[***Welcome, Instapundit readers. BTW I'm not saying the reports of riots are exaggerated, simply that we need to be careful about reading too much into the accounts that have come in so far. At the moment there seems to be a complex mix of causes. Words like "intifada" are a bit loaded, I think: remember how lots of people on the loony Left liked to call the LA riots an "uprising"?
If anyone can recommend a list of good French blogs, I' d love to hear about them. So far, we're not getting enough views on the ground.]
Lots of Cassandras are shouting out across the ether, but we're still not much wiser, are we? "Will the whole of Europe be burning by next week?" asks Brussels Journal beneath the heading "Intifada spreads to Brussels and Berlin". Ominous brink-of-civil-war noises, too, from the National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen.
This isn't the first time that France has been under attack by Muslims. It happened before. It happened in 732. The French (amazingly) turned them back.
Don't you love that "amazingly"?
Although No Pasaran! has some tantalising snippets about Islamist ties to the riots, I'm still waiting for detailed reports about what exactly is going on. The Times's Charles Bremner has filed a useful piece on the part that Muslim spokesmen have been playing. It's a mixed picture:
Bearded Muslim activists have been wading into the night-time mayhem of the housing estates, megaphone in hand, and addressing the rioters "in the name of Allah". Far from inciting the violence, they have been urging the rioting teenagers to stop destroying property and go home. For the Government, the Muslim mediators have been playing a useful role calming youngsters from the mainly Arab estates who respect their authority far more than that of the police and local officials.
However, the Muslim mentors, who style themselves "big brothers", are also causing unease in France because they symbolise what many see as a root of the unrest: the isolation of the ethnic Arab and black minorities into ghettos where Muslim law and outlook prevails. There is also a widespread belief — denied by the authorities — that the unrest is being fostered by the Islamists.
The mediators were bolstered yesterday by a fatwa issued by one of the main Muslim organisations, the Union of Islamic Organisations of France, quoting the Koran as saying that "God abhors destruction and disorder and rejects those who inflict it".
The fatwa sparked a dispute with the mainstream Muslim Council, which said that the edict equated Islam with the current vandalism.
Some on Left and Right were angered when police withdrew one evening last week from Clichy-sous-Bois, where the rioting started, in order to let Muslims keep the peace...Non-Muslim mediators who are active on the estates also disapprove of the presence of the Islamic brothers as peace-keepers. Magid Tabouri, 29, who leads a team of municipal, secular, big brothers at Bondy, in the troubled Seine-Saint-Denis département, said: "It is a scandal that they have asked imams to calm down the kids. You can’t apply a religious response to a social revolt."
The authorities are also concerned because many of the estate militants are part of the radical networks who preach the extremist cause and recruit potential jihadists, according to police.
A street version of radical Islam permeates the youth culture of the estates, where Osama bin Laden is a hero, George Bush and Israel are evil and President Chirac’s State wants to stifle their religion and identity by banning Muslim headscarves in schools.
The young wreckers refer to one another as brothers and they cite the "disrespect" of the State for their religion as part of the origin of their revolt.
The chief target is Nicolas Sarkozy, the tough-talking Interior Minister, who has so far refused to apologise for an incident in which a police teargas grenade was thrown into a Clichy mosque.
However, the radicals are not behind the present violence, say experts such as the Renseignements Généraux, the police intelligence service that keeps close tabs on the prayer rooms and mosques on the estates. Yves Bot, the Paris chief prosecutor, said that the attacks were co-ordinated locally among the young wreckers using mobile telephones and text messages but there was no central command.
The Muslim mediators are exploiting the unrest to enhance their authority among the alienated youths who go out to smash at night, say the police. "They are playing a clever game," one police officer said. "They are preaching peace but profiting out of the mess to promote their ideology."
UPDATE: Patrick Belton has touched down in Paris. He'll be filing more later, after he's made it out to the banlieues.
UPDATE 2: From IRIS (Information Regarding Israel's Security) a list of links backing up the "intifada" interpretation (with interesting video footage of riots in full swing.) Melanie Phillips also takes that view (Via Andrew Sullivan). La Shawn Barber draws parallels with African-American history.
What's French for "gallows humour"? (Via Harry's Place)
Thought for the day: "It has been said that the government of France is a dictatorship interrupted by riots." (David Brooks, The Atlantic, Oct 2003)
MORE: Libération’s blog has images of street debris. Le Monde’s reporter interviews youths in Aubervilliers. Mixed signals again: fighting words about one day taking up Kalashnikovs - the police are clearly the enemy - but in this case it sounds closer to gang-talk than holy war. These kids also don’t seem to care whose cars they burn (in contrast to the IRIS report about non-Muslim autos being singled out for torching.)
Pourquoi brûler ces voitures qui, le plus souvent, appartiennent à leur entourage ? "On n'a pas le choix. On est prêts à tout sacrifier puisqu'on n'a rien" , se justifie Bilal. "On a même brûlé la voiture d'un pote. Ça lui a foutu les boules, mais il a compris."
The Guardian newsblog notes that France’s newspaper of record has a piece on the origin of the word racaille (whose use by Nicolas Sarkozy was supposedly a provocation) . According to the Guardian, translating the term as "rabble" is less insulting than “scum”. The Web has already seen the arrival of a new site, vivelesracailles, bearing the motto "Vivre en pyjama n’est pas un crime" ["Living in pyjamas is not a crime."] A good rallying-cry for Pajamas Media, perhaps.
PLUS: Neo-Neocon has background on Nicolas Sarkozy, the most interesting mainstream politician in France. And in the Financial Times one of the country's leading analysts, Olivier Roy offers this take on the Islamism connection:
Extremist networks in Europe do try to recruit in socially deprived immigrant communities, according to Olivier Roy... A radicalisation of the youth movement could eventually give it a more religious flavour.
"But this isn’t the Palestinian intifada, there’s no Middle Eastern connotation to the riots. The rioters aren’t defining an identity, except that of their neighborhoods," he says. "It’s a revolt of youth, of young men, an anti-police and anti-society movement, in a very French tradition of anarchism...It’s an expression of a youth sub-culture, not tied to Islam. And not all the rioters are Muslims."
[Go here for Still Lost In The Clouds - 2]