By any other Name: No-go Zones, Rhetoric and Reality

Analysis 

Introduction

There is a growing set of discourse which uses the term no-go zones to identify migrant neighbourhoods in Europeans cities. Central to the use of this expression is the meaning of the concept itself, and the controversy it generates regarding the extent and meaning of no-go zones: are no-go zones reallly dangerous spaces or not? In a recent and shocking book (2017) entitled No Go Zones: How Sharia Law Is Coming to a Neighborhood Near You, Raheem Jamaludin Kassamm a British political activist and editor-in-chief of Breitbart News London, and a former chief advisor to UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage, warns the West that no-go zones ruled by sharia law will spread quickly throughout the Western world. This is obviously a far fletched manner of discourse about no-go zones[1].

In August 2017, a Scandinavian diplomatic incident occurred about no-go zones: Sylvi Listhaug, the Norwegian Minister of Justice, Public Security and Immigration “sparked a war of words with Sweden over immigration and the meeting with her Swedish counterpart was cancelled after Sylvi Listhaug claimed there are 60 police ‘no-go zones’ in Sweden”.[2] Hungarian journalists made tours in Sweden to show that there are no go-zones in the country.[3] In France some call the 751 ‘sensitive’ areas (the name is officially accepted in the French administration), no-go zones[4] while others consider them just „more mundane, complicated areas more similar to other impoverished areas common in cities across the world”.[5]

Like in any matter of rhetoric, “no-go zone” is a metaphor that can be challenged based on the extent to which it corresponds to reality. In this debate first, we need to define the meaning of no-go zones, and to clarify what it entails in social and political terms with special attention to daily safety and overall security.

 It is argued here that the debate about no-go zones stems from fantasizing about no-go zones to the point where one would expect a no-go zone to be like District 13 a film by Luc Besson (which is a metaphor about reality, not reality itself) or relativizing these areas as normal impoverished places. Those who wish to discredit the existence of these zones, take cameras and go into these zones in the middle of the day talking to some people, in the main avenue, or a commercial area, obtaining an authorisation of the municipality, etc. As during this period no harm comes to them, they conclude that the area is safe. This article revisits some academic and political definitions of no-go-zones, addressing few examples of European cities in France and Sweden, through observations, academic literature, police sources and mainstream media.

Defining no-go zones

The Routledge dictionary of modern American slang and unconventional English by Tom Dalzell and Eric Partridge, the first edition of which was published in 2008, defines no-go zone as an area to which access is prohibited or ill-advised. It claims that the expression was coined in the US in 1979. According to the authors, one of the earliest uses was on 30th September 1979, by the Washington Post in the following sentence „Police are planning to cordon off an area between Independence Avenue and Jefferson Drive from Fourth to 14th Street as a secure “no-go” zone”.[6] The same source asserts that the term regained attention in 2004 in the context of the US occupation of Iraq. It quotes John Kerry saying to the New York Times on September 24, 2004, that “there are “no-go” zones in Iraq today. You can’t hold an election in a “no go” zone”.[7] More focused on the everyday use of the term, the Asperger Dictionary of Everyday Expressions by Ian Stuart-Hamilton, published in 2007, defines a no-go zone as a place or an activity that it would be unwise to enter because it is dangerous.[8]

Between the 1970s and 2000s, dozens of articles and books use the term to describe areas in cities controlled by crime gangs or armed organisations, or forbidden areas to some segments of population in South Africa, Ireland, or Latin America. At this point, no-go zones were not associated with immigrants yet. In Europe, the term was imported form the US in the aftermath of the Iraq war in 2003, and the terrorist attacks and social unrests in the immigrants’ neighbourhoods that have followed it. An example of the use of no-go zones made its way even to the mainstream media like the Economist when as early as 2008 it wrote:

