In his 1968 novel Damnation Alley, Roger Zelazny depicted a post-apocalyptic future in which the heartland of America has been turned into an anarchic and radioactive wasteland, leaving only isolated enclaves of civilization on the east and west coasts. The protagonist of the book is Hell Tanner, the last living Hell’s Angel, who has been pardoned for all his crimes in return for attempting the suicidal task of carrying anti-plague serum overland from California to Boston.
Most authors who write hip science fiction live in the effete urban enclaves themselves. It’s hard for them to imagine the vast “flyover country” that separates the coasts of the United States as anything other than a benighted hinterland, full of inbred illiterates, crazed vigilantes, and Christian fanatics, all ready to descend into violent chaos at the slightest provocation. Visualize a combination of Deliverance and Heart of Darkness, and you’ve got the idea.
In the real world, however, the War of All Against All doesn’t emerge from the agricultural countryside; it arises in the heart of civilization itself, in the decayed blight of the West’s largest cities.
Take France, for example. Certain suburbs of Paris and other major cities are notorious as “no-go zones” for the police and other agents of central authority. In these areas “youths” run rampant, terrorizing the inhabitants and anyone from the outside who is foolish enough to enter.
And these aren’t just any “youths”; they are the lawless and disaffected children and grandchildren of Islamic immigrants. With their ghetto gear and their teenage smirks, they have become the poster children for the anomie of the Islamic diaspora.
The French, in typical fashion, have evolved a classificatory system to deal with their youthful crisis, and it even has its own nomenclature. Daniel Pipes describes it:
They go by the euphemistic term Zones Urbaines Sensibles, or Sensitive Urban Zones, with the even more antiseptic acronym ZUS, and there are 751 of them as of last count. They are conveniently listed on one long webpage, complete with street demarcations and map delineations.
What are they? Those places in France that the French state does not control. They range from two zones in the medieval town of Carcassone to twelve in the heavily Muslim town of Marseilles, with hardly a town in France lacking in its ZUS. The ZUS came into existence in late 1996 and according to a 2004 estimate, nearly 5 million people live in them.
Comment: A more precise name for these zones would be Dar al-Islam, the place where Muslims rule.
French authorities have chosen not to deal with the problem as an existential crisis, or as a clash of cultures, or even as a law enforcement issue. They reckon it to be a bureaucratic problem, and with predictable Gallic intricacy they have adopted a bureaucratic solution.
First there is the official definition:
The sensitive urban zones (ZUS) are infra-urban areas defined by the authorities to be a high-priority target for city policy, taking into consideration local circumstances related to the problems which the inhabitants of these areas have. The law of November 14, 1996 implementing a revived policy for the city distinguishes three levels of intervention:
- sensitive urban zones (ZUS);
- zones of urban renewal (ZRU);
- urban tax-free zones (ZFU).
The three levels of intervention ZUS, ZRU and ZFU, characterized by fiscal and social measures of increasing importance, target with differing degrees of response the difficulties encountered in these districts.
The tax-free areas (franche) are similar to our Urban Enterprise Zones: decayed city areas, but deemed by the authorities as redeemable, as areas where it is still possible for favored government cronies to turn a profit.
The ZRU seem to resemble standard “urban renewal” areas: bulldoze the old slums and put up some nice new slums, with lots of fresh concrete and hardened public fixtures.
As for the last of these three categories of dysfunction, the phrase Zones Urbaines Sensibles — “Sensitive Urban Zones” — designates the most intractable areas, where the rule of law has vanished and a normal economy no longer functions. They are, as “20 Minutes” noted in June of 2006, not always confined to the suburban high-rises, but extend to the heart of the city:
– – – – – – – – – –
Contrary to generally accepted ideas, these sensitive districts are today in the middle of urban concentrations and not just at the periphery.
Since the 1996 law was passed, additional layers of bureaucratic accretion have been deposited over the original structure. The government has even established an official observatory of the ZUS, as if they were distant constellations glimpsed through a telescope:
The situation in the areas in difficulty was until recently difficult to evaluate with precision, based on many statistics which remain in some way inadequate in certain areas, scattered or often badly collected. It was in order to remedy these problems, and to measure more accurately the effect of policy implementation, that the national Observatory of the sensitive urban Zones (ZUS) was created by the law passed on August 1, 2003.
Some of the fruits of all this observation are elaborate official taxonomies with carefully delineated demarcations, street-by-street analyses, and a census of the affected citoyens. According to Les Echos atlas:
Nearly 5 million inhabitants reside in zones in difficulty
The cumulative problems of the sensitive urban zones: an excess of public housing and few owners, high unemployment, a low proportion of high school graduates.
The law of November 14, 1996 created at that time the sensitive urban zones (ZUS) and the urban tax-free zones (ZFU). Thus, 752 zones were created in France, including 718 in Metropolitan France. These ZUS are distributed throughout 490 communes and include 4.7 million inhabitants. Among them, a subset of 416 zones of urban renewal (ZRU) was created, including 396 in the metropolis. The ZRU present particular difficulties and contain 3.2 million inhabitants. Almost all of the departments are affected, the exceptions being nine departments with a strong agricultural character.
You can read through all these acres of virtual bureaucratic bumf without a hint of the gritty reality showing through. The ZUS represent the perpetually inflamed tissue of the French body politic, with the nightly count of burned vehicles showing up as one of the green squiggles on the vital-signs monitor. Two hundred burned cars, and the youthful patient is having a good day. Five hundred, and the nurse is called to administer a sedative.
But it’s not the patient who goes to sleep; it’s the French public. Everyone is aware of what’s happening, but the magnitude of the crisis and the specifics of the situation are hidden behind a wall of official obfuscation and government-mandated censorship.
Within the ZUS, the gangs of Muslim youths have a free hand to loot, rape, and burn. Police are not allowed to use their weapons to enforce the law, or even to defend themselves. Trying to do his traditional job can put a policemen’s career in jeopardy, as the officers who chased two young criminals into a power substation back in October 1995 discovered.
What is not acknowledged is that France has lost sovereign control over large swathes of its urban territory. The only solution envisioned by French bureaucrats is a quintessentially bureaucratic one. The layers of jargon and classification and commissions and acronyms are like the wall of scar tissue that forms around a foreign substance that can’t be assimilated.
The areas designated as ZUS are effectively acknowledged to be dead. They are no longer part of France. They no longer possess any of the functions of a civitas.
They are the scattered pieces of la France Morte.
Hat tip: Commenter merrimacshores.
All of the original French in the above material was translated by me. Readers with better French than mine are invited to correct me if I have departed from the sense of the original.