The riots that rocked Paris's North African districts last summer were only the most recent chapter in the long and nasty relationship between France and her former colony Algeria. The tension stems from the late 1950s, when the Algerians struggled for independence and the French military committed atrocity after atrocity, which the Algerians answered in kind. Even De Gaulle's ceding the Algerians independence failed to diminish the resentment felt on both sides.
Because of the continually volatile state of Algerian politics, there has been a steady flow of immigrants from the former colony to France almost since the country gained her independence. Elected governments, military juntas, and fundamentalist factions have all contested for, and held, power at one time or another in the last 40 years. With each switch of power another group of people would find themselves forced into exile, as each new authority took the opportunity to clean house of those who might not have been quite as enthusiastic about the change in government as the new rulers would have liked.
On various occasions the exile community has been the focal point of anti-immigrant sentiments by ultra-nationalistic right wing political parties, and racist attacks by neo-Nazis. The majority of Parisian Algerians live clustered together in a few impoverished neighbourhoods, in conditions that offer little hope for the future. They suffer from the usual indignities that blight the urban poor: underfunded and low quality schools, limited health care, and few, if any, opportunities for economic advancement.
Rachid Taha was two years old when his family immigrated, and he has experienced and witnessed the prejudices faced by the Algerian community both inside France and beyond her borders. The joy of being an Arab in today's Europe was driven home to him when an English security official on the Eurostar train blithely informed him that "we are at war against you, the Arabs." Is it any wonder that his music, whether sung in French or Algerian, seethes with more than a little anger and lashes out at a society that can't see beyond the colour of a person's skin?