Ten years ago, at the end of October 2005, major riots erupted in France. Two youngsters from Clichy sous Bois near Paris were accidentally electrocuted after entering an electricity substation. Their friends claimed they had been fleeing from the police.
This led to an eruption of riots lasting three weeks, during which time the authorities lost control for several days.
Over nine thousand cars were torched during those weeks. Among the institutions burnt were kindergartens, schools, shops, libraries and a theater. Eighteen religious institutions were attacked, including three mosques and two synagogues.
Although England also had its share of violent riots in 2011, these riots as well as other social unrest in Western Europe over the past decade never attained the magnitude of the 2005 autumn riots in France.
Ten years after the riots, it is important to take stock of what happened then and since. The importance of this review goes beyond French society in general and its Jewish population. It is also vital in analyzing and understanding the current situation in parts of the Muslim world, including the present Palestinian terrorism.
One of the shrewdest analysts at the time was the Jewish philosopher Alain Finkielkraut. In an interview in Haaretz he stated that “in France, they would like very much to reduce these riots to their social dimension, to see them as a revolt of youths from the suburbs against their situation, against the discrimination they suffer from, against the unemployment. The problem is that most of these youths are blacks or Arabs, with a Muslim identity.
“Look, in France there are also other immigrants whose situation is difficult – Chinese, Vietnamese, Portuguese – and they’re not taking part in the riots. Therefore, it is clear that this is a revolt with an ethno-religious character.”
He added, “The looters do not demand more schools, more day-nurseries ... more buses: they burn them.”
Finkielkraut also made stronger remarks during the interview, for which he subsequently came under heavy criticism.
He was forced to apologize for some of his comments.
Several months after the riots Léon Sann, head of the ethics commission of a hospital, wrote a detailed essay on the disproportionately large extent of criminality among minority youngsters from the “difficult” suburbs. He presented statistics which had been gathered over a multi-year period. He pointed out that this criminality had manifested itself in attacks involving buildings, transport, schools and hospitals and quoted sources showing that minorities represented 60 percent to 70% of young delinquents.
The autumn 2005 riots made it clear that the many earlier attacks, mainly by Muslims against Jewish institutions, were merely a prelude to the main target: French society. In autumn 2005 Jewish institutions were rarely specifically attacked, exceptions being the synagogues at Pierefitte and Garges les Gonesse. At one point in the rioting and over several days, the French authorities even warned the Jewish community that they were unable to protect it.
After the riots the French authorities announced they would take measures to improve the integration of minorities.
Yet to date this issue remains hugely problematic. The French term for suburb, “banlieue,” has become pejorative, with many of these suburbs being characterized by poverty, crime, unemployment, high Muslim populations and social isolation from the rest of France.
It was again internationally publicized during the ill-fated visit of a group of Dutch officials to the Paris suburb Saint Denis last month, to study the radicalization there. The visitors were attacked by a group of hooligans. They were kicked and beaten, one of them even receiving a head wound, and were forced to flee. Some of their possessions were stolen.
In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Cacher massacres in January 2015, French socialist Prime Minister Manuel Valls, speaking of the minority ghettos, said that there is a “territorial, social and ethnic apartheid” separating these neighborhoods from the rest of France.
As is so often the case, the situation of the Jews is a prime indicator of the problems of the societies where they reside.
Feelings are rife in the Jewish community that there is little future for selfaware Jews in France. These have greatly strengthened in the past 10 years. So has Jewish emigration. Several Jews have been murdered, all by Muslims. In the summer of 2014, nine synagogues were attacked by Muslim hooligans.
The above illustrates some of the many facets of France’s inability to put its house in order, after the extent of its disorder was so clearly demonstrated in the 2005 riots. Nevertheless, those who have failed at home now demand major-player status in dictating how Israel should behave. In March this year France wanted to bring a resolution to the UN’s Security Council on the Palestinian- Israeli conflict. In October it proposed that international troops be stationed on the Temple Mount. Perhaps it would have been more effective to send foreign troops to some of the “apartheid” areas in France.
The destructive element present in the French riots, so well identified by Finkielkraut, has since become much more visible in many sections of the Muslim world. The factors driving this destructive element are often more cultural than socio-economic in nature.
This element has also been evident in Palestinian society for many decades, whose leaders have been far more interested in destroying Israel than in building their own society.
The aim of the current terrorist activities, acclaimed and glorified by Palestinian leaders, is to further complicate relations between Jews and Arabs, both Israeli as well as Palestinian. These actions lead to the destruction of jobs for Palestinians. Arab workers in Jewish neighborhoods now may feel threatened, which was not the case before the new outburst of Palestinian terrorism.
The culture to which, among others, the French rioters and the Palestinian terrorists and inciters belong has caused much trouble already throughout the world.
These destructive cultural elements, often also religiously oriented, so vocally and violently present in the Muslim world, are likely to cause many more grave problems in the future as well.The author is emeritus chairman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and was given the lifetime award for 2012 by the Journal for the Study of Antisemitism.