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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

The Autumn 2005 Riots in France – Part I

Filed under: Europe and Israel
Publication: Post-Holocaust and Anti-Semitism


Investigating the autumn 2005 disorders in France and their aftermath can provide much broader and longer-lasting perspectives than those pertaining to issues directly related to these events. Such an analysis can provide insight on several structural problems of French society, as well as of the European Union, including its external relations.

The influence of the French riots went far beyond the country’s borders, even if the copycat incidents in countries such as Belgium,[1] Germany,[2] and the Netherlands[3] were minor. Many profound problems that came to the fore during the French riots also exist, in somewhat different form, in several other West European countries.

One is the non-integration of substantial parts of minority populations, largely from Muslim countries in North and West Africa. Others are majority and minority racism and the impact of incitement from the Muslim world against Western democracies. These play out in various European countries that struggle to define what their value system is, what place minority cultures should hold in their societies, and thus what their attitude toward multiculturalism should be.

Europe is grappling to understand its future. The March 2004 bombings in Madrid and the July 2005 homicide attacks in London by extreme British Muslims, as well as the autumn 2005 riots in France, pose important challenges to European societies. They have accelerated changes in popular attitudes in the European Union.

It would be mistaken to see these criminal acts mainly as incidents in themselves. They and their aftermaths offer important opportunities to understand how the mainstream European mindset is evolving. Studying these events in depth helps clarify the many flaws of European societies. Indeed, the more these are elucidated now, the better one can prepare for the future and understand new events as they emerge.

French Jewry, Jewish Leaders, and Israel

Several important facets of the disturbances and their aftermath also merit a detailed assessment by French Jewry, international Jewish organizations, and Israel. Both threats and opportunities need to be identified.

One important issue to be assessed concerns the future of Jews in France and, more generally, in Europe. Others include the political positions to be adopted by Israel and Jewish leaders and shifts in French-Israeli interactions.

The changing European realities and the resultant evolution of the mainstream mindset will have consequences as well for European attitudes toward Middle East problems. Analyzing today what elements contribute to these will make it easier to influence future developments. It is also important to document the ways in which the Jews underwent and reacted to the events, both for the record and for assessments of the future.

Several disparate issues come to mind when trying to identify the disturbances’ relevance for French Jewry. These include:

1) Was there a specific impact of the disorders on the French Jewish community?

2) Are there conclusions for the Jewish community to be drawn from the riots?

3) What changes in societal attitudes and governmental measures may affect the French Jewish community?

4) Will the French government make specific demands on the Jewish community?

For Israeli policymakers, subjects of inquiry should include whether the French attitude toward the Middle East conflict will change as well as what Israel can learn from the disturbances and their handling. Another issue for consideration is whether Israel should modify its public relations approach to France and, more widely, to Europe.

The issues concerning French Jewry and Israel cannot be addressed without a summary analysis of the riots, the damage they caused, the characteristics of the rioters, what motivated them, and the reactions of the French government and public.

I.Three Weeks of Riots in France

The “official” beginning of the three-week riot period was on 27 October 2005. On that day, two youngsters in Clichy sous Bois near Paris were accidentally electrocuted when they entered a transformer house of the national electricity company. Their friends claimed they were fleeing the police. The government declared the riots “officially” over on 17 November after the number of cars torched the night before had finally fallen below one hundred.

One should keep in mind, however, that car torching at a lower level of intensity had been going on for a long time before the riots began. After the official end of the disturbances as well, cars continued to be burned regularly. On the night of 31 December 2005, more than three hundred cars were set ablaze.

In another incident, “a mob…thought to be North African immigrants, terrorized passengers on a train running from Nice to Lyon in southern France on New Year’s day.” Later in January young rappers blocked rail lines near Paris. The police had to disperse them with tear gas.[4]

The autumn 2005 turmoil affected hundreds of towns. About ten thousand cars were torched altogether. Among the institutions burned were kindergartens, schools, shops, libraries, and a theater. Eighteen religious institutions were attacked, among them three mosques and two synagogues. Surprisingly enough, Marseille with its major North African population remained largely quiet.

The story often presented is that arsonists attacked public order and government institutions. Actually, they mainly damaged the possessions of inhabitants of their own neighborhoods and the institutions serving them.

The Rioters and Their Backers

The rioters were almost exclusively North and West Africans, the great majority of them Muslim. Many were teenagers. The riots are frequently described as senseless because they had no specific goal. Most disturbances were indeed spontaneous; the rioters acted alone or in small informal groups of friends.

However, on one occasion a workshop producing Molotov cocktails was discovered, which proves that some parts of the eruption were organized. Also internet messages have been intercepted that indicate some organization. Various media claimed that drug dealers were behind the rioters in some towns.

