This week’s Muslim rioting in France was touched off when a policeman in the town of Trappes gave a ticket to a Muslim woman who was wearing a face veil, in violation of French law. Her husband, enraged at this affront to the family honor, attacked the cop and began trying to strangle him. His arrest in turn enraged his fellow Muslims, and now the rioting is entering its fourth day and has spread to nearby Elancourt, with so far twenty cars torched and Muslims shooting at police.
According to CBS News, France prescribes “small fines or citizenship classes for women wearing veils.” Thus this veiled woman’s offense is roughly the equivalent of getting a parking ticket. Nonetheless, for her husband the ticket was an offense warranting strangulation.
A Western husband might not think that the proper response to his wife’s getting a ticket would be to try to strangle the policeman, but that is precisely what the strangler and the rioters would consider to be a central failing of the West: that it lacks a sense of honor. As the social anthropologist Raphael Patai observed in his monumental The Arab Mind, in Arab culture, “cost what it may, one must defend one’s public image. Any injury done to a man’s honor must be revenged, or else he becomes permanently dishonored.”
Even though most Muslims today are not Arabs, Arab culture has a strong influence upon and large area of overlap with Muslim culture, for Muslims generally bear Arabic names, and are required to pray and read the Qur’an in Arabic, making for a strong Arabic coloring to Islamic religious observance in general. With regard to honor, the devout husband in France may have assumed that if he had not attacked the police officer, he would have stood dishonored for failing to respond to an affront to his family and his religion. Thus once the ticket was issued, the attack on the officer was virtually inevitable.
What’s more, once the policeman had dishonored the Muslim woman who was wearing a veil by giving her a ticket, and once her husband had been arrested for trying to strangle the police officer, the riots were also essentially inevitable. They, too, were a matter of honor. As Patai notes, “there is a strong correlation between honor and group survival. Honorable behavior is that which is conducive to group cohesion and group survival.” Intriguingly, Patai points out that “although Muhammad condemned `asabiyya [family or tribal spirit] as contrary to the spirit of Islam, this could not eliminate it from the consciousness of the Arabs. Ibn Khaldun, the great fourteenth-century theoretician of Arab history, even went so far as to uphold “`asabiyya as the fundamental bond of human society and the basic motivating force in history.”
Clearly, then, the riots demonstrate that at least some Muslims in France do not identify as French at all, or as members of French society and culture, and that those who may identify as French appear unwilling or unable to stop violence by those who do not. The rioters are not concerned about the cohesion and survival of France. They’re interested solely in the cohesion and survival of the Muslim community in France. In line with this, Patai also states that “what pressures the Arab to behave in an honorable manner is not guilt but shame, or, more precisely, the psychological drive to escape or prevent negative judgment by others.” The negative judgment this husband was escaping by attacking the policeman was clearly not that of the French authorities, but of his fellow Muslims.
These latest riots therefore illustrate what has actually been obvious for years except to the French government, media and intelligentsia: that a significant number of Muslims in France have no interest whatsoever in assimilating and adopting French values. The rioters oppose the law banning face veils because it stands in opposition to Islamic law, which is the only law they respect.
In response to the riots, French Interior Minister Manuel Valls has stood firm that there should not be a separate law for the Muslims in France: “There is no valid reason,” he said, “for the violence seen in Trappes. The law should be applied, and applies to everyone.”
However, he also lamented the “difficulty our fellow citizens have living in these working class neighborhoods, especially young people. What they need is jobs, hope, training.”
In this, Valls echoes hundreds of European (and American) officials before him, who were certain that improving the financial condition of Muslims could end jihad violence. Although billions of dollars have been devoted to this in innumerable ways around the world, it has never proven true. What Valls and others like him appear to be determined not to grasp is that the Muslims behaving violently in non-Muslim countries generally find justification for their actions not in poverty and joblessness, but in Qur’an and Sunnah, and in the dynamic of Islamic honor.
However, the imperatives to violence against unbelievers contained in Islamic texts and teachings can never ultimately be bought off. Muslims in France whose first allegiance is to Islam will not stop thinking themselves dishonored by the enforcement of French laws that contradict Islamic law, even if they have good jobs and face no societal discrimination. But clearly the French regime has no grasp of this, and no interest in grasping it. And so one thing can be said with absolute certainty about these present riots: they are not the first Muslim riots in France, and they will by no means be the last.