Yes and No. It depends who you are.

For the life of most residents of Paris in the downtown city proper, dodging between raindrops with a baguette under your arm or finding a free table at the local brasserie is about as difficult as it gets. Nothing has changed.

But for the many minority French living in what have been called the "Arab ghettos," or the banlieues - the suburbs of Paris - France is not only burning, it may well smolder for a long time to come.

The "culture wars" have been decades in the making. But for two young boys of African origin, Bouna Traore, 15, and Zyed Benna, 17, the war ended on the evening of Oct. 27.

Benna and Traore were electrocuted after climbing into an electrical sub-station in the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois, in what locals say was an attempt to hide from police.

Police rough-ups in these ghetto neighborhoods are common, probably comparable to the complaints of "DWB" - driving while Black - minorities speak about when referring to police aggression and harassment in the U.S.

Clichy-sous-Bois is a misnomer of epic French proportion. It means literally, Clichy near the woods. There may have been woods centuries ago, but Clichy and other suburbs like L'Ile Saint-Denis, Aulnay-sous-Bois, Malakoff, and Bobigny, are now full of acres of ugly cement high-rises covered with gang graffiti, dirty streets, and no work.

In these areas the residents are immigrants from Africa, Algeria, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Egypt or other countries. Ten years ago they were seen as French "Arabs," but now most are commonly referred to, and define themselves, as simply "Muslims."

Despite years of effort by the French socialist government and money spent to enhance "economic tax-free zones," or "policy for the city" programs, most residents of the banlieues will tell you that life is worse now than it has ever been. Unemployment, especially among the youth, even the educated youth, can be as high as 60 percent.

A few young men I spoke with say that when they apply for a job, or give information in a telephone interview, as soon as they give their Arab-sounding name - maybe Mahamed or Kahlil- or say they live in Clichy, they are told the vacancy has been filled.

Many older men simply work, if they can find a job at all, as Parisian taxis drivers. They put in long hours inside the City of Light, then return to their families in dingy high-rises.

One BBC news report estimated that in the 1980s alone, hundreds of billions of francs were spent on regenerating housing. (France joined the European Common market and changed from its old form of money - francs - to the Euro.)

So where has all this government money gone? Mostly into the pockets of the well connected.

France is run by white, mostly men, educated at the elite schools and colleges in Paris. A good French name can make all the difference in a career. The French educational system is meant to train the bureaucrats of the future. It's a system of long-standing and tends to perpetuate itself, creating ranks of the chosen and a vast majority of outsiders.

Many of the local residents of the "problem suburbs" - now that they have their 15 minutes of fame - say that what they want is to work and to be treated fairly by police. They would like to see a return to neighborhood policing and couple that with a police force that reflects their culture.

The vast majority of French police are also white.

Meanwhile, the estimates of two weeks of rioting and damage continue to rise. Figures recorded both in the BBC news and in local French papers indicate that over 8,400 vehicles have been torched. The financial fall-out from the burned cars alone could amount to over 200 million euros (about $240 million dollars).

A report in Le Journal du Dimanche, published in Paris, Nov. 13, 2005, indicates that 82 percent of the destroyed vehicles are insured by Le Federation francaise des societes d'assurances -FFSA - but that leaves many cars uninsured.

L'association Consommation logement et cadre de vie (CLCV) has demanded that the state cover the cost of the uninsured vehicles. But, for the moment, the officials in France - especially Nicolas Sarkozy, France's Interior Minister who is trying to quell the violence - have their hands full.

In fact, many think it was actually Sarkozy who sparked the riots.

Ironically, two days before the deaths of the unfortunate teenagers, on Oct. 25, Sarkozy visited the Paris suburb of Argenteuil to see how new measures against urban violence were working. He was pelted with stones and bottles and was widely quoted in French newspapers in the following days as saying that the crime-ridden neighborhoods should be "cleaned with a power hose."

Sarkozy also described some of the residents, which he labeled violent, as "gangrene" and "rabble."

Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin has pledged a full investigation into the deaths of Traore and Benna but so far no further information has been forthcoming. Instead Villepin has pinned his hopes of restoring calm on a French law of 1955, never before implemented on the French mainland, that allows curfews to be imposed in emergencies.

And, thus far, French President Jacques Chirac has tried to stay out of the limelight. He promised to restore order after a meeting with his government on Nov. 6, but the following night was the most violent to-date with 1,500 vehicles burned and nearly 400 arrests. He has not been heard from since.

The Muslim community itself is a many-headed beast that would like to consider itself French but can't quite manage it.

Most of the large Mosques in France have been built with foreign money and the devotees who worship there know which side their baguette is buttered on.

The Paris Grand Mosque is supported by Algeria; the Mosque in Evry was first built with money from the Saudi-based World Islamic League, then began being supported by another group, the National Federation of French Muslims (FNMF), backed by Morocco. And the third main Muslim group in France, the Union of the Islamic Organizations of France (UOIF), is an offshoot of the Muslim Brothers, whose roots are in Egypt.

The countries of Algeria and Morocco are reported to have a long-standing enmity between them, and this slips over into the politics of French Muslims. Sometimes the rivalries get nasty.

The tensions turned violent in 1996, when a gang claiming links with the Paris mosque briefly took over the mosque in Evry.

Journalist Christophe Deloire, author of the book "The Islamists Are Already Here," says that the notion of French Islam is "a farce." According to a report in the BBC News, Deloire describes the country's Muslim community as a "chess board" where foreign forces move their pieces.

Nadir Dendoune, also an author and resident of L'Ile Saint-Denis, north of Paris, puts it this way, "How am I supposed to feel French when people always describe me as a Frenchman of Algerian origin? I was born here. I am French. How many generations does it take to stop mentioning my origin?"

So, what does an ordinary Caucasian really know about the crisis walking the streets of Paris? Very little.

The riots are symptomatic of a complex situation, woven from threads of local politics, global and long-standing country issues, decades of financial neglect and mismanagement, and tightened by the suffering of many different peoples who traveled to France to find a better life.

Yet, as an American in Paris, it does no good to turn away from the problem here. As we know all to well now, we live in one world.

Cate Gable, a Chinook Observer writer, is a part-time resident of Paris, where she is currently teaching a class.

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