Of course, you will be thoroughly familiar with the case of Saïdou and Saïd
Bouamama. Sick as a dog of all the blanket coverage I shouldn't wonder. Wondering when their faces will no longer imprint themselves in your dreams and spoil your fondest erotic fantasies.
Still, hold firm and let's go through this one more aching time. Saïdou is a rapper from the group Z.E.P (Zone d’expression populaire - I know, I thought it very catchy as well). Bouamama is a sociologist and activist. Together, they have insulted the French people, with a song and a book named 'Nique la France'*. This means, 'Fuck France', which is very insulting. To this, Zep added the lyric:
Nique la France et son passé colonialiste, ses odeurs, ses relents et ses réflexes paternalistes /
Nique la France et son histoire impérialiste, ses murs, ses remparts et ses délires capitalistes.
Fuck France and its colonialist past, its smells, lingering stenches, paternalist reflexes /
Fuck France and its imperialist history, its walls, its defences, its capitalist frenzies.
This is about as unpleasant as one can be about a nation-state. Saïdou and Bouamama's irresponsible defenders invoke past examples of insults to France, 'from André Breton’s “nation of pigs and dogs” ("nation de porcs et de chiens")to Léo Ferré’s “time I fucked my Marseillaise” ("le temps que j’baise ma Marseillaise"), from Aragon’s “I shit on the French army” ("je conchie l’armée française") to Renaud’s “Bugger your Republic”' ("et votre republique, moi j'la tringle").
However this, while dangerously close to the knuckle, can ultimately be tolerated as mere ribaldry, a lively commentary on France's foibles. And also, in its perverse way, a form of patriotism. What could be more French than shitting on some soldiers? But Saïdou and Bouamama are worse than scandalous. They defame France. They libel the Republic. They tell the world that France is racist, colonialist and capitalist. As Prime Minister Valls has repeatedly explained, we must not confuse incitement with freedom of speech. Fifty four closed investigations into statements made on social media and elsewhere, alleged in some way to be 'glorifying' or inciting terrorism, have been re-opened by French police. This is how things stand. Incitement will be prosecuted, from the classroom to the tweet.
And thus, following a complaint from a far right group that is nostalgic for the days of French Algeria, the pair are being prosecuted for insulting France. And are appearing in court today. Even if the court has a regrettably politically correct spasm and the prosecution hits the kids, let there be no mistake: France has proven that it isn't some little colonial subject that can be pushed around, especially not by upstarts from the quartiers populaires. It is a national state. And if you insult France, you will be answerable, and at the mercy of its good temper and tolerance.
*Here is a translated extract from the book:
FUCK FRANCE – THE DUTY TO BE INSOLENT
We encounter massive racial discrimination – systemic, structural, institutional – that touches every sphere of life (school, vocational training, employment, housing, relationships with the police, etc.). It turns us into a stigmatized social group, deprived of rights and assigned to the most precarious, most degraded and most unequal positions in French society.
We are the target of regular ideological campaigns branding us as “barbarian”, “homophobic”, “anti-Semitic”, “intolerant of secularism”, “terrorist” and so on. Islamophobia is steadily gaining ground, making us “the enemy within” to be monitored, hunted, punished… Our personal lives are violated by insulting political and media debate, from the law on headscarves at school to the proposed legislation on the burqa, taking in the debates on minarets, on so-called national identity and on the November 2005 revolt of the quartiers populaires on the way.
This systematic humiliation of a whole social group is ongoing and getting worse. The organisation of the French social structure confines us within frontiers that are no less real for being invisible. Made much of in the media, the opening of the checkpoints for a few cannot hide the fact that they are impassable for the great majority.
From the counter of the immigration and nationalization office to the police identity-check, from educational selection to employment discrimination, our everyday life is a constant reminder of these frontiers. We are constantly required to show our allegiance, our submission, our deservingness, our politeness, our worthiness, our unobtrusiveness, our invisibility. And this when our human dignity can be safeguarded only by rebellion, by struggle, by visibility, by impoliteness, by irreverence, by insubordination, by egalitarian impatience. We are called on to love the system that oppresses us. We are accused of “communitarianism” (1) when we seek to organise autonomously. In the context of our oppression, however, this demonized “communitarianism” is a defence against depersonalisation, decomposition, self-hatred.
Why the hell should we be ashamed to be Arab, Black, Muslim…? To be non-White? We are accused of “victimology” when we do no more than denounce the massive racial discrimination we suffer and insist on being treated as equals. We are, objectively, the victims of a racist system that finds expression in massive, systemic discrimination.
Who is this “We”, then? This we is both the legacy of colonization and the ongoing product of today’s French social system. This we is statistically identifiable in the vast bulk of research that has looked at discrimination and inequality. This we can be easily spotted as the target when media and politicians stigmatize immigration status, national origin, skin colour or religion.
