There is a dirty word in French that looks, to English speakers, totally harmless: the “neighbourhood”. But look at the lyrics of any American rap song and you’ll understand the meaning to French ears: the “‘hood” is something to be feared by those who don’t live there and a badge of pride (even mired in poverty and crime) for those that do.
At the heart of Nicolas Sarkozy’s new approach to crime and public safety in 2002, when he became Interior Minister, was an attitude of confrontation with the evils that existed in the neighbourhoods (particularly the suburbs around major French cities that grew at a head-spinning pace in the 1960s and 70s when France built large concrete blocks at low-cost in a brutalist style to house its new immigrant workers). These neighbourhoods have become leitmotifs for everything that has gone wrong in society: racism, crime, drugs, disappearance of public services and social exclusion. Given that countless governments since the 1970s have sought to tackle these problems to no avail, can the first Socialist government in 10 years do any better? Continue reading