There are no indications that extreme Muslim organizations had any hand in the riots. The umbrella organization of Muslims in France, Conseil Français du Culte Musulman (CFCM), was unable to reach a common position on this question. Its president Dalil Boubakeur said that for internal reasons, they could not say publicly that “Islam has nothing to do with the reaction of the youngsters who are almost autistic.”[5]

On 6 November, when the disturbances had been going on for well over a week, one of the larger Muslim organizations, the Union des Organizations Islamiques de France (UOIF), issued a fatwa against the riots. (The Simon Wiesenthal Center in a detailed analysis has exposed the UOIF as a political body, which is “linked to the Muslim Brotherhood and Sheikh Qaradawi, a cleric who has legitimized suicide bombers and who serves as a spiritual guide for the Muslim Brotherhood.”)[6]

The Riots’ Causes

The conventional position is that the motivation for the disturbances was socioeconomic. The standard underlying narrative is that for a substantial number of people in the suburbs of Paris and other cities, life is without perspective. Many Muslim youngsters know that they belong to an underclass. They have little chance of finding good jobs. Even getting a job at all is often difficult in a country where unemployment hovers around 10 percent, and for young people aged 15-24, well over 20 percent. The unemployment of immigrant youth is substantially higher yet.

Many promoters of this one-sided discourse who come from the Left and extreme Left have political motives. They maintain that the market- oriented policies of the government and racist attitudes of employers are to blame. They claim that if the current government had invested heavily in education and employment, there would have been no reason to riot. The argument, however, is weak because the problems are not new and from 1997 to 2002 a Socialist-led, left-wing coalition government under Prime Minister Lionel Jospin was in power.

The socioeconomic component behind the riots was indeed substantial. Several major aspects of the disturbances, however, cannot be explained by it. For instance, why did not many members of other non-Western minority communities also riot? The French Jewish philosopher Alain Finkielkraut said it explicitly: “In France there are also other immigrants whose situation is difficult-Chinese, Vietnamese, Portuguese-and they’re not taking part in the riots.”[7] Moreover, why did not hundreds of thousands of other members of the North and West African minorities take to the street in nonviolent demonstrations against the socioeconomic conditions?

Hooligans and/or Criminals

Also difficult to explain by socioeconomic arguments is the fact that many rioters were teenagers. They had not endured years of unemployment. Their violence can only be explained by a second important motivating factor: the hooligan and partly criminal character of the rioters. Finkielkraut commented: “The looters do not demand more schools, more day-nurseries, …. more buses: they burn them.”[8] He thereby undermined the polemical claims that these youths were using arson to express their desire for integration in French society.

A disproportionately large number of immigrant children are school dropouts, which makes them difficult to employ. This is partly due to their families’ hostility to French culture. There is also a disproportionately large crime rate among certain minorities, which receives little attention in the French mainstream media. All this makes it impossible to blame the riots exclusively on the government and society; the rioters themselves, their parents, and to some extent their educators are the main ones to blame.

Bernard Accoyer of the ruling conservative party UMP, the head of the National Assembly (lower house of parliament), said that polygamous families were one cause of the riots. These, he asserted, lead to “an inability to provide an education as needed in an organized, normative society like in Europe and notably France.”[9] According to some sources, hundreds of thousands of immigrants live in polygamous families.

French employment minister Gerard Larcher also referred to polygamy and told the Financial Times that multiple marriages could disadvantage some youth, adding that “since part of society displays this anti-social behavior, it is not surprising that some of them have difficulties finding work.”[10]

The Anti-French and Anti-White Element

It is still taboo in some French elite circles to mention that a significant third motivation for some of the rioters was racist-ethnic, namely, anti-French and anti-white. Politically correct members of the European elite have long maintained, against all evidence, that there is only one type of racism-that of whites against the colored. During the recent turmoil, some of the rioters told the media explicitly that they were driven by anti-French and anti-white feelings. Indeed, if a decade ago many Muslim immigrants referred to themselves as “French Arabs” or “French Algerians,” more recently they have been calling themselves “Muslims” so as to distance themselves from the French state and society.[11]

This minority racism already had a massive expression several years ago. On 6 October 2001, during a soccer game between France and Algeria near Paris, a large part of the crowd, mainly descendants of Algerian immigrants, hissed the French national anthem “La Marseillaise.” French government ministers were pelted with projectiles. The game was halted when Algerian supporters invaded the field.[12] It was one among many vulgar aspects of the clash of cultures. Already then it was difficult to explain away this outburst of hatred for France by claiming that the subculture of the soccer stadium has rules different from mainstream society.

There have been many other signs that part of the extensive belligerence among the country’s Muslim minorities is specifically directed against French society at large and whites. There have been numerous instances of anti-French racist behavior among North African children in public schools.[13]

Further evidence of minority racism came in spring 2005 during protest demonstrations of high school students. Hundreds of North Africans and blacks from the suburbs attacked and robbed participants. Some told the media that they did so because their targets were white French.

Anti-Western Slurs

Yet another indication is that the songs of several North African rap groups contain many racist slurs. Their lyrics include sentences such as: “France is a trollop, f*** her till she falls like a slut…. I piss on Napoleon and General de Gaulle.”[14]

This was well known before the riots, but little was done about it. Toward the end of November 2005, however, more than two hundred parliamentarians asked the justice minister to consider prosecution of seven rap groups that incited to hatred and racism. The initiator, François Grosdidier of the UMP party, said: “Sexism, racism and anti-Semitism are not more acceptable if sung than if spoken or written.” This, he added, was one factor that had contributed to the suburban violence, creating the preconditions for criminal acts.[15]

The rappers’ language is not specific to this music or to France.

