteuil  image 2: Franck Prevel/Reuters.  October 31, 2005.  Bobigny/ Paris. Via YahooNews. Image 3: Mehdi
Taamallah/A.P. November 6, 2005. Bobigny/Paris. Via YahooNews. image 4:
October 31, 2005. Bobigny/ Paris. Via YahooNews. Image 3:
Taamallah/A.P. November 6, 2005. Bobigny/Paris. Via YahooNews. Image 4:
Remy de la Mauviniere/A.P. Evreux/Paris. November 7th, 2005. Via

Post By

Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

The Big Picture

Follow us on Instagram (@readingthepictures) and Twitter (@readingthepix), and


A curated collection of pieces related to our most-popular subject matter.


Comments Powered by Disqus