Rioting continues for ninth night

The destructive rioting has continued for the ninth night in France:

AUBERVILLIERS, France (AP) – Widespread riots across impoverished areas of France took a malevolent turn in a ninth night of violence, as youths torched an ambulance and stoned medical workers coming to the aid of a sick person. Authorities arrested more than 200 people, an unprecedented sweep since the beginning of the unrest.

Bands of youths also burned a nursery school, warehouses and more than 750 cars overnight as the violence that spread from the restive Paris suburbs to towns around France. The U.S. warned Americans against taking trains to the airport through the affected areas.

At the nursery school in Acheres, west of Paris, part of the roof was caved in, childrens’ photos stuck to blackened walls, and melted plastic toys littered the floor.

The town had been previously untouched by the violence. Some residents demanded that the army be deployed, or that citizens rise up and form militias. At the school gate, the mayor tried to calm tempers.

“We are not going to start militias,” Mayor Alain Outreman said. “You would have to be everywhere.”

Fires and other incidents were reported in the northern city of Lille, in Toulouse, in the southwest, Rouen, in the west and elsewhere on the second night of unrest in areas beyond metropolitan Paris. An incendiary device was tossed at the wall of a synagogue in Pierrefitte, northwest of Paris, where electricity went out after a burning car damaged an electrical pole.

“This is dreadful, unfortunate. Who did this? Against whom?” Naima Mouis, a hospital worker in Suresnes, asked while looking at the hulk of her burned-out car.

On Saturday morning, more than 1,000 people took part in a silent march in one of the worst-hit suburbs, Aulnay-sous-Bois, filing past burned-out cars to demand calm. One banner read: “No to violence.” Car torchings have become a daily fact in France’s tough suburbs, with about 100 each night.

The Interior Ministry operations center reported 754 vehicles burned throughout France from Friday night to Saturday morning – three-quarters of them in the Paris area.

Several points need to be made here:

  • The rioting is spreading and escalating very slowly. The overwhelming preponderance has taken place in the Parisian suburbs.
  • Although there have been incidents of attacks on people, most of the violence has been directed against property rather than persons.
  • The French authorities really have only two alternatives at this point: either to declare curfew and enforce it with whatever degree of force is required or to leave the areas of rioting to their own devices in the hope that the riots will burn themselves out. At this point they seem to be splitting the difference without much effect.

There is certainly a surreal quality to the French news coverage and the statements from French authorities. You have to really dig to find that the rioting is taking place in largely immigrant areas, the immigrants are largely from North Africa, or the the immigrants are largely Muslims. It reminds me of the end of Michael Powell’s The Red Shoes in which the ballet continues with the red ballet slippers standing in for the prima ballerina who has taken her own life. The New York Times writes:

France’s foreign minister, Philippe Douste-Blazy, warned Thursday that France risked losing the integration battle in immigrant neighborhoods to radicalization of religious-based movements (diplomatic code for Islamic extremism).

When the Times is implicitly complaining about excessive political correctness, presumably it means something.

Why have the French authorities failed to control these riots? Do they not care about the areas in which the riots are taking place? Are the authorities afraid to enter the areas? Do they not have enough police officers? Or have they been reading their own press releases and believe that you can control a riot by force of personality alone?

Yesterday Amir Taheri certainly tried to connect those dots:

In some areas, it is possible for an immigrant or his descendants to spend a whole life without ever encountering the need to speak French, let alone familiarize himself with any aspect of the famous French culture.

The result is often alienation. And that, in turn, gives radical Islamists an opportunity to propagate their message of religious and cultural apartheid.

Some are even calling for the areas where Muslims form a majority of the population to be reorganized on the basis of the “millet” system of the Ottoman Empire: Each religious community (millet) would enjoy the right to organize its social, cultural and educational life in accordance with its religious beliefs.

In parts of France, a de facto millet system is already in place. In these areas, all women are obliged to wear the standardized Islamist “hijab” while most men grow their beards to the length prescribed by the sheiks.

The radicals have managed to chase away French shopkeepers selling alcohol and pork products, forced “places of sin,” such as dancing halls, cinemas and theaters, to close down, and seized control of much of the local administration.

I continue to think that a better balance in analyzing this story needs to be struck. The French media and authorites continue to discount the role of Islam in the violence cf. this headline from Le Figaro: “L’islam ne joue pas un rôle déterminant dans la propagation des troubles” (“Islam plays no role….”). But I also think that that the Right Blogosphere and, perhaps, the American media are overemphasizing the role of Islam.

I think there are a number of factors involved in these riots:

  • Cultural, racial, or ethnic isolation within the French ethnic state

    It’s possible to allow legal and illegal immigration and pass decrees declaring tolerance. Achieving tolerance, acceptance, and integration is something else, again. I think that immigration from outside Europe in particular poses particular challenges for European states that define themselves in ethnic terms.

  • Lack of economic growth, lack of opportunity

    Unemployment is very high in France, generally, and in these immigrant neighborhoods in particular. It’s difficult to see how the situation can be remedied without substantial reform and there’s not much stomach for substantial reform.

  • Idleness

    Without work or the incentive to work due to generous social benefits, young people are left to their own devices. It’s proverbial: “Idle hands are the Devil’s playground”.

  • Shame culture

    I found this quote from the same New York Times article above telling:

    “On paper we’re all the same, but if your name is Mohamed, even with a good education, you can only find a job as a porter at the airport,” said Kader, 23, who works at the airport. He complained that the immigrant suburbs had been neglected by the current government.

    Note that he’s not complaining about unemployment but about work that he finds demeaning. Could some young people in France find it preferable to be unemployed in private than to take a demeaning job publicly? It seems to me that would be characteristic of a “shame culture”. I think that this is common in street cultures everywhere.

  • Lack of moral training

    As I mentioned yesterday nobody gets any real training in ethics or morals these days. Not even at their mothers’ knees since their mothers work.

  • Radical Islam

    Yes, I think that radical Islam may play some part in all of this. But are these young people practicing Muslims? Or were their parents or grandparents Muslims and they’re basically atheists? There’s a (derided) phenomenon called “cafeteria Catholicism” in which people pick and choose what aspects of Roman Catholicism they plan to practice. I wonder if there are “cafeteria Muslims”, as well.

Previous posts on this topic:
November 3
November 4

Other blogs covering this story: Outside the Beltway

5 comments… add one
  • Ron Link

    As far as the mainstream news, these civilization-clash riots may as well not be happening. If you often read history and wonder what the people of the time were discussing while earth shattering events were taking place around them, perhaps this is the answer: trivial gossip.

  • The rioting has now spread to Toulouse, Nice, Marseilles and other cities. Why haven’t you reported on the Muslim riots going on in Denmark? Police going into areas where young Muslims are rioting there are told to leave that the area doesn’t belong to them (Denmark). (I clicked “Submit Comment” and got to Page Doesn’t Display. I’m going to click again. If it gets printed twice, I spologize)

  • No apology necessary, Chaya. I got both of them. I’ll delete the duplicative comment.

    There are a number of reasons I haven’t been posting about the Aarhus riots, Chaya. First, the Danish riots are pretty different from the French riots. I think the blogospheric coverage of them has been pretty good as well as being proportionate. I think a lot of the blogospheric commentary on the riots in the Parisian suburbs is wrong. Second, the scale of the French riots appears to be much larger than the Danish riots. Third, like it or not France continues to be a great power with a seat on the UN Security Council. What happens in France matters to the whole world.

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