Paris heat not from Muslims

The best article I’ve come across thus far on the French riots, in large part, because of the analysis provided by Olivier Roy (though others have also said the same).

Ed: Full article below

Paris heat not from Muslims
November 8, 2005

The violence erupting in France reflects social, not religious, grievance, reports James Button in Paris.

THEY wear hoods, baggy jeans and brand-name sneakers. Their heroes are American rappers like 50 Cent. They have begun to describe their assumed antagonists as “white”. They have a particular hatred for police and when they go to fight them they say they’re “dancing with wolves”.

They are the young men who started the riots that have laid waste the outer suburbs of Paris, violence that is spreading across France and has now reached the heart of the nation’s capital.

The riots, described as France’s worst since May 1968, have been linked to the threat of radical Islam. But both descriptions are misleading. The violent unrest is better compared to the riots that burnt down African-American ghettos across the United States in the 1960s.

“It is nothing to do with radical Islam or even Muslims,” says Olivier Roy, research director at the French National Centre for Scientific Research and one of the world’s leading authorities on political Islam.

He says that although many rioters are from Muslim backgrounds, “these guys are building a new idea of themselves based on American street culture. It’s a youth riot — they are protesting against the fact that they are supposed to be full French citizens and they are not.”

While black Americans in the 1960s objected to police use of the word “boy”, today’s young French rioters have a similar demand: they want police to stop insulting them with use of the familiar form for you: “tu”.

“The police in France are very badly trained on these issues,” says Frenchman Jacques Reland, director of the European Research Forum at London’s Metropolitan University. “They don’t understand the culture of these estates. They are very rough and often racist.”

The riots began after two teenagers were electrocuted after they fled a police identity check. An interim report has said the police did not chase the boys to their deaths.

Although unemployment in some suburban areas is as high as 40 per cent, so far the riots have lacked a political focus.

While the violence stayed out of the centre of Paris, the average French person could ignore it. One could walk boulevards at night and see the cafes full; six stops away on a suburban train the streets were in flames.

But on Saturday, the 10th night of the riots, youths whom a police chief called “prepared, structured and armed” came into the city centre and torched 51 cars, several close to the Place de la Republique, the square that is the symbolic heart of the nation.

As the riots spread they are taking on a life of their own, as young men from each suburb and even each high-rise block compete to be the toughest.

“We see what the others are up to on TV and we try to match them,” said Moussa, a teenager of Malian background.

He said he and a dozen friends gathered every night to watch TV reports in their public housing estate in the western Paris suburb of Les Mureaux.

Dr Roy doesn’t rule out the possibility of some of the young men turning to radical Islam. Some militant Muslims are using the riots as a recruiting tool, while others are trying to play a mediating role.

But so far the differences between the young men and the religious radicals is too great, says Dr Roy.

“Radical Islam asks these guys to give up their lives dealing drugs and going to nightclubs. Many of these guys don’t want to do that. They want to have cars and girls and smoke hashish.”

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