When the call came about a car burglary in this raw suburb north of Paris one night last weekend, three officers in a patrol car rushed over, only to find themselves surrounded by 30 youths in hoods throwing rocks and swinging bats and metal bars.
Neither tear gas nor stun guns stopped the assault. Only when reinforcements arrived did the siege end. One officer was left with broken teeth and in need of 30 stitches to his face.
The attack was rough but not unique. In the past three weeks alone, three similar assaults on the police have occurred in these suburbs that a year ago were aflame with the rage of unemployed, undereducated youths, most of them the offspring of Arab and African immigrants.
Last year, many French attributed this violence to socio-economic reasons. Today, there are still many French that believe this. While this may be one component, maybe it's possible there is more to this.
From the LA Times comes an excellent piece of expository writing, by Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
Like the two Americas seen by John Edwards, Ms. Ali sees two Europes. She uses two metaphoric references to describe each.
IN AFRICA, we sometimes used animals to say things on sensitive issues to avoid discussing the messenger instead of the message. So I shall use the ostrich and the owl to sketch the two most important positions on immigration and pluralism in Europe.
Two birds with two markedly different characteristics are her choices. One is known for burying its head in the sand, while leaving the rest of its body exposed, and the other is the symbol of wisdom.
The view of things in Europe today, as the ostrich sees them, is bright. He sees an open market of 450 million people with an amazing potential. He sees a thriving economy and the free movement of people, goods, money and services. Immigration, to the ostrich, can only be viewed as an opportunity for an aging native population. Borders are better open than closed. Islam is a faith like Christianity, and Muslims shall adapt their religion to life in Europe.
Then there's the owl, which is a night bird and gets, more often, a glimpse of the dark side of things. Europe is healthy and wealthy, but the owl worries that it may not be so wise.
The shadow side of the free movement of people, for instance, is the trade in women and children for the ruthless sex industry. Also, weapons go unnoticed from hand to hand, from country to country. Some of these weapons could be biological, chemical or worse.
You will have to read the rest of the essay to get the deeper meanings of her analogies. But know this one thing, as an American I can understand how many take for granted the things we do.
Before 9-11, many Americans could not fathom that an attack of this nature could and would be launched within the territorial boundaries, of the United States. There were warning signs, to be sure. But overall, there was this tendency to believe that terrorist attacks occurred against the U.S., outside its boundaries.
As we were able to see on that fateful day, this is not the case.
France is a secular nation. Most of its citizenry wants the republic to be a model of diversity and to be known for its attitudes of tolerance towards all cultures, all faiths, and all ethnicities.
Now, this is a noble thought (and is all well and good). But what if some cultures, faiths, and ethnicities are not tolerant towards secularism? What if theirs is an ideology that seeks to impose its will over certain sections of France, America, or any other nation that so freely has welcomed immigrants into its land?
Other than the riots of last year, France has been relatively unscathed in the area of Islamic violence. The Airbus incident and others we may or may not know about have been successfully thwarted. There have been no train bombings like the ones in Britain and Spain, and certainly there has been no attack of the magnitude of 9-11.
Many that claim the violence of last year was due to economic reasons, are failing to take into account that the other ethnic groups are not rioting, not attacking police, and are making better concerted efforts to assimilate into French society. Do we see Celtic, Slavic, and Indo-Chinese riots? Do we see areas of towns inhabited by these groups spawning the kind of angst and anxiety that the Muslim areas are?
These are not hostile questions here, I am truly hoping that my French readers can help shed some more light on this subject. Because from where I sit, I am not buying that this upsurge in violence is rooted in socio-economics.
It may or may not be an organized effort by a specific Muslim group led by a radical Muslim cleric, like many in neighboring countries. But, once this thing really gets out of control, who knows what kind of opportunist may rise up to take advantage of the situation?
Addendum - Other news agencies covering this are:
AFP (via Canada.Com)
The Times Of India
The Herald Times (Aus.)
But as it turns out, France is not the only country facing unrest, Hungary isn't in too good of a shape right now, either.