In January 2006 in the United Kingdom, during the proceedings against the radical Muslim cleric Abu Hamza-who had preached hate and incitement for years in North London’s Finsbury Park Mosque-the jury was shown videos of him addressing an audience in the late 1990s. In one of these he referred to England as a “toilet,” saying: “a person who comes to a toilet, he should be very keen to go out of it quickly because it smells and changes the human’s nature and you can’t really worship very good in a toilet.”[16]

Minority Racism

Nowadays several European racism experts admit, in private, that a disproportionately large number of extreme racists in Europe can be found among Arabs and Muslims. This politically incorrect truth can only be publicly mentioned once the evidence becomes overwhelming. The riots in France have contributed to making it easier to expose.

This taboo on mentioning minority racism is part of a much larger distorted discourse. Another element is the claim that the weak are always victims while the strong are always guilty. This confusion between victims and criminals was exposed several years ago by the French philosopher Andre Taguieff.

He described the role of the media in justifying violence and presenting criminals as victims. The next step is declaring the criminals no-responsible because they are determined by their socioeconomic conditions. Taguieff explains that this is an updated version of Marxist determinism.

He adds that another facet of this apologist approach is that the Islamist version of Islam becomes the religion of the poor and the victims. All this converges in claiming that Arabs or Muslims are always humiliated or attacked.[17]

A standard statement one hears from many Muslims in Europe is that they want to be treated with respect. This is a justified demand for those who are law-abiding citizens. There is no reason, however, to extend respect to racist hooligans, arsonists, and other criminals, as well as their supporters among the minorities.

The Finkielkraut Case

The taboo on exposing minority racism was partly behind a side issue in the riots that drew major media attention and had some Jewish and Israeli components. Finkielkraut, in an interview with the Israeli daily Haaretz, identified the strong elements of minority racism in the French riots. He said that these “are directed against France as a former colonial power, against France as a European country, against France, with its Christian or Judeo-Christian tradition.”[18] Strong criticism from French left-wing intellectuals forced him to apologize for some of his remarks a few days later.

Finkielkraut went far in this interview by mainly stressing the racist dimension of the riots without giving much attention to their other aspects. He also was imprudent in thinking he could say certain things in an Israeli daily but not in France; he should have known that today’s media are globally read and quoted.

In left-wing intellectual circles for weeks, it seemed that attacking Finkielkraut was more important than analyzing the riots. He was called a reactionary, and several other French thinkers were put in the same category. The debate between the politically correct, so-called “progressives” and those they label “neoreactionaries” is likely to continue and take many turns.

Much of the anti-Finkielkraut verbal violence may have been due to his taking a pro-Israeli position in the past few years, another mortal sin in the eyes of many left-wing intellectuals. Since the heyday of communism, it is known that no one is perceived as more evil than a leftist who has changed his views.

Some of Finkielkraut’s defenders asserted that Haaretz had set him up in the way it presented the interview. Nicolas Sarkozy, interior minister and president of the UMP, publicly expressed appreciation for the philosopher: “Monsieur Finkielkraut is an intellectual who brings honor and pride to French wisdom…. If there is so much criticism of him, it might be because he says things that are correct.”[19]

Facilitating the Riots

It is important to analyze the political and societal climate in which the disorders developed as well as the government and public reactions to them. A number of factors played a role during the riots. In Europe’s victim-oriented climate there is much sympathy for the weak, even if they are criminals. Their apologists frequently ignore that civil society has every interest in preventing the empowerment of those who commit crimes. Criminals should remain underdogs and be weakened as much as possible.

The sympathy for the rioters, however, not only among substantial parts of their own communities but also among parts of the left-wing elite, did not make things easier for the authorities. Nor did those who focused on certain transgressions by the police rather than on the priority to restore order under the difficult conditions. The latter was a prerequisite for maintaining civil society.

Some French critics even exported their de facto solidarity with the rioters to foreign left-wing papers, such as the British Observer. The French criminologist Hugues Lagrange published an article there that was very sympathetic to the rioters. He expressed the fear that the population of the poor neighborhoods, “initially supportive of the ‘kids’ in their confrontation with the police, will turn against all rioters?”[20]

Close to the height of the riots, the leading daily Le Monde saw fit to publish an op-ed by Tariq Ramadan, a Swiss expert on Islam who was denied entry to the United States a few years ago because of his extremist attitudes. Currently a visiting professor at St Anthony’s College of Oxford University, Ramadan wrote, inter alia, an apology for extremism: “How can individuals who have been marginalized socially and/or psychologically not be attracted by radical discourse that explains that they are rejected for what they are and that there is no other way than the confrontation of identities and civilizations.”[21]

There was much, mainly left-wing, public criticism of Sarkozy, who took a tough stance against the rioters. The Socialists, however, the main opposition party, generally supported the government’s position through their official spokesman Julien Dray.

