The suffocating smell of burning tires hangs in the air in
the Arab suburbs north of Paris. Out past the road circling
Paris, pillars of black smoke rise from the towns on the
outskirts of the city. On Sunday morning an enormous fabric
warehouse set on fire with Molotov cocktails the night
before, was still burning. The remains of 15 scorched buses
stood smoking at the repair center for government buses.
Stores, commercial centers, kindergartens and schools lay
wrecked by the wild, frightening violence. A total of 1,200
vehicles were set on fire during the course of the night
between Shabbos and Sunday in Paris and Southern France. The
next night it was over 1,400. On Monday night it was "only"
800. In downtown Paris the rioters set fire to 23 cars in La
Place de la Republic. City Quarter 3000, a block of high-rise
tenement buildings in Aulnay-sur-Bois, turned into a
battlefront for youths, children of immigrants from Morocco,
Libya, Algeria, Tunisia and sub-Saharan Africans who grew up
For the past two weeks Parisian suburbs have come to resemble
the aftermath of a car bombing in Baghdad or sights from the
Intifadah in Eretz Yisroel. The same image of destruction can
be found in dozens of neighborhoods predominantly occupied by
Muslim and other immigrants.
European journalists are calling the riots Intifadah 93 based
on the number of the St. Denis zone where the violence first
appeared. In France the press still refers to the rioters as
"suburban youths" and avoids applying any ethnic labels. The
same appellations were used when they carried out antisemitic
Almost two weeks ago a pair of North African youths were
electrocuted while hiding out in a power substation in Clichy-
sous-Bois, thinking the police were chasing them. Since then
the unprecedented orgy of violence against France has not
abated. Droves of black and Arab youths destroy everything in
their path. Parents call in vain for their children to put an
end to the violence.
In Aulnay-sur-Bois cars burn and police storm-troop units
clad in armor like knights from the Middle Ages take cover
from heavy metal balls, the projectiles of choice for the
Arabs and blacks who hurl them from buildings. Throngs of
youths suddenly emerge from the darkness, throw rocks and
fire bombs and disappear. The police start to chase.
In other quarters dark shadows can be seen against a
backdrops of flames. Those who are caught swear they are
innocent and just happened to be passing by. The policemen
sniff their clothes. If they give off a smell of gasoline the
wearer gets arrested. On Friday night 250 attackers and
arsonists were arrested. Most of them are released in the
morning based on orders from high-up as a gesture to ease
But these gestures are ineffective and the violence continues
to rise. At night they are back on the streets. The police
are now restricting their efforts to defensive activities and
putting out fires. On Sunday night helicopters with
searchlights hovered overhead, illuminating streets and
rooftops to spot gangs.
As of November 8, the following statistics were reported for
the current round of violence: one man killed — though
there were reports that another man was beaten to death the
first night, 5,873 cars torched, 1,500 people arrested, 17
people sentenced, and 120 police and firefighters injured.
This includes two policemen who were shot in what authorities
later described as an organized ambush.
The violence spread to other cities that have concentrations
of Arab and African Muslim immigrants, including Strasbourg
in eastern France and Cannes and Nice in the south. It also
penetrated the previously untouched rich center of Paris.
Dozens of public buildings were vandalized over the weekend.
Bands of youths burned a nursery school, torched an ambulance
and stoned medical workers coming to the aid of a sick
person. Still life in central Paris went on as usual, with
tourists and residents clogging the streets, parks and
museums. Restaurants, gymnasiums, and other businesses and
public institutions were rammed by stolen cars and then set
So far, besiyata deShmaya, the Jewish community has
not emerged as a special target. Though Jews and Jewish
institutions have been on the receiving end of Muslim
violence for the past five years, in the current unrest they
are not being singled out. Jewish institutions are not being
especially protected and they are not suffering from any
Jewish leaders are saying, "I told you so." When they
suffered attacks they said that the authorities should stop
them because if not, the disaffected Muslims would eventually
attack everyone. But government officials always dismissed
the attacks as the isolated attacks of a violent minority,
without mentioning their ethnic identity.
French President Jacques Chirac on Sunday promised arrests,
trials and punishment for those sowing "violence or fear"
across France. "The republic is completely determined to be
stronger than those who want to sow violence or fear," Mr.
Chirac said after meeting with his internal security council.
"The last word must be from the law."
As the riots spread across France and into neighboring
countries, they brought the problem of integration of
Europe's Muslim and African minorities to center stage.
Along with its sluggish economy and aging populace the
unintegrated immigrants are a pressing problem. Muslims
account for 5 percent or more of the populations of France,
the Netherlands, Germany and Britain and are heavily
concentrated in big cities. France, home to five to eight
million Muslims — no one knows exactly because France
does not gather such statistics — is the largest
community in Western Europe.
France has a strong republican ideology. In official French
thinking, the only thing that matters is whether a resident
is a French citizen or not. The French census doesn't tally
people by creed or ethnic background. As a result, it is
difficult to focus on the immigrants as a distinct ethnic
The reality is that minority groups have much greater rates
of joblessness and poverty than the white majority, and
France has no national political leaders of Arab or African
The police appeared unable to stop the mayhem. As they apply
pressure in one area, the attacks slip away to another.
The police discovered what they described as a firebomb
factory in a building south of Paris, in which about 150
bombs were being constructed, a third of them ready to
Though a majority of the youths committing the acts are
Muslim, and of African or North African origin, the mayhem
has yet to take on any ideological or religious overtones.
France's most influential Islamic group issued a religious
edict, or fatwa, condemning the violence. "It is formally
forbidden for any Muslim seeking divine grace and
satisfaction to participate in any action that blindly hits
private or public property or could constitute an attack on
someone's life," the fatwa said, citing the Koran and the
teachings of Mohammed.