Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

7 Cheshvan 5766 - November 9, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










Produced and housed by
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Paris is Burning; Jews Not Targeted

by Arnon Jaffe, Paris, M Plaut and Yated Ne'eman Staff

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 in France.

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 attacks.

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 tensions.

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 on fire.

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 worse violence.

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 group.

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 origin.

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 use.

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.


All material on this site is copyrighted and its use is restricted.
Click here for conditions of use.