You probably didn’t hear about it, but Muslim youths rioted in Grenoble, France, on July 16, sparking some of the worst instability the country has faced since the 2005 riots. Now, like then, most of the media declined to mention the religious or ethnic background of the rioters, instead painting them as unruly youngsters and covering the eyes of the public to the slow dissolution of France as we know it.
The violence began soon after a Muslim robbed a casino and opened fire as he tried to flee the police, who then shot and killed him. This apparently raised the ire of major elements of the mostly Muslim urban communities who live in poor neighborhoods unassimilated into the greater society. The shooting was seen as an attack on Muslims, rather than an act of justice. Shortly following a speech by an Islamic cleric at a ceremony for the robber, the match was struck. As of now, there are no media reports revealing what the cleric said, if anything, to stoke the flame.
Over fifty cars were set ablaze. Stores were also burned and a tramway stoned. Gang members carrying baseball bats took over buses. When the police arrested one rioter, things got worse. Law enforcement officers were fired upon and targeted with stones and Molotov cocktails. It wasn’t for four days that a level of calm returned.
This is France today. Police must fear that any use of force against a criminal with a Muslim background could be interpreted as an act of brutality and racism that must be responded to with violence.
The country was first forced to recognize the problem in 2005 when riots broke out in 300 towns for three weeks following the deaths of two Muslim teenagers who were electrocuted when they hid in a power station believing they were being chased by police. Fires were set to over 300 buildings and over 9,000 cars. A state of emergency was declared and nearly 3,000 rioters were arrested and 126 police officers were injured. Schools, gyms, stores, churches, and police stations were attacked as the rioters clashed with police. Saudi Prince al-Waleed bin Talal would later boast that he convinced Rupert Murdoch to order Fox News to stop describing the rioters as Muslims.
It didn’t take long for the disgruntled Muslim urbanites to go for a second round. In May 2006, about 100 youths with baseball bats fought with police on the same battlefields from the previous year. The mayor had to flee his home when it was stoned, homemade explosives were tossed at the town hall building, trash cans were in flames, and four cars were blown up. It is not clear what exactly sparked the violence, but two arrests for separate incidents did precede the upheaval.
Then in November 2007, a police officer arrived at a traffic accident involving a police vehicle and motorcycle that killed two teenagers. The officer’s car was set on fire before he could escape. He ended up in the hospital with several broken ribs and a punctured lung from being beaten with baseball bats and iron bars. Clashes with police continued for two days as gang members, armed with shotguns, fired at police as they committed acts of looting and arson. About 130 police officers were injured, 70 cars were burned, and various buildings were attacked including a library and two schools. One police officer described the scene as an “open rebellion” by “urban guerillas.”
These hubs of impoverished, mostly Muslim immigrant communities exist because the French government has designated them as “sensitive urban zones.” These are areas where the police do not have control, effectively making them “no-go zones,” as Dr. Daniel Pipes describes them. Almost five million people live in these areas which are left to themselves, allowing gangs and hostility to authority to breed.
In his book Disinformation, Richard Miniter makes the case that a lack of assimilation is a key factor in breeding terrorism. A survey of terrorists by former CIA case officer Marc Sageman found that “80 percent were, in some way, totally excluded from the society they lived in.” The rioters may be more motivated by a belief that they are being persecuted on the basis of their religion or ethnicity and a desire to self-govern than by radical Islam, but the lack of assimilation will also breed extremism. In the United Kingdom, pro-terrorist gangs are forming in such areas and that is a trend that will come to France if it has not already.
Al-Qaeda and other forces hostile to the French government and police can be counted on to try to paint France’s ban on the wearing of the burqa and niqab as an act of oppression, even if few actually wore them. If the past is any indication, this line will be bought by those who have violently reacted to any potential police action with a knee-jerk belief that it is ill-intentioned and abusive.
Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, based in Algeria, threatened to retaliate when the ban was first being discussed. A Muslim group called “Sheikh Yassin,” in honor of the Hamas founder killed by the Israelis, rioted at a debate about the ban in May. Islamist forces are undoubtedly looking at violent opposition to governing authorities in the “sensitive urban zones” as an opportunity.
The riots are the result of a French government too afraid to exercise control over its own territory. The question now is how long it will take for Islamism to transform these areas into Sharia enclaves.