During the riots, there was also a partial paralysis of the authorities. This was most clear in the attitude of President Jacques Chirac, who publicly addressed the issue only occasionally.

Crimes, Complaints, Counterculture

Several months after the riots, in a detailed essay, Léon Sann, head of the ethics commission of a hospital, demonstrated that for many years the disproportionately-large criminality among minority youngsters from the  “difficult” suburbs had been documented with statistics. He pointed out that it had manifested itself in buildings, transport, schools, and hospitals. He quoted sources showing that minorities represented 60-70 percent of young delinquents.

Sann mentioned the existence of “antipolice brigades” in certain ghettos. He remarked that the number of injured people who came to hospitals was many times that of those who complained to the police. Less than 10 percent of the complaints came to trial. In cases where the suspects had been identified, around 25 percent were tried.

Sann described the many arguments with which the extreme Left justified this counterculture as an opposition to the “racist police state.” One frequent manipulation by the suburban criminals themselves is that when they are accused, they claim it to be racially motivated. This at a time when their own racism, and in particular anti-Semitism, is well known. Sann mentioned another intellectual manipulation: “It is the ‘racism’ of society that explains ‘the violence of the youngsters.’ No attention is paid to the behavior of the suburban criminals, their aggression and, often, there is no consideration for the suffering of innocent victims.”[22]

The Muslim Community’s Future

As mentioned, there are no indications of direct involvement by extremist Muslim bodies or personalities in stirring up the rioters. The events, however, took place after years of major, ongoing incitement by satellite and internet from the Arab and Muslim world against the West and its culture. Yet this received little attention in France, helping create the societal climate in which the disturbances could spread.

Daniel Pipes, an American expert on Islam, wrote: “The French press delicately refers to the ‘urban violence’ and presents the rioters as victims of the system. Mainstream media deny that it has to do with Islam and ignore the permeating Islamist ideology, with its vicious anti-French attitudes and its raw ambition to dominate the country and replace its civilization with Islam’s.”[23]

The questions concerning the leadership of French Muslims involve the future even more than the recent past. It is unclear whether the UOIF fatwaagainst the rioting was issued at the explicit request of the French government. It is more likely that authorities asked the Muslim organization to make a statement in favor of democracy and law, and did not intend that the UOIF would put this in the form of a fatwa. One can only wonder what price the government will have to pay to this organization in the future.

The government also asked local Muslim leaders to mediate with the rioters. This sparked reactions by Jewish representatives. Dr. Bernard Kanovitch, the official in charge of relations with Muslims at the Jewish umbrella body, the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France (CRIF), said:

“What is worrying for Jews is that many mayors have allowed local Islamic fundamentalists to try to mediate in the crisis, claiming they could calm neighborhood youths who are not religious but often respect religious Muslims. Nothing proves the fundamentalists brought calm, but we fear local mayors may start giving funds or positions of influence to people whose hatred of Israel is proverbial.[24]”

Semi-Autonomous Areas

This leads to further queries. If the government needed Muslim organizations to rein in parts of France’s citizens, is that not a further step toward semi-autonomous Muslim communities? For some time there have been no-go areas for the police in the periphery of France’s major cities. In recent years the police made major efforts to regain control.

Even without being no-go zones for the police, however, areas can have a degree of de facto self-rule. In such places the dominant culture is not French but North African. Various types of coexistence and comanagement of official and shadow authorities are also possible. The Southern Italian mafia-type model has proved this for many years, in Sicily and several other regions. Indeed, British experts on Muslim communities in Europe have noted that many European Muslims are concluding that the threat of violence works and can force their host governments to capitulate. These analysts warn that what is likely to follow is a demand for Islamic extraterritoriality that would establish Islamic law for predominantly Muslim areas.[25]

French law will then no longer fully rule in parts of the country. Sharia will only partly replace it; there will also be the laws of the drug dealers and other thugs, as well as those of the political extremists. One can only guess what these types of rule will mean regarding crimes against, for instance, those Muslims-such as secular people or women claiming their civil rights-who do not want to toe the shadow leaders’ lines. Honor killings, a phenomenon that has occurred a number of times in France, are only one aspect among many. What makes this matter even more complex is that by all indications, many members of the minorities would like to integrate in French society.

Minorities Will Organize

The minorities will also make efforts to better organize themselves. One question is whether those who went to jail for short terms will become heroes after their release and therefore aspire to be leaders in the suburbs. This is a speculation, even if the experience of the 1968 student riots shows that many of those prominent in them became leaders of the French extreme Left.

In this case it is more logical to ask whom the jailed youngsters will obey. Will it be religious fanatics, political extremists, or drug and other crime bosses? Probably the most dangerous possibility is that Islamists will gain control of some rioters. The combination of religious extremism and arsonists makes for an explosive force. Already in the past, several Islamist terrorists in France were common criminals.[26]

Several weeks after the riots, the French police arrested more than twenty people who they believed were planning terrorist attacks. A police statement called this “an important operation aimed at dismantling an Islamist network linked to a terrorist enterprise.”[27] Another source said that among those arrested were Tunisians, Moroccans, Algerians, and French nationals. Some were known Islamic militants, others “common criminals” who were suspected of involvement in armed robberies and other violent crime.[28] Eventually, some members of the new guard of arsonists may reinforce the terrorist ranks.