Almost as important, there need to be nationally enforced safeguards to stop urban “no-go” areas—places that are so much dominated by a single faith that they are virtually off-limits to people of other backgrounds—from developing. When Michael Nazir-Ali, a Pakistani-born Anglican bishop, said some urban areas in Britain were becoming out of bounds for non-Muslims, he was denounced for alarmism. Perhaps it was unwise of him to blame just one religion for trying to mark out urban territory; in recent memory, one British city (Belfast) had no-go areas for people of the “wrong” Christian sect. But the risk he described is a real one, and it cannot be averted by local politics alone.[9]

The term gained in popularity and visibility after the Paris attacks in 2015 and the migration wave during the same year. Urban sociology recognizes neighbourhoods of relegation in advanced Western societies such the hyperghetto in the United States, the sensitive areas in France, the sink estates in the United Kingdom and the krottenwijk in the Netherlands.[10]

No-go zones in the Hungarian discourses

In the above mentioned context of terrorist attacks and the migration wave in 2015, the term made its way to the public discourse in Hungary as well. The official Hungarian discourse about no-go zones is overall prudent and precise. During the campaign for the referendum against the quota (organised in October 2016), a website of the Hungarian government said that ” no-go zones are neighbourhoods that are not controlled or are difficult to control by public authorities. In these areas, the norms of the host society hardly apply. There are over 900 such “no-go” zones in European cities such as Paris, London, Stockholm or Berlin, where immigrants mostly live”.[11] Three elements constitute to the creation of no-go zones according to this discourse: absence or weakness of control of public authorities, norms of the host society are applied or hardly applied, and these zones are inhabited by migrants. All three elements are factual: police sources in Sweden and France publish lists of zones that they do not control or have a difficult to control (see below). In these areas, immigrants’ cultures, drugs, and violence replaced the norms of the host society. Finally, these no-go zones are indeed inhabited mostly by immigrants, and evidently, no one denies this last fact.

As the debate became intense and rhetorical about European “no-go” zones, a question was addressed to the Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orbán about the subject, and he replied that “You should go on the internet and read the advice of travel companies on where people shouldn’t go”, adding that he realises this is an uncomfortable issue for certain countries”.[12] That there are some areas people are advised not to go to is common knowledge, and only a naive could deny this fact. Moreover, even the inhabitants of some cities in Europe advise us not to visit certain areas at all, and avoid certain areas during night or some areas going alone, whether in France, Germany or Belgium. In social media and tourist websites, people advise to almost always avoid certain zones in major cities in Europe. Even tourist guides contain information about such areas.[13] There is also a general consensus and image about these areas that comes in everyday conversations in major European cities.

Sweden

The Local’s Swedish edition and Newsweek (the American weekly) reported in June 2017 a police report on vulnerable areas in Sweden. The Swedish police identified exceptional 61 areas, classifying them into vulnerable areas, risk areas and especially vulnerable areas. The report defines a vulnerable area as the one that is:

A geographically defined area characterized by a low socio-economic status where criminals have an impact on the local community. The impact is linked to the social context in the area rather than a wish to take power and control the community. An “especially vulnerable area” is “characterized by social issues and a criminal presence which has led to a widespread disinclination to participate in the judicial process and difficulties for the police to fulfil their mission. The situation is considered acute. In especially vulnerable areas religious extremism is often prevalent (terror expert Magnus Ranstorp has told The Local that these are often hotspots for recruitment to militant groups). They are also areas where police regularly have to adapt their methods to the volatile situation and residents often do not report crimes, either out of fear of reprisals or because they think it will not lead to anything. A “risk area” lies somewhere between the two.[14]

The Swedish police identified 23 especially vulnerable areas, in the cities of Malmö, Gothenburg, Linköping, Borås, Västra Frölunda, Landskrona, Växjö, Södertälje, Stockholm, Botkyrka, and Örebro.[15] Whether we call these areas no-go zones (as Sylvi Listhaug did) or “especially vulnerable areas” (as Swedish police does) does not change the facts and the realities of these places: difficulty for the police to establish authority, immigration, major social issues, criminal presence, radicalisation, etc.

