As unrest in the Muslim immigrant suburbs of Paris enters its ninth night, violence appears to be spreading to other towns such as Dijon, Marseille and Normandy, and into the capital itself. Trouble has now been reported from almost 90 towns around the capital, more than twice as many as the previous night, according to police. France’s notoriously hardline Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy is now seeing conspiracies. “What we have been witnessing … has nothing spontaneous about it. It was perfectly organized. We are trying to find out by who and how,” he said. (The Hindu, Nov. 5)
A game of good-cop/bad-cop appeared to be emerging between Sarkozy and Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, his main rival for the presidency in 2007. But de Villepin himself took a harder line on the eighth night of violence, saying, “The republican state will not give in. Order and justice will have the last word in our country.” This was after Sarkozy promised to clean up the suburbs “by Karcher,” a reference to a brand of vacuum cleaner. He also referred to troublemakers in the suburbs as “riff-raff” and “scum.” De Villepin made his comments despite Sarkozy coming under harsh criticism for his own comments as feuling further violence. (Financial Times, Nov. 4)
On Oct. 19 Sarkozy declared that the suburbs “have to be cleaned—we’re going to make them as clean as a whistle.” Six days after this, Muslim protestors threw stones and bottles at him when he visited the suburb of Argenteuil.
The riots began on Oct. 27 when two Muslim teenagers ran from police who were checking identification papers in the Seine-Saint-Denis suburb, dominated by low-income housing projects. The youths hid in an electrical power sub-station, where they were accidentally electrocuted. Over 500 vehicles have been burned, buses have been fired on, and citizens brutally attacked. Claude Pernes, mayor of Rosny-sous-Bois, said a “veritable guerrilla situation, urban insurrection” has taken hold. (AINA, Guardian, Nov. 4)
Media accounts have generally overlooked that the riots erupted days after sensational claims that French police were investigating plans by a group of Islamic extremists to attack targets in Paris. The accounts claimed the group was recruiting French citizens to train in the Middle East and return home to carry out terrorist attacks.
One French official said the extremists were using an “underground railroad” through Syria to bring European and Middle Eastern citizens in and out of Iraq. An anonymous senior French law enforcement official said that French citizens had undergone terrorist training at camps in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.
“There’s always been an enormous jihad zone to train people to fight in their country of origin,” the official said. “We saw it Afghanistan, in Bosnia, in Kosovo, and now we’re seeing it in Iraq.”
He said the French cell under investigation “is linked with networks in Iraq, right now, through an individual based in Syria. Now we’re finding camps in Syria and Lebanon, and it’s the same pattern, training in explosives and chemical weapons, which is an obsession of the jihadists.”
In a recent television interview, Sarkozy, called the terror risk for Paris “very high,” adding, ”We know that there are about 10 young Frenchmen in Iraq, ready to become kamikazes.”
“One asks himself why a certain number of young French people are in Pakistan in religious schools,” Sarkozy said. “It’s not normal that an individual who lives in our neighborhoods leaves all of a sudden for four months in Afghanistan, three months in Syria. We want to know who is going where, for how long, and when they come back.” (Boston Globe, Oct. 19)
Sarkozy should shut up, as such prophecies have a way of becoming self-fulfilling—especialy when harsh police measures spark an angry backlash, such as we are now witnessing. Amnesty International noted one horrific case involving the apparent torture of a 17-year-old boy in December 2002 in Seine-Saint-Denis, exactly where the current rioting first erupted. This was mere months after Sarkozy had taken office, pledging a crackdown on the supposedly lawless immigrant suburbs. (See WW4 REPORT #35)
Far-right yahoos have already made much of Sarkozy’s Jewish background, of course. Expect supposed “leftists” to pick up on this too if the Franco-Intifada spreads. Interestingly, Amnesty’s 2003 report on France notes a growing pattern of racist attacks on Jews and Arabs alike, as well as ongoing police brutality.