At the same time the minority communities, North Africans but also blacks, will work within the political system. They will look for increased representation either directly or by backing candidates who support their claims. The government is also likely to appoint more minority members to senior public positions.

The entrance of more Muslims into the state media will also be promoted through affirmative action. Among those likely to be negatively affected are Jews, who hold more media positions than their share in the population. And whereas Jews in the media are often very reluctant to defend Israel, it is unlikely that most Muslim reporters will show political restraint.

Challenging the Republican Model

The riots have also greatly challenged the French political model of the republican state, which recognizes communities only insofar as they are religious, but sees all citizens as individuals. The reality now to be faced is that there are many ethnic communities in France. How these will be represented vis-à-vis the government is an open question.

Even more subversive of the republican model would be the instauration of broad affirmative action for certain minority communities. This would also indirectly indicate that the government views the ethnic factor as a prime element of the riots.

Making money available for new mosques to avoid these being financed by Saudi money is yet another infringement of the republican model, which is based on the separation of church and state. This may also affect the position of the creeds that have a much longer history in France-Catholicism, Protestantism, and Judaism.

Reactions to the Riots

The French reactions to the riots mainly fall into two categories. According to the more realistic reactions, the priority was to reestablish law and order at all costs. Interior Minister Sarkozy embodied this approach, and it seems his popularity has increased as a result. A poll in December showed that 36 percent of the French preferred Sarkozy as UMP candidate in the 2007 presidential campaign compared to 19 percent who favored Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin. Only 1 percent wanted the present president Chirac to be a candidate again.[29]

On the other hand, several pseudo-humanitarians said Sarkozy had insulted the rioters by calling them “scum.” They called for him to apologize to the rioters, and some demanded that he resign.

The riots have further contributed to France’s polarization between Right and Left and may have substantial consequences for French politics. The Socialists and other left-wing parties have been the main promoters of the multicultural society that so far has largely failed. There are many indications that most of the French want more law and order and less tolerance for intolerance. The latter characterized many aspects of the Socialist government that was in power till spring 2002. Among the main victims were the Jews and the Jewish institutions during these years’ upsurge of violent anti-Semitism.

The Extreme Right

Another important political question is whether the present UMP government will be seen as sufficiently tough on law and order, or whether more voters will desert to the National Front (FN) of the extreme rightist Jean-Marie Le Pen and other right-wing movements. Le Pen has often called for revoking the French nationality of those who say they do not feel French or hate France. After the riots, the FN announced it had many new adherents. Le Pen said he hoped to develop his electorate among the working classes, which had been most affected by the riots.[30]

The somewhat less extreme Mouvement Pour La France (MPF), led by Philippe de Villiers, announced that since the riots began more than three thousand new members had joined and that the movement now numbered a record sixteen thousand.[31] The FN’s membership is estimated at over seventy-five thousand.[32] (The Socialists, the main opposition party, have 125,000 members,[33] the centrist UDF has an estimated fifteen thousand to thirty thousand,[34] and the UMP is the largest with two hundred thousand adherents.)

Extreme-Right politicians now feel they express the opinions of large parts of the French population when saying that successive governments made a dramatic mistake in allowing the entry of so many non-Western foreigners over a period of a few decades. This is aggravated by the fact that the minorities have much higher birthrates than the white French.

What were guesses in November was confirmed by a mid-December poll. The TNS-Sofres Institute found that the number of French who rejected Le Pen’s positions on major problems was declining. Only 39 percent found them unacceptable, compared to 44 percent in 2004 and 48 percent in 1997. Twenty-four percent now agree or “rather agree” with his ideas.

However, when Le Pen’s name was not mentioned in the polls’ questions, the number of those supporting certain extreme-Right positions was much higher. Sixty-three percent of those interviewed said “there are too many immigrants in France” (compared to 59 percent in 2003.) Forty-eight percent agreed that “one no longer feels totally at home in France” (44 percent in 2003), and 45 percent thought “Europe is a threat to France’s identity” (35 percent in 2003.)[35]

These data show that the politically correct world of the mainstream media, with their strong left-wing bias, is disconnected from increasing segments of French society. The universalism and multiculturalism they promote has not only largely failed in practice but is also more and more explicitly rejected by substantial parts of the population.

It is evident that the French majority’s opinion of North Africans and blacks has deteriorated further as a result of the riots. Xenophobia was and is rife in the country as it is elsewhere in Europe. It goes far beyond the FN and other extreme-Right voters.

Another aspect that makes part of the Muslim issue in France unsolvable for decades to come is the unwillingness of considerable parts of this minority to accept major elements of the dominant culture. A third important component of the problem is the aforementioned ongoing hate campaigns and incitement against the West from the Muslim world.

