Only, they and more than 700 other cities and towns in France include what are called Zones Urbaines Sensibles (ZUS). No, not "sensible urban areas." Sensible translates more accurately as "sensitive." That is, n0-go areas for police and non-North African, non-West African, or non-Muslim French people.
According to Daniel Pipes, they are "places in France that the French state does not control. They range from two zones in the medieval town of Carcassone to twelve in the heavily Muslim town of Marseilles, with hardly a town in France lacking in its ZUS. The ZUS came into existence in late 1996 and according to a 2004 estimate, nearly 5 million people live in them."
This information was published late last year, but in case you missed it (as I did), it's worth taking a look. I had no idea how extensive these enclaves are.
These ZUS aren't just a journalistic or popular name. They're officially recognized by the French government. Here is a link to an interactive list. They are ordered by départements, jurisdictions more or less equivalent to English counties or Canadian provinces. To see any of the maps, click on carte to the right of the location name. You can then zoom in to a fairly detailed resolution. The red-bordered area in each map is the ZUS.
I looked at the map for Arles, famous for Van Gogh. I was surprised during my visit to see so many North Africans there, but that was before I knew much about France's demographics. They were in the greatest numbers, so far as I could tell, in the run-down area by the port that was bombed heavily in World War II and never recovered economically. According to the map, Arles's ZUS isn't in that section, though, but just across the railroad tracks from Les Alyscamps, the atmospheric ancient Roman cemetery where Van Gogh liked to sketch and which he painted.
All these ZUS represent sociological land mines throughout France. Their residents are almost completely alienated from traditional France — because of French prejudice, or because they are incapable of assimilating, or both. We saw several of the zones in the suburbs of Paris explode a couple of years ago, and I have no doubt that under not-unimaginable circumstances, they could all blow up.
The French government is pursuing various schemes to win the allegiance of those who live in these outlaw areas. Theodore Dalrymple seems to believe they are beyond the reach of government, however well intentioned (although the intentions probably stem from fear as much as benevolence).
French officialdom is trying to fix the problem with the usual social amelioration programs, job creation, affirmative action, and so on. It's probably useless to expect anything else from a European government — it's the only language they know. But North and West African Muslims are unlikely to integrate into the French system, other than in the most superficial ways. Maybe even that will be enough to keep a damper on violence, and the country will be reconciled to having two permanently separate cultures. But if the standard liberal remedies don't work out, France needs an alternate plan, and had best be prepared to carry it out.