Latifa Ben Mansour on Nicolas Sarkozy and the French Banlieues

Posted by John Rosenthal

he Algerian-born linguist Latifa Ben Mansour lives in France and is the author of two recent books on the "Islamist" – or as she prefers to put it Muslim "fundamentalist" – movement: Frères musulmans, Frères fèroces [Muslim Brothers, Ferocious Brothers] and Les Mensonges des Intégristes [The Lies of the Fundamentalists]. I spoke with Ms. Ben Mansour for the Transatlantic Intelligencer Quarterly. The full interview will be published as a special supplement to Issue 1:1 of the Quarterly.

Here an extract from the interview. I asked Ms. Ben Mansour about Nicolas Sarkozy and his famous remarks about the "racaille" – roughly "rabble", though the term has lately taken on other connotations in French slang – and cleaning up the French banlieues "à Kärcher" (the "Kärcher" being a high-pressure cleaning system). These remarks have frequently been presented in both the French and Anglophone media as having provoked the ire of the residents of the banlieues and thus exacerbated the tensions that issued in the recent rioting. This was Ms. Ben Mansour’s response:

I’m going to tell you something that you might find surprising. Nicolas Sarkozy is very respected in the banlieues. Why is he respected? He’s respected because there are many people who say: “Well, at least this guy says what he thinks.” Given the current reign of political correctness, someone who calls a cat, a cat, a dog, a dog, and so on – that’s already not bad. Because nowadays one does not call things by their names. So, in general he is respected – also by people in the banlieues.

Now, did he use the phrase “we’re going to get rid of the racaille” just like that or was there something said before and after this phrase? Was the phrase taken out of its context? Does it in itself accurately represent the discourse of Nicolas Sarkozy? In my opinion, it was taken out of context. He was speaking to a women [from one of the affected areas] who spoke of getting rid of the racaille and he responded and then the phrase was taken out of context. Of course, once the phrase is taken out of context, one can do whatever one wants with it.

I should mention too that this word “racaille” is used by the youngsters – or certain youngsters – from the banlieues themselves. They say “caillera”, which is just “racaille” in verlan [a French slang popular in the banlieues and formed by pronouncing words "in reverse"].

Now, what about when he said that we’re going to “clean up [the banlieues] à Kärcher”? One has to be fair and objective, because that is the only way to go forward. Why did he make the remark? Because an 11-year-old child had died at La Courneuve [a poor suburb of Paris]. The kid had gone outside to clean his father’s car. It was his father’s birthday and he was cleaning the car for his dad. There’s a clash between different gangs at La Courneuve. They open fire and they kill the kid. That’s why he talked about “cleaning up” the banlieues. It was not like he just started talking about the “racaille” and “cleaning up
à Kärcher” out of the blue.

If people want to take such remarks out of context, in order then to accuse Sarkozy of being a racist and against the youth from the banlieues, they can do so. But it’s not true. He is not racist. He’s just been the only one to say what others won’t say. Moreover, he himself emphasizes that he is also the son of immigrants. He has experienced some of what the current generation of French children of immigrants experience. So, such accusations against Sarkozy are completely unfounded. And to try to place at his doorstep the whole failure of the state – the abdication of the state about which we have talked – it’s simply unjust.


It’s been well known for a long time already that there are gangs in the banlieues and it’s the gangs who impose their law: mafias that have set up shop where the state has abdicated its responsibilities. There is no work in the banlieues and a parallel economy has developed. The people in the banlieues have to live, after all. And how do they live? Well, by engaging in all sorts of traffics on the black market. It could be clothes or cosmetics imported from China. Or it could go a lot further: drugs or even arms.

In the past, the mafias used to have their meetings at hotels or bars [in Paris]. Now, they have their meetings in the banlieues. When there are meetings between the main bosses of the gangs, there are riots in the banlieues. That way the police are tied down and the bosses take care of their business. There are mafia-type movements that exist in the banlieues and the first people to suffer from their presence, to be terrorized by them, are the populations of the banlieues themselves. So, if Nicolas Sarkozy tries to stir things up, all I can say is: Bravo.

Check back next Monday for much more from Latifa Ben Mansour on Islam, "Islamism", the French banlieues, Nicolas Sarkozy, and Tariq Ramadan.

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