How are the French accounting for the riots across their country? They basically have two choices, blaming the French state and society for its maltreatment of the rioters or blaming the rioters for their unwillingness to fit into France. Early returns show a marked inclination toward the former explanation. This is troublesome, for not understanding the causes of the problem means the wrong lessons will be learned from it, and things will only get worse. That's another reason why, as I wrote in my column today, this "may be a turning point in European history."
Olivier Roy, French specialist on Islam: "It is nothing to do with radical Islam or even Muslims." Although many rioters are from Muslim backgrounds, "these guys are building a new idea of themselves based on American street culture. It's a youth riot." (November 8, 2005)
Tariq Ramadan, European Muslim intellectual: "Above all, one must not Islamisize the question of the suburbs. The question that France must answer is absolutely not a question of religion." (November 8, 2005)
Michel Gurfinkiel, editor and journalist: "How ethnic is the present violence in France? Liberal commentators, both in France and abroad, tend to say that poverty and unemployment, rather than race or religion, are the driving force behind the riots. … But the fact remains that only ethnic youths are rioting, that most of them explicitly pledge allegiance to Islam and such Muslim heroes as Osama bin Laden, that the Islamic motto - Allahu Akbar - is usually their war cry, and that they submit only to archconservative or radical imams. The fact also remains, according to many witnesses, that the rioters torch only ‘white' cars, meaning white owned cars, and spare "Islamic" or "black" ones. One way to discriminate between them is to look for ethnic signs like a sticker with Koranic verses or a picture of the Kaaba in Mekka or a stylized map of Africa. Further evidence of the animating influence in the riots lies with the French rap music to which the perpetrators listen. Such music obsessively describes White France as a sexual prey." (November 8, 2005)
Jacques Chirac, president of France: The absent president has finally spoken on the rioting. He blamed the French state and its institutions for the troubles, not the rioters. He not once mentions Muslims or Islam. (November 13, 2005)
Gérard Larcher, the employment minister: it is inevitable that the children of large, polygamous families would have trouble finding work. "Since part of society displays this anti-social behavior, it is not surprising that some of them have difficulty finding work." Bernard Accoyer, parliamentary leader of the UMP party: some young people behave badly because of the absence of a father figure. He also noted that the French authorities are "strangely lax" with regard to the 30,000 polygynous households in the country.
Comment: Because tongue-tied French politicians like Chirac cannot ascribe the riots to their obvious causes – an immigrant population that rejects the ways of the indigenous majority – the best one can hope for are such euphemisms. (November 17, 2005)
Jean-David Levitte, French Ambassador to the United States: the riots were caused mostly by teenagers acting out of social and economic hardship. "It was not about the role of Islam in France. We never saw any link, direct or indirect. Religion played no role. We know that jihadists are recruiting teenagers, but this has nothing to do with the general unrest in those neighborhoods." Rather, it has to do with teenagers who want to be considered 100 percent French. "They want full equality."
Comment: MilitantIslamMonitor.org asks and I second the question: "If Islam and Muslims had nothing to do with the French riots why is the French ambassador explaining that to two of the largest radical Islamic groups in the United States?" (November 21, 2005)
Pierre de Bousquet de Florian, director of the Direction de la surveillance du territoire (DST), France's lead counterterrorist agency: "Islamism is not connected to the events in the suburbs, one has to find other causes." He acknowledged that "Some of our ‘clients' have a sympathy for this movement, but it is not their motivating force." (November 23, 2005)
L'affaire Finkielkraut: Alain Finkielkraut, the French philosopher, spoke widely and frankly about the riots (for example, see his interview in Le Figaro, where pointed to their precursors). But an interview in French to Ha'aretz published on Nov. 18 got him in trouble. In it, he criticized the French media, intellectual, and political elite for blaming French inadequacies for the riots and giving a free pass to the Muslim hatred of France. Ha'aretz translated his comments into Hebrew and English, and the Hebrew version was then back translated into French and featured in Le Monde on Nov. 23. A powerful "civil rights" organization called Mouvement contre le racisme et pour l'amitié entre les peuples (and known as MRAP or Mrap) threatened Finkielkraut with a law suit for his "racist" remarks. Finkielkraut offered some clarifications that MRAP chose to interpret as an apology and it dropped its threat. (December 2, 2005)
The minister of the interior, Nicolas Sarkozy, and the head of the Renseignements généraux (RG) differ in their interpretations of the riots, notes Le Figaro: Sarkozy blames it basically on "mafias" whereas France's #1 policeman blames it on the rioters "being excluded from French society."
Comment: The differences of these leading voices shows the futility of the French debate about the riots. (December 7, 2005)
If the riots resulted from unemployment, discrimination, and other social problems, why then did Nicolas Sarkozy invite Israel's Internal Security Minister Gideon Ezra and Police Inspector-General Moshe Karadi for three days of classified meetings with senior French government and law enforcement officials? (December 12, 2005)
Nicolas Sarkozy seems to have changed his mind, now saying that "Islam had nothing at all to do" with the riots and protesting against any connection between Islam, a "religion of peace," and violence.
Comment: These statements show that, in the end, Sarkozy lacks the courage candidly to analyze the problem of Muslims hating France. This is a very significant development, for he was the establishment's last hope; having failed the test, it means that Jean-Marie Le Pen and the National Front are the only major force to speak truthfully on this key topic. Not only do they carry a great deal of ugly baggage but they cannot even speak freely on this subject without getting sued. Fortunately, others too are willing to speak out, including Philippe de Villiers, Révolution bleue, and Gérard Pince; but they are not yet major players. (December 18, 2005)
Stephane Rozes of the Institut d'Etudes Politique: The French people don't believe that the solutions being proposed to deal with the causes of the riots are on par with the problems. What is needed to realize those ambitious social promises is the "high-octane fuel of economic growth, jobs and social mobility." (December 26, 2005)
Nidra Poller surveys the establishment's denial and the underlying realities in a fine essay, "The Riots in Retrospect." (December 29, 2005)