French Riots Escalate

The rioting that has been going on in France’s heavily minority Seine-Saint-Denis region has escalated, with gun shots fired.

Shots fired as French riots escalate (Reuters)

Rioters shot at police and fire crews in the worst night in a week of violence in poor Paris suburbs, as France’s conservative government struggled to respond to the unrest. Youths rampaged in nine poor suburbs north and east of Paris, home to North African and black African minorities frustrated at their failure to get jobs or recognition in French society, leaving a trail of destruction behind them. “It’s a dramatic situation. It is very serious and we fear that the events could even get worse tonight,” said Francis Masanet, secretary general of the UNSA police trade union.

Prefect Jean-Francois Cordet, the government’s top official in the Seine-Saint-Denis region, confirmed rounds had been fired at police and fire crews in three separate incidents. “Four live bullets were fired. Two shots were fired at La Courneuve against police. One shot was fired at Noisy-le-Sec against fire crews, and one shot was fired against fire crew in Saint-Denis,” he told a news conference. Cordet did not say what sort of weapon had been fired but media said local police recovered shotgun cartridges from the scene at La Courneuve.

No one was reported as hurt in the shootings, which marked an escalation in the level of violence that left 177 charred vehicles and damaged a primary school and shopping centre. Cordet said four police officers and two fire fighters were hurt, including one who was burnt on the face by a Molotov cocktail. Twenty-nine people were detained and 23 remained in custody, he added.

Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin discussed the crisis with elected officials from the riot struck areas, as the government struggled to respond to the violence and the opposition taunted the conservative’s much-vaunted crime record. He will hold a working lunch with Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, his potential rival to lead the right in 2007 presidential elections, in a display of unity after government squabbling over how to respond to the violence.

Governments across Europe have been confronted with violence in deprived inner city areas, and the unrest in France comes despite Sarkozy’s anti-crime drive led in the wake of President Jacques Chirac re-election in 2002, won on law and order issues.

What a mess.

Update: Dan Drezner commenter Joel makes an important point:

The “African” or “French” rioters, or “youths” as they are variously called in the media, are Muslims. This is the unassimilated Muslim population that conservatives have warned about in western Europe for decades. Aside from the substantive question of what the French government should do about the situation, there is also the question of why the media are so squeamish about naming the most obvious defining trait that all the rioters share.

This is especially the case when the spark that set off the powderkeg was an incident involving a mosque.

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James Joyner
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James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Herb says:

    These riots could not happen to a nicer bunch of people. Now the French can reap the harvest of their liberal, better than you are attitude. The French have looked down their nose at the US for years and quitely condemed Americans for not doing enough for the underprivledged of the world. Now, it’s their turn to “show the world” just how patient they are towards those that immagrate to France and look for the government to provide them with all the goodies they were led to think were awaiting them in “the promised land”.

    This whole thing will be very interesting to watch and see how it turns out and how the French will solve the problems they condemed others around the world for not solving.

    This is liberalism at it best.

  2. ronnied says:

    the muslims are so peaceful,give them a million dollars each and kiss there ass. In the end you have lost a great country the USA saved for you. i think you need more muslim immigrants.

  3. Sneem says:

    I can’t prove it, but I have always felt the french made a pact with the devil. They agreed to look the other way when fundamentalist terrorists used France as a base for attacks in other countries. As long as France was not targeted. Now the numbers have grown and this policy has allowed radicals to build a base within the country. What else could they expect.

  4. ICallMasICM says:

    I don’t know what the hell you people are talking about because the word Muslim doesn’t appear anywhere in that Reuters article.

  5. Scott in CA says:

    There have also been days of rioting in Denmark. The Muslim thugs there have simply declared that they are independent from Danish rule, and that’s that. I suppose now they consider themselves part of the Umaa. Once territory is “Muslim land”, it can never be relinqushed.

  6. Just passing guy says:

    Just come across this blog for the first time while googling/researching for my magazine. Just passing through really so won’t hang around, but it seems the USA media doesn’t cover in much detail these events.

    As a Brit who in my student days spent quite some time in affected areas I know them reasonably well. I’d say they are only Muslim in the same way that Britain is supposed to be Christian.

    That is, they certainly have a history, identity and some values and practices of that religion, but in general aren’t particularly devout.

    It should be noted that the largest French Muslim fundamentalist organisation (Union des Organisations Islamiques de France) has very strongly encouraged ‘true’ Muslims not to take part in the violence. Some moderate-to-devout Muslims blame the violence on a loss of faith, observing that those taking part are doing so because they have become ‘too secular’.

    Most of them live in housing put up to accommodate immigrant workers who helped with rebuilding after the second world war. The buildings are well built, characterful brick structures, but very dilapidated. In other parts of Paris well kept buildings of a similar era are rented as high-value apartments. The nearest I’ve seen in the USA was in certain parts of Chicargo.

    There is a lot of unemployment, but, taking informal, cash-paid jobs into account, not as much as most figures suggest.

    The current uprisings aren’t all *that* surprising. A lot of the North Africans don’t really feel a part of the community, and feel excluded from their country’s prosperity. There are a lot of parallels with LA’s race riots.

    As with most of Europe, people of a particular religion aren’t disrespected qua that faith, but there is a trend for people who strongly put their identity in religion to be looked at as being, well, a bit odd and ungrateful for not fully participating in the modern secular state experiment. This is pretty much the same for strongly Christian people; some of the best and oldest Parisian buildings are Christian, and loved by the people there, but are very often frequented by non-Christian tourists and natives purely for the spectacle of a grand building. Some of the Christians are starting to feel ‘pushed out’.

    (BTW, the trend in Britain as church attendance falls is to just let the buildings become increasingly unused)

    For the last few years the French government has been leaning much more towards assimilation than would have been considered before. Banning headscarves and other religious symbols in public schools is just the best known example.

    Oh, and if France sold itself to the Devil and got their food in return, they got a good deal 🙂

  7. xenmate says:

    Amen to this last comment.

    I also lived in France and been to the ‘banlieue’areas where the violence is occurring.

    Would you call a kid who breakdances to hip hop and smokes dope a fundamentalist muslim, or even just ‘muslim’?

    That’s what they did there.

    These riots are as religious as the L.A. riots were.

  8. curl says:

    I lived in France, I grew up in these kind of ghettos.It’s not about religion, it’s about the ethnicity and poverty.The people are black from africa or western indies, arabic from north Africa and some poor whites.

    Don’t believe the hype…

  9. zerchove says:

    just in case : the spark was the death of two kids who thought they were ran after by the cops. They hid in an electrical transformer, and died.

    As far as I know, the best racial riot I have ever seen was LA 1992, that was greaaaaaaaat !