This we is made up of the Blacks, Arabs and Muslims of France, whatever their status, whatever their nationality. And it is firstly and above all this community that we hope to speak to here, asking it to raise its head even higher. To organise autonomously. To abandon all illusions in the face of the false promises, the sympathy and the good intentions, and the myths of the Republic – equal opportunity, fraternity, Enlightenment and all – that are recited to us to make us go to sleep. Our future depends first of all on ourselves, on the battles we fight, the relationship of forces we can bring to bear. On the autonomous politics we can construct, with its own demands and its own independent organisation. We are faced with a choice between passivity and civic subordination on the one hand, and struggle and progress on the other.
We hope to speak as well to those Whites who unreservedly reject the racist system that puts its stamp on French society but are nonetheless aware of the privilege they do enjoy as petits Blancs, as non-boss-class whites (2). They are produced, constructed, by a racist social system that puts them in a different situation to us in terms of the advantages and privileges accorded to some and the disadvantages and unequal treatment imposed on others. By maintaining a scarcity of goods (housing, work, training etc.), this social system produces competition between Whites and non-Whites, encouraging the first to think of themselves as petits Blancs, as in colonial days, and relegating the others to the status of natives.
And that is why we demand equal treatment: now, and in every area of social life! Furthermore, we know that France’s colonial history has made a deep imprint on the consciousness of every class and stratum of French society, an imprint that survives today. It is because we want to eradicate these psychological vestiges, which in us express themselves as the inclination of the colonized to shake hands with the torturer, that we demand the same radical uprooting of petit Blanc attitudes, paternalist, civilizing, assimilationist, etc.
Already in 1984, at the time of one of our great marches (Convergence 84 pour l’égalité), we were saying that we lived in the cellars of French society, but could tell, feeling our way through the dark, that there were Whites too in the cellars with us, it was just that they were one floor above. We had no illusions in their paternalism, yet we called for an alliance, for we believed that they, too, being poor, had been confined to marginality. We are nonetheless not surprised to see ourselves confronted, 25 years later, with debates on the burqa and on national identity, with the expulsion of undocumented immigrants amid general indifference, with the multiplication of racist crimes, with discrimination as a system, all evidence of the failure of the quest for inclusion. Given this, there is only one conclusion to be drawn: the need to break radically and unambiguously with all the mystifying discourses produced and circulated in order to legitimate and to maintain the inequalities and injustices of this society, of this France never decolonized. And hence an insistence on our inviolable autonomy in the construction and articulation of our “we”.
That is why we say, calmly, imperturbably: Nique la France. Fuck France! Fuck colonial, racist, unequal France! If the phrase emerged spontaneously on the lips of the young people of the quartiers populaires, and then appeared in the titles and lyrics of songs, it was not on because of a taste for vulgarity, or on account of the sexual connotations some saw in it. For a long time now, the phrase has simply meant a refusal to tolerate the intolerable, to stay where you’re told, to be the object of speech rather than a speaking subject. All the laws and sanctions of the world can do nothing against this refusal of the life of a slave, of a native.
Whistling the Marseillaise or calling out “Nique França” is a political act that has many meanings. It signifies a refusal to accept the place you’ve been given.
Nique la France doesn’t say “I am X or Y” but rather “I refuse to be X!”, “I will not be Y!”, “I refuse the place I have been allotted in life!”
Nique la France is the refusal to be invisible, to be discreet; it is the assertion of our right to be who we are, and not to have to hide it.
Nique la France is the refusal to defer and to be polite in the face of a social system that oppresses us, exploits us, stigmatizes us, and marginalizes us.
Nique la France is the assertion that we alone are responsible for our own emancipation, rejecting the “integration”, the “assimilation”, the “civilisation” that others have defined for us as if we were mere modelling clay, to be shaped at will.
“Fuck France” will be with us as long as there is inequality. It will not disappear, so long as there is oppression and discrimination. It is continuously produced by our conditions of existence, by the physical, social and symbolic violence that characterizes them. No person, no group has the least power to make it go away while its deeper causes still operate.
We no longer want to be on the defensive, we no longer want to justify ourselves, for these attitudes spring from internalized oppression. We will not complain, or negotiate, but simply insist on equality now.
We have only one anger, but it runs deep: anger against injustice. We have only one hatred, but it is deeply rooted: hatred of oppression. We have only one passion, but it is one and all: the passion for equality.
Extract from Saïd Bouamama and Z.E.P., Nique la France – Devoir d’insolence (Paris: Z.E.P., 2010)
1. In France, in this context, communautarisme is a highly pejorative term, equivalent to “tribalism”, signifying identification with a particular community rather than with the supposed state of all its citizens.
2. French colonial society in the Caribbean was divided between grands blancs, the “big whites”, the owners of large property and high officials of state; the petits blancs, the “little whites”, shopkeepers, artisans, small planters; and the gens de couleur, free “coloured people”; without rights in it were Black slaves.