August 10, 2003

SEXISM IN THE Cités:

An unnamed 15-year-old girl is assaulted by 18 boys, most of them not much older than she is. Sonia, also 15, is raped by seven of her supposed friends in the basement of her apartment building. Sheherezade, 11, is beaten and raped repeatedly over the course of a year by 12 different boys.

GRIM AS SUCH crimes may be, they’re becoming commonplace in the police ledgers of Paris, Lyons or Toulouse. The scene is almost always the same: the housing projects called cites on the outskirts of France’s major cities. Built by socially progressive governments in the 1960s, they’ve since been taken over by a generation of mostly Arab immigrants—impoverished, cut off from their native lands and culture, ghettoized. Here, young men try to rule their families and neighbors under a macho code drawn partly from Muslim tradition, partly from the violence and porn in the media. Women submit to men, they say. Good girls, good sisters, cover themselves and stay home. Otherwise they are putes, whores, who can be used and abused even if they say no.

Such stories, then, are not just about urban crime and rough neighborhoods. They reflect a core issue of Muslim integration in Europe.

And, unfortunately, dumb ideas about multiculturalism make such integration much harder than it should be.

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