Moreover, the number of especially vulnerable areas in Sweden between 2015 and 2017 increased from 15 to 23. According to the Swedish police, various reasons explain this increase: the situation has deteriorated in some of these areas and in some cases the police has insufficient capacity to even identify these areas (which means that the police was not well informed about the realities).[16] The Swedish police also asserts that 5,000 criminals and 200 criminal networks are active in these vulnerable areas[17], which means almost 81 criminals and 3 criminal networks in every neighbourhood.

With regard to everyday life in these areas, The Local asserts that „these areas are not considered vulnerable for nothing. The situation is serious. On the other hand, it’s not all bad. For the majority of residents, the truth is that life goes on as normal most of the time”.[18] Whether it is serious, that is the real question, and not whether people who live there find ways to adapt to their context. For the question should be seen from the vantage point of society in large, hence the use of “no-go zones”, that is the parts of society where the majority of society cannot live, or cannot step in. It is certainly a social tragedy to enclose such areas. Although some young people make it to universities, obtain jobs and leave these areas or adapt to them, it is also a fact that these areas produce crime and terrorism, which are major threats to society as a whole.

Furthermore, these “especially vulnerable areas” come with consequences, namely for integration, public policy and civil peace. The very existence of such areas indicates a failure to integrate these populations, after 40 years or more, in the host society. From the point of view of the countries of central Europe, it is suicidal to invite or let in immigrants if this leads to the creation of “especially vulnerable areas” that are disconnected from society, for whatever reason. It is simply irrational to divide society, culturally and socially. These areas also come at a very high cost in terms of social security, unemployment, the cost of police and security, social agents, anti-terrorist units, the judicial system, prisons, health costs, etc. which make these areas a total burden for society. Finally, these areas also threaten – although most people who live there are peaceful – civil peace through riots, terrorism and crime.

France

In France, Decree No. 96-1156 of 26 December 1996 lists 750 sensitive urban areas. Since then, these areas are now called, “priority neighborhoods of city governance”[19]. That is to say, that not only does the French government admits the existence of these vulnerable areas, but issues plans (which do not work, and the situation worsens amidst endless political debates) to address the persistent problems in these areas. In 2015, Le Monde described these areas as follows:

These areas continue to concentrate unemployment and poverty. They have been hit hard by the 2008 financial crisis and its aftermath, and in many cases their situation is worse than a decade ago. 4.4 million people were living in one of the 750 former sensitive urban areas… their population represents about 7.5% of the French population. The Île-de-France region (including Paris) alone accounts for a quarter of the total, with 1.3 million people living in one of the 157 sensitive areas in the region, or 11% of the regional population…, foreigners and “French by acquisition” (persons having obtained French nationality during their life, but born foreign) are about twice as numerous in the sensitive areas than elsewhere. In 2012, there were more than 38% of their inhabitants below the poverty line, that is, whose incomes are less than 60% of the median income. This proportion is almost three times higher than that prevailing at the national level (13.9%). 33 % receive social minimum assistance, 74,4% receive social assistance for accommodation, unemployment, especially youth unemployment, of 15-24 year olds reaches 45%. It is stronger among young men (43% of active people, against 29.6% for women), but hits all inhabitants, with a rate that is 6.5 percentage points higher than the national average. More than half of the population in sensitive urban areas is without a diploma[20]

Sociological research about French sensitive areas is legion and although, in the usual manner of leftist sociology, it tends to justify crime and terrorism by social conditions of unemployment and poverty, it offers insights in what these areas imply for security as well. A recent extensive research by Zauberman et al. concludes that:

Overall, victimization is greater in Île-de-France (Paris and its suburbs) than in the rest of the country… moving away from the capital is the best protection against the risk of victimization: residents of the greater suburbs are less exposed to it, at least at the Île-de-France scale. The air of Paris, on the other hand, does not immunize its residents; on the contrary, they tend to be more exposed to victimization than the average Francilians… residents of the North and Northeast boroughs are more affected…they were able to stay in Paris only by living in former working-class neighborhoods, whose traditional settlements have been largely replaced by immigration. As expected, the nearby popular suburbs in the North with a high density of relegation zones suffers a strong crime pressure, although in the end the risk is at least as high in the part of the capital that adjoins this suburb[21]

