Islamophobia Disguised as Gentrification

Soon to be replaced by Starbucks. Toulouse, 2017.

Every Ramadan, the terraces of Arnaud Bernard are filled with trays of traditional cakes, which local families consume at night after Iftar. The mayor of Toulouse finds it unbearable and sends in the ‘white and bourgeois’ to impose order in the popular area.

“In Arnaud Bernard, where a large Muslim population lives, the Ramadan period is a highlight of the life of the district. For decades, local businesses display trays of cakes in front of their stores and restaurants. Here, no one complained.

But that was before! On 26 May 26, 2017, the day before Ramadan, the municipal police threatened neighbourhood shopkeepers with 1500 € fines if they did not clear the stalls from their terraces. The explanation of Jean-Jacques Bolzan, the deputy mayor in charge of trade?

“The terraces are made to put umbrellas, tables, chairs, but not to put cakes in. It is necessary to enforce decrees of occupation of the public domain … Those who will continue to sell cakes will be fined.”

L., the owner of the Miam-Miam kebab, has put his cake stalls back inside his tiny restaurant. Disgusted, he does not understand that city hall did not warn him of the new rules now in force. It would have saved him from ordering 2,500 € worth of goods for nothing. According to L., the intention is clear:

“The mayor seeks to demoralize us. They want us to sell our property to rebuild the neighbourhood. For it to be like before when there were only French people. Not bad guys.”

What L. does not say is that we have to go back a long way to find a trace of a French-French Bernard Arnaud. On Wikipedia you can read:

“The square occupies land owned by the noble Arnaud Bernat in the Middle Ages, inside the ancient Roman fortifications of the city. It then communicated with the outside through the Royal Gate, destroyed in 1825. This position at the limit between the Bourg and the suburbs have been destined, since its origins, to welcome foreigners. In the twentieth century, it is alternately the Italians, the Spanish fleeing the Francoism after 1939, and the Maghreb from the 1970s, who occupied the site and shaped it. ”

This is what the city of Toulouse wants to turn the clock back to. By small touches, Islamophobia and gentrification combine to drive out the inhabitants of their neighbourhood and make room for the sharks of the metropolis.

Islamophobia as a City Policy

In 2013, then Deputy Mayor Olivier Arsac (local president of the far-right party of Nicolas Dupont-Aignan) wrote the following on Facebook:

In 2014, the ground floor of 5 rue de l’Hirondelle which served as a prayer room for residents of the neighbourhood was closed by law. Reasons invoked: Fire safety and sound insulation.

In 2013, the BAC had burst in during prayer: They tried to return by blocking the door with their foot. A handicapped worshipper asked them to remove their shoes. They beat him up.

At the end of 2015, the Carrefour City in the Place Arnaud Bernard, without anybody’s notice, flaunts a sign “Attention, pork fat” in its window in the hope of making the young people of the neighbourhood flee.

An Urban Renewal Forced March

This ambient racism combines with a marked political voluntarism in gentrification. The last popular area to squat inside the boulevards, Arnaud Bernard suffered the repeated assaults of gentrification architects, who have great plans for Toulouse: to raise the city to the level of Barcelona, Lyon or Milan.

The municipality has carried out many renovation operations intended to attract investors and the upper middle class. Bike workshop, tattoo parlour, organic grocery store, community bars, caretaker’s concierge … all newcomers who contribute to smoothly change the face of Arnaud Bernard.

At the end of 2014, the Inquet market, which allowed the most precarious people to sell and buy secondhand goods, was closed by the municipality, which saw only a “thieves’ market” and thugs.

In 2016, the authorities set up iron crosses on some studs of the place Arnaud Bernard to prevent unwanted from sitting there. These terminals are conveniently placed in front of the famous Carrefour City, whose methods have been rewarded by city hall.

On the security side, the mayor wanted to hit hard with the installation of a dozen video surveillance cameras in the modest perimeter that covers the Arnaud Bernard district.

At the same time, a national police van regularly sits in the middle of the square.

State Racism

In 2016, Toulouse organized a citywide sale on the model of Lille: three days during which a thousand shops in the shopping centre had plenty of time to vomit their goods on the aseptic sidewalks of the metropolis.

It is interesting to note today that the operation stopped … at the gates of Arnaud Bernard.

Adapted and translated from the French courtesy of Indymedia Nantes (2017). Photograph courtesy of John Crary. Published under a Creative Commons license.