France: Growing Signs of Unrest Among Muslims

3 MINS READNov 2, 2005 | 01:48 GMT
The electrocution of two Muslim teenagers in the western Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois on Oct. 27 sparked four days of violence that resulted in nearly two dozen police injuries and at least 14 arrests. The 15- and 17-year-old youths died after they reportedly scaled a wall of an electrical relay station and fell against a transformer. A third teenager was hospitalized with severe burns. Local residents claim the teens were fleeing police because officers were investigating a robbery in the area at the time. French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy has denied police involvement in the deaths, but pledged an impartial inquiry into the incident. Like France's many predominantly Muslim suburbs, Clichy-sous-Bois suffers high unemployment, lack of opportunity and, as a result, a high degree of social discontent. This cycle not only is leading to crime, but could be opening the door to jihadists. The unrest began when a group of angry youths attacked emergency medical technicians responding to the scene of the electrocutions. The violence escalated the next night, when hundreds of young men set fire to cars and shop fronts. Fifteen police officers and a journalist were injured during the nightlong melee. After firing tear gas and detaining 14 people, police were able to restore order early Oct. 29. Tempers flared again the night of Oct. 30, however, and rioting youths set fire to cars and trash bins, and clashed with police, injuring six officers. During the disturbance, a tear gas grenade was fired at or thrown into a mosque, though police deny having fired the grenade. The rioting in Clichy-sous-Bois is symptomatic of the social and political problems faced by France's Muslim community. 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. In general, the Muslim population is concentrated in the poor areas of Paris, Lille, Lyon, Marseille, Montpellier and other cities, where unemployment and lack of opportunity often lead to criminal activity. Consequently, France's prisons are teeming with Muslims. French Muslim leaders also assert that racism and discrimination are the root cause of the marginalization that results in high unemployment and, hence, crime among the Muslim minority. This climate could provide jihadists with a large pool of sympathizers and potential recruits. In fact, there is evidence that the problem already threatens French security. In September, French police detained six men under suspicion of recruiting volunteers for combat against coalition forces in Iraq. The recruiting cell operated in the predominantly Muslim Paris suburb of Seine-St. Denis. Other incidents also suggest that Chechen and Algerian militants are operating networks in France. Because the conditions that have spawned discontent in France's Muslim communities are unlikely to change any time soon, social unrest can be expected to worsen.

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