This study also shows several interesting facts: that the wealthy, those who live in privileged areas, care little about insecurity, and that crime of the inhabitants of the sensitive zones is a minor issue for them. For them, access to work and income is a much bigger challenge. Those who live in the sensitive areas, among the native working class or inferior middle classes, or at the border of these areas are aware of the risks they run there; they denounce noise, dirt, vandalism, drugs or gangs, and organize a sort of soft separation with the immigrants by a strategy of choice of schools and other places of sociability or distraction to avoid social interaction.[22]

Thus, the sensitive areas in France produce a tendency of segregation on both sides of the population: the natives and the immigrants. A no-go zone could be understood as the zone of social segregation, where two segments of society evolve in two different directions. Concretely, the natives consider the schools where migrants go, as no-go schools, the shops of the migrants, as no-go shops, the playing grounds of the migrants, as no-go playing grounds, etc. Naturally, some natives will have no other choice than staying in the sensitive areas because some natives and also migrants do not dispose enough resources to leave or to avoid places and services offered in the sensitive areas.

Moreover, sensitive areas in France are hubs of Islamism, and radical Islamism in particular. This does not mean that they are ruled by Islamists at all or that sharia law prevails in these areas. It means that in every neighborhood, there is a group of dozens or hundreds of radical Islamists, usually around a mosque or two which live and diffuse a radical interpretation of Islam, in an area there half of the population is unemployed. Most people are afraid of these groups, and avoid them, but some young people are attracted to their propaganda. The daily life of these groups, outside religious activities, consists pretty much of gathering in the streets of the neighbourhood, displaying a sort of presence, both in language and cloths, difficult to avoid. As their number increases, they go public about imposing to some people a mode of life (for example, they would ask a woman to stop wearing European clothes, a mixed couple to divorce, a man to stop drinking alcohol, etc.). Freedom has been extremely limited in these areas as „the young people of Muslim denomination among the most revolted of the poor districts are moving towards the “jihadist and salafist”.[23]  These areas have been the source of 15 terrorist attacks between 1995 and 2017.

French urban sociology confirms the factual existence of senstives areas as no-go areas. For example, Loïc Wacquant, an eminent sociologist wrote

The spatial stigma alters perception and distorts the judgments and actions of other citizens, commercial enterprises, and government officials. People outside these areas are afraid to come in the neighborhood and assign a range of harmful properties to its inhabitants. Businesses are reluctant to open establishments or provide services to customers of “no-go areas” and other “lawless areas”. Employers are reluctant to hire the jobseekers who come from them because they mechanically suspect them of lacking work ethic and having loose moral frameworks…[24]

Going-out in sensitive areas

Nothing illustrates better everyday life in the sensitive areas in France, than the harrasment affair in the neighbourhood Chapelle-Pajol in Paris, which occurred in May 2017.  The newspaper Le Parisien related a petition by European women living in the neighborhood Chapelle-Pajol or passing by as follows:

