France: An Echo of the 2005 Riots?
November 26, 2007 16 23 GMT
Dozens of youths in the slum of Villiers-le-Bel in northern Paris set two police stations on fire Nov. 24. The rioting was triggered by the deaths of two teenagers who stole a motorcycle and collided with a police vehicle. Authorities have already boosted security in the region, but there have been reports of looting and minor attacks targeting shops, passersby and cars. Witnesses reportedly saw Molotov cocktails being prepared for more violence the night of Nov. 25.
This incident and response looks eerily like the start of the November 2005 riots which started when two youths were electrocuted while fleeing from police. Those were the largest urban riots seen in France in 40 years.
Though French media are reporting the riots, news reports have omitted that the suburb where they are taking place, Villiers-le-Bel, is a Muslim slum. The 2005 riots began in a similar neighborhood, Clichy-sous-Bois, but spread for weeks to nearly all the suburbs of every major metropolitan region in France.
With more than 5 million Muslims living in France — 70 percent of them from France’s former colonies of Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia — Islam has become the country’s second-largest religion. Though Muslims make up 10 percent of the French population, not a single Muslim sits in the French Parliament. French suburbs, which are in effect Arab Muslim slums, have the country’s highest crime and unemployment rates. French Muslim leaders also assert that racism and discrimination are the root causes of the marginalization that results in high unemployment and thus crime among the Muslim minority. The previous French government did not address these issues, and the current French government has no plans to address them either.
The next few nights will indicate whether this current round of social unrest will ignite as quickly and spread as widely as the riots in 2005. French President Nicolas Sarkozy was interior minister when the last riots erupted, and he took quite a lot of flack for failing to rein in the violence and for spouting off derogatory comments about Muslims. As president, Sarkozy has already seen large labor strikes crippling France; the last thing he wants is another social group — especially one he has a history with — causing unrest. To keep the current situation from erupting, Sarkozy might use much firmer means than his predecessor. Printable Page