Future Developments

As for future developments in France, much will depend on whether the riots were a onetime event or will recur. If the riots lead to significantly increased government funding for the suburbs, then the impression may be created that arson pays. Some rioters may then wonder why they should not do it again in a more organized way.

France has, in fact, invested major resources in its minorities over many years. Whatever additional funds it will invest will not be enough. The measures announced boil down to providing more money for types of support that had only modest results in the past. A few months after the riots some municipalities concerned, however, complained that despite all the promises no extra funds were received.

The additional funds the French government invests in minorities will have to be taken from somebody else. This is especially so since France already has a budget deficit that exceeds the 3 percent allowed by the European Union. Annual growth in the French GDP is expected to be 2 percent at best. The government thus has to ascertain even more that it gets value for its money. This puts it on an even sharper collision course with the Muslim extremists who want to undermine its efforts.

The French government will undoubtedly throw more resources into education and employment of minorities. Yet many employers who were not keen on hiring North and West Africans before the riots will now be even less inclined to do so. To provide additional employment, the government will have to open more civil service jobs to the minorities. Such “minoritization” of the public services may create problems, the more so as Islamists will try to recruit some new government employees for their purposes.

Recruiting a New Generation of Al-Qaeda Terrorists

France has faced terrorist attacks from radical Islamist networks in the past and hence is fully aware of the dangers emanating from al-Qaeda and its affiliate groups. On 24 December 1994, Algerian terrorists hijacked an Air France Airbus departing from Algiers. Reportedly they planned to crash it into the Eiffel Tower, but were overpowered by French gendarmes at the Marseille airport. The Algerian GIA (Groupe Islamique Armés) sought to set up terrorist networks in Lyon, Paris, and Lille using French Muslim recruits. The French authorities dismantled the militant networks, which also did not win broad sympathy in the French Muslim community.[36]

In 1997, these threats nonetheless persisted; the Paris subways were struck by a bomb attack perpetrated by the GSPC, another Algerian Islamist group. In 1998, nine members of the GIA were arrested in northern Italy who planned to attack the World Cup matches in France.[37]  For these reasons, France remains highly sensitive to the threat of jihadi terrorism.

A French intelligence official told the Los Angeles Times that the French authorities “closely monitor the notable presence of Muslim fundamentalists among the many immigrant employees at the airport.”[38]

Several years ago, Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center remarked: “The officials I meet regularly at the French Ministry of Interior told me they are present in every single Moslem prayer hall in the country. If they wanted to hide this, they would not tell this to a rabbi. Throughout the West the sacrosanct concept of not entering a house of worship has fallen by the wayside.”[39]

The French secret services and police can be expected to scrutinize extremism and other developments among Muslims in France even more than in the past.  The head of counterterrorism for the French police told the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth in late November 2005 that while terrorist groups were not behind the French riots, the French authorities believe they will profit from them. Their recruiting efforts in France are expected to become more successful.  In 2004, the French authorities arrested 120 individuals from radical Islamic groups. Many planned attacks were thwarted.

During the latter part of 2005, French police uncovered plans by a group of Islamic extremists to recruit French citizens and train them in the Middle East-specifically in Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq-so that they would return to France and carry out attacks in Paris.[40]

Extremists Recruiting Converts

At the same time, the recruiters of Muslim terrorists are likely to focus increasingly on converts, who are not ethnically recognizable. The French secret services estimate the number of converts to Islam in France at around fifty thousand, of whom 1,600 are Salafists.[41]

Pascal Mailhos, director of the French national police intelligence agency, was quoted as saying that an estimated five thousand Muslims in the country were extremists. He thought this included about four hundred converts. Mailhos added: “The phenomenon is on the rise, and we are very alarmed…. The process is often very quick and offers these dysfunctional young adults a new way of organizing their lives.”[42]

This came to the fore in the French court case of Lionel Dumont, a former French Catholic, in December 2005. He converted in 1991, fought in Bosnia, and was part of a plan to bomb a meeting of the leaders of the Group of Seven industrial nations in France in 1996. Dumont was arrested in Bosnia in 1997 and sentenced to twenty years for killing a Bosnian police officer. A few days before he was to be extradited to France, he escaped from jail. In France he was sentenced to thirty years in prison.[43]

Olivier Roi, research director at the French National Center for Scientific Research and an expert on Islamic radicalism, said: “For al Qaeda, converts are not just tools to get past security. It’s a way for them to become a global movement. In just about every al Qaeda cell over the past eight years, we have seen converts. It’s structural, not just accidental.”[44]

The Media and French Minorities

The media will also devote more attention to the minorities. One can, however, never know what information the French media wish to hide for political reasons. International media will be less kind about exposing France’s problems, including those among French Muslims. Many of the best reports and analyses of what happened during the riots came from the foreign press. In an unusual move for a Western country, the French government’s spokesman, Minister Jean-François Copé, assembled the foreign press to complain that a minority among them had greatly exaggerated the impact of the riots.