Women in this area of ​​eastern Paris complain that they can not move without being subjected to remarks and insults by men. These are several hundred square meters of bitumen abandoned to men alone, and where women are no longer entitled. Cafes, bars and restaurants are forbidden. Like the sidewalks, the metro station and the squares. For more than a year, the Chapel-Pajol district, in Paris, has completely changed its appearance: groups of dozens of single men, street vendors, dealers, migrants and smugglers, hold the streets, harassing women. Revolted, residents of the neighborhood have decided to launch a large petition to denounce the situation, a daily more and more oppressive. That of young girls, who can not go out alone, wearing a skirt or pants too close to the body without receiving a flood of insults: one of them said to have been a jet of lighted cigarette in the hair. “We are all entitled to this unbearable treatment,” says Nathalie, 50, who claims thirty years in the neighborhood, and a “new” climate in the recent months: “These are insults, incessant reflections. The atmosphere is agonizing, to the point of having to change our itinerary, our dress. Some have even given up going out of their homes. Like this old lady of 80 years, sexually assaulted as she returned to her building, and now entrenched in her apartment. Aurélie, a young woman of 38, admits not to recognize the neighborhood where she has been living for 15 years, rue Perdonnet: “Just going around has become problematic. The cafe, down from my home, a once-nice bistro, has turned into an all-male haunt and always packed: I get my share of remarks when I pass by, especially since they drink a lot. A few days ago, the mere fact of going to my window triggered a flood of insults, and I had to lock myself in my apartment. Some time ago, I took the Boulevard de la Chapelle from Stalingrad, even late at night … It’s unthinkable today. “The Chapelle metro station, Laure avoids it carefully. As the place of the same name: “In recent weeks, I was caught in the middle of a brawl of sellers on the sly. Distraught, I screamed, and two of them took out knives to threaten me. I thought my last hour had arrived. And it’s been months since my 12 year old daughter cannot go alone to college, nor go anywhere in the neighborhood, by the way [25]

That being the case, the affair sparked a debate. The public authorites assure that they will recruit more security agents, which is very costly anyway, to relieve tension between inhabitants (sic), other politicians suggest to expell wrongdoers who annoy women. Some organised some manifestations to denouce these acts, while some even suggested to widen the sidewalks (sic). People are afraid to complain to the police, the police is absent or avoids these areas unless given high orders, and in only to combat high crime; education has since long failed.[26]

Conclusion

A place where a woman can be harassed in the open during daytime, insulted, deprived to wear what she wants, or to behave the way she wants, whether we call it a sensitive area, a vulnerable area, a banlieue, a ghetto, a no-go zone, or any other name, is the daily reality in many Western European cities. Even more, these areas constitute threats to safety and security by way of crime, riots and terrorism. The latter triad is not a subject of debate. These are facts, and it is also a fact that people live there, and even some native people live there or at the border of these areas. Some people are resilient, others do not have the choice, most people are peaceful, but they reproduce their ethnic culture, norms and social networks, while many of them wish they could have any opportunity to leave the area. The schools are usually the worst in the country, the ones where students threaten and attack the teachers, where the buses are vandalized, and bus drivers are menaced, etc. The truth is that these areas have the most polluted air, the least jobs, the least income, have the most radical Islamists, unauthorized mosques, informal activities that do not pay taxes, unhealthy food, undeclared and underpaid jobs,  the noisiest places, the ones you can hear fights every night and the ones that lead some young people to become terrorists.

Hungary’s position and that of other Central European countries consists in arguing that migration comes with sensitive or vulnerable areas (or like some would call them no-go areas), the cost and the implications of which are disastrous for society, culture, and everyday life and even if most people are peaceful, gangs and terrorists groups use these spaces to sabotage and destroy the host society.


[1] Raheem Kassam, No-Go Zones : How Sharia Law is Coming to a Neighborhood Near You, Washington, Regnery Publishing, 2017. Kassam identifies Moleneek in Brussels, Sweden, France, the United Kingdom, in Europe as no-go zones, places of terror, rape, hate and sharia.

[2] Norway minister sparks war of words with Sweden over immigration

https://www.ft.com/content/23ea67a2-8d80-11e7-a352-e46f43c5825d (last accessed 26 February 2018)

[3] Jártunk a svéd no-go zónában, és meglepődtünk a látottakon https://index.hu/kulfold/2016/10/28/svedorszag_no_go_zona/  (last accessed 26 February 2018)

[4] The 751 No-Go Zones of France

www.danielpipes.org/blog/2006/11/the-751-no-go-zones-of-france (last accessed 26 February 2018)

[5] France’s ‘No Go Muslim-Only’ Zones Aren’t What You Think They Are

www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/…/frances-no-go-muslim-zone_n_6469064.html‎ (last accessed 26 February 2018)

[6] Tom Dalzell, Eric Partridge, The Routledge Dictionary of Modern American Slang and Unconventional English, London-New York, Routledge, 2008, p. 698.

[7] Idem.

[8] Ian Stuart-Hamilton, An Asperger Dictionary of Everyday Expressions, London-Philadelphia, Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2007, p. 160.

[9] Muslims in European cities: A case for vigilance, not despair

http://www.economist.com/node/12724930 (last accessed 26 February 2018)

[10] Loïc Wacquant, “Désolation urbaine et dénigrement symbolique dans l’hyperghetto”, Nouvelle revue de psychosociologie, Vol. 12, No. 2,  2011, p. 23.

[11] Kormány információ

http://kvota.kormany.hu/ (last accessed 26 February 2018)

[12] Prime Minister Orbán is proposing an emergency plan including a new line of defence

http://www.miniszterelnok.hu/prime-minister-orban-is-proposing-an-emergency-plan-including-a-new-line-of-defence/ (last accessed 26 February 2018)

[13] See on the website of  the most famous French tourist guide, Routard a discussion occured in 2013 about places to avoid in Paris:

Endroits à éviter à Paris

http://www.routard.com/forum_message/2799561/endroits_a_eviter_a_paris.htm (last accessed 26 February 2018)

[14] So… are they no-go zones? What you need to know about Sweden’s vulnerable areas

https://www.thelocal.se/20170621/no-go-zones-what-you-need-to-know-about-swedens-vulnerable-aeas (last accessed 26 February 2018)

Are There No-Go Zones in Sweden? Police Identify Dozens of ‘Vulnerable Areas’ Rife With Criminality

http://www.newsweek.com/sweden-police-vulnerable-areas-no-go-zones-628029

[15] Idem.

[16] So… are they no-go zones? What you need to know about Sweden’s vulnerable areas

https://www.thelocal.se/20170621/no-go-zones-what-you-need-to-know-about-swedens-vulnerable-aeas (last accessed 26 February 2018)

[17] Idem.

[18] Idem.

[19] Atlas des Zones urbaines sensibles (Zus)

https://sig.ville.gouv.fr/atlas/ZUS/ (last accessed 26 February 2018)

[20] 10 graphiques sur les « quartiers prioritaires », réservoirs de chômage et de pauvreté

http://www.lemonde.fr/les-decodeurs/article/2015/10/20/10-graphes-sur-les-zones-urbaines-sensibles-reservoirs-de-chomage-et-de-pauvrete_4793293_4355770.html (last accessed 26 February 2018)

[21] Renée Zauberman, Philippe Robert, Sophie Névanen, David Bon, “Victimation et insécurité en Île-de-France. Une analyse géosociale”, Revue française de sociologie, Vol. 54, No. 1, 2013, p. 139.

[22] Ibid., pp. 140-141.

[23] Hugues Lagrange,   “Émeutes, ségrégation urbaine et aliénation politique”,   Revue française de science politique, Vol. 58, No. 3, 2008, p.  390.

[24] Wacquant, “Désolation urbaine”, p. 22.

[25] Paris : des femmes victimes de harcèlement dans les rues du quartier Chapelle-Pajol

http://www.leparisien.fr/paris-75018/harcelement-les-femmes-chassees-des-rues-dans-le-quartier-chapelle-pajol-18-05-2017-6961779.php (last accessed 26 February 2018)

[26]Harcèlement de rue à La Chapelle : Caroline de Haas propose “d’élargir les trottoirs” http://lelab.europe1.fr/harcelement-de-rue-a-la-chapelle-il-faut-degager-tous-les-gens-qui-emmerdent-les-femmes-assure-malek-boutih-3337253 (last accessed 26 February 2018)

Photo: Clarion Project