Foreign reactions to the press conference were not favorable. John Vinocur of the International Herald Tribune commented that “It is not a very good formula to try to teach foreign journalists lessons.” A Spanish television journalist said that “I have already experienced this kind of invitation in Algeria, where you are told that you do not give the right picture of the country….”[45]

Future terrorist acts in Europe of the Madrid and London type are also likely to affect political developments in France. Meanwhile, the issue of Islamist terrorism will be kept in the public eye by occasional arrests and trials of terrorists as well as other media reports on the subject.

The multiple riots in the Muslim world, in reaction to the cartoons of Mohammed printed in various newspapers including French ones, have strengthened the perception that contemporary Muslim culture is substantially more violent than other major cultures. When the Danish and Norwegian embassies were burned in Damascus, the French embassy was also threatened. The Syrian police used water cannons to prevent damage being done to it.[46]

French flags have been burned in Muslim countries. In Tehran, protesters draped donkeys in five Western flags, including the French one.[47] In the Palestinian areas, several armed groups issued statements that included threats to harm nationals of Denmark, Norway, and France who live or work in these areas.[48]

The French government intends to increase the number of illegal residents to be expelled in 2006. Ten thousand were expelled in 2002, twelve thousand in 2003, fifteen thousand in 2004, and the estimated figure for 2005 is twenty thousand. Sarkozy has announced that the target for 2006 is twenty-five thousand. All the above developments, albeit in different ways, will further antagonize many members of the minority communities.[49] Abdellah Zekri, who is on the executive committee of the CFCM, has already threatened that if the expulsion program goes ahead, nobody will be able to prevent further acts of arson.[50]

France: A Problem for Europe?

Two major developments in 2005 have shown that France, rather than being a leader of Europe, may be one of its major problem countries. The first event was the rejection of the European Constitution in spring, which set France-and the Netherlands-apart from most European countries. The autumn riots have further dented France’s image in Europe.

Aside from those riots’ profound implications for Europe, a shift of power in the European Union is taking place also for other reasons. The French-German axis that has dominated the EU since its beginning has weakened. The new Christian Democrat chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, attaches much less importance to it than her Socialist predecessor Gerhard Schröder.

On immigration France is a paradigm for Europe. Both in absolute and percentage terms, it has admitted more non-European immigrants than any other European country. The number of Muslims in France is not known with precision; estimates vary from six to nine million out of a total population of sixty-three million. Thus France now also has more minority inhabitants who cannot be integrated than other European countries. Its concomitant problems in the future are thus likely to be more profound than elsewhere in Western Europe.

It is not that nobody warned the French. As one commentator noted, in the 1960s de Gaulle implicitly admitted the country’s xenophobic character: “Those who advocate integration of the Algerian Muslims have a hummingbird’s brain. Try to integrate oil and vinegar. Shake the bottle.  After a moment, they will once more separate. Does one really believe that the French body will be able to absorb ten million Muslims, who will be 20 million tomorrow and 40 million the day after tomorrow?”[51]

Unable to Understand European History and Character

The Europeans could have prevented many of the problems resulting from admitting large numbers of non-Western immigrants by looking backward at how they treated the Jews. Europeans have been unable to integrate Jews in much smaller numbers over hundreds of years, despite the wishes of many Jews to assimilate entirely and of others to be different only in terms of religious practice. Judaism is not a proselytizing religion, and there were no Jewish extremists who sought to replace Europe’s dominant religion and culture with Judaism.

Before letting in great masses of non-Western immigrants over the span of a few decades, European politicians should have understood what their societies’ failure toward the Jews indicated about the European character. Many of these recent immigrants are much more difficult to integrate than the Jews ever were.

It is even harder to get Europeans to admit that many of them dislike “others.” Anti-Semitism is an integral part of European culture, though this should not be construed to mean that most Europeans are anti-Semites.[52] A similar prejudiced attitude expressed as xenophobia toward immigrants makes solving the minorities problem in the coming decades even more difficult.

*     *     *


* The author would like to express thanks to Dr. Dore Gold for his valuable comments. He also thanks the members of the Post-Holocaust and Anti-Semitism research team who have assisted in collecting the documentation material, and the participants in JCPA meetings whose comments have contributed to elaborating the subject.

[1] “Onrust Brussel onvergelijkbaar met Frankrijk,” NRC Handelsblad, 8 November 2005. [Dutch]

[2]  “Wir versuchen die Konflikte zu lösen,” Die Welt, 9 November 2005. [German]

[3]  “Ook brandende auto’s in Rotterdam,”, 14 November 2005. [Dutch]

[4] Andred Borowiec, “Citizen Volunteer Force Proposed,” Washington Times, 18 January 2006.

[5] Sophie de Ravinel, Le Figaro, 18 November 2005. [French]

[6] Centre Simon Wiesenthal Europe, “The True Face of the UOIF,”

[7] Dror Mishani and Aurelia Smotriez, “What Sort of Frenchmen Are They?” Haaretz, 17 November 2005.

[8]  Alexis Lacroix, “Alain Finkielkraut: “L’illégitimité de la haine’,”  Le  Figaro, 15 November 2005. [French]

[9] “Polygamy Cited as Possible Factor in French Riots,” Reuters16 November 2005.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Colin Nickerson, “Youths’ Poverty, Despair Fuel Violent Unrest in France,” Boston Globe, 6 November 2005.  See:

[12] “French Detain Algerian Militants,” CBS News, 6 October 2001.

[13] Emmanuel Brenner, Les Territoires perdus de la République (Paris: Mille et Une Nuits, 2002). [French]

[14] Lacroix, “Alain Finkielkraut.”

[15]  “Plus de 200 élus demandent des poursuites contre sept groupes de rap,” AFP, 23 November 2005. [French]

[16] Duncan Campbell, “Abu Hamza ‘Urged Followers to Bleed Enemy,'” The Guardian, 13 January 2006. 

[17] Pierre-André Taguieff, Rising from the Muck: The New Anti-Semitism in Europe (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2004). The original French version was published in 2002.

[18] Mishani and Smotriez, “What Sort of Frenchmen?

[19] Daniel Ben Simon, “France’s Sarkozy Backs Beleaguered Finkielkraut over Muslim Riot Comments,” Haaretz, 6 December 2005.

[20] Hugues Lagrange, “An Outcast Generation,” Observer, 6 November 2005.

[21] Tariq Ramadan, “Nos ghettos vus d’Angleterre,”  Le Monde, 9 November 2005. [French]

[22] Léon Sann, “Violence Urbaines,” Controverses 1 (Editions de l’Eclat, 2006), 147-73. [French]

[23] Daniel Pipes, “Reflections on the Revolution in France,”, 8 November 2005.

[24] Nicholas Simon, “Spared from the Flames,” Jerusalem Report, 12 December 2005.

[25]  Fred Siegel, “The Lebanonization of Europe,” New York Sun, 23 February 2006.

[26] Michael Radu, “Gangs in Search of an Ideology,”, 14 November 2005.

[27] Elaine Sciolino, “French, Seeing Terror Plot, Arrest 20 during Raids in Paris Region,” New York Times, 13 December 2005.

[28] “French Police Dismantle Suspected Islamic Terror Network,” Associated Press12 December 2005.

[29] “Sondages contradictoires sur les souhaits des Français pour le candidat UMP en 2007,”  Le Monde, 11 December 2005. [French]

[30] “M. Le Pen compte sur la crise des banlieues pour gagner le vote ouvrier,” Le Monde, 28 November 2005. [French]

[31] “Philippe de Villiers s’emploie á rajeunir l’image de son parti et plagie le FN,” Le Monde, 12 December 2005. [French]

[32] “Les idées du Front national s’imposent dans l’opinion,” Le Monde, 14 December 2005. [French]

[33] “Le FN et le MPF se targuent d’enregistrer une vague d’adhésions depuis la crise des banlieues,” Le Monde, 5 December 2005. [French]

[34] “François Bayrou souhaite ‘en finir au plus vite,'” Le Monde, 13 December 2005. [French]

[35] “Les idées du Front national.”

[36] Giles Kepel, Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002), 308-13.

[37]  Patrick Sookhdeo, Understanding Islamic Terrorism (Wiltshire: Isaac, 2004), 140.

[38] Sebastian Rotella, “Fundamentalism in French Workplace,” Los Angeles Times, 26 November 2005.

[39] Manfred Gerstenfeld, interview with Rabbi Abraham Cooper, “Anti-Semitism and Terrorism on the Internet: New Threats,” Post-Holocaust and Anti-Semitism, 20-A, 16 May 2004.

[40]  John Ward Anderson, “France Says Extremists Are Enlisting Its Citizens,” Washington Post, 19 October  2005.

[41] “Les convertis sont devenus la cible des recruteurs d’Al Qaida,”  Le Monde, 8 December 2005. [French]

[42] Craig Whitlock, “Trial of French Islamic Radical Sheds Light on Converts’ Role,” Washington Post, 1 January 2006.

[43] Ibid.

[44] Ibid.

[45] “Les correspondents étrangers à Paris estiment ne pas avoir de leçons à recevoir,” Le Monde, 16 November 2005. [French]

[46] “Denmark, Norway, protest at embassy fires,” EuroNews, 5 February 2006 .

[47] Gareth Harding, “Analysis: Cartoon Spat a Culture Clash,” UPI, 15 February 2006.

[48] Khaled Abu Toameh, “German Kidnapped in Nablus Released,” Jerusalem Post, 2 February 2006.

[49] “Sarkozy vise 25 000 expulsions d’étrangers en 2005,” Libération, 29 November 2005. [French]

[50] Ravinel.

[51] Olivier Guitta, “France’s Lost Territories: Will Today’s Thugs Become Tomorrow’s Jihad?” New York Press, Vol. 18, No. 45, 2006.

[52] Manfred Gerstenfeld, “The Deep Roots of European Anti-Semitism,” Jewish Political Studies Review, Vol. 17, Nos. 1 & 2, Spring 2005.