Melanie Phillips

7 November 2005

Why France is burning

Published in: Daily Mail

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Night after night, France has been under attack by its Arab Muslim minority with the French authorities having totally lost control of the streets.

What started as an ugly localised disturbance in Clichy-sous-Bois - a grotty Paris suburb - after two Muslim youths were accidentally electrocuted has spiralled into an unprecedented national crisis. Extreme violent disorder has spread to cities such as Toulouse, Lille, Nantes, the cathedral town of Evreux in Normandy and even to the centre of Paris.

Thousands of cars have been set on fire and hundreds of people arrested across France. The rioters have torched post offices and fire stations, schools and synagogues, buses and warehouses, fired upon police, and doused a handicapped woman with petrol and set her alight.

Nicolas Sarkozy, the tough-minded Interior Minister, has been blamed for inflaming the situation by his uncompromising language. French policy in general has been blamed for herding poor Arabs into suburban ghettoes where they have been left to fester in high unemployment and poverty.

The disturbances are thus being portrayed as race riots caused by official discrimination and insensitivity. But this is a gross misreading of the situation. It is far more profound and intractable. What we are seeing is, in effect, a French intifada: an uprising by French Muslims against the state.

When the police tried to take back the streets, they were driven out with the demand that they leave what the protesters called the 'occupied territories'. And far from the claim that the disturbances have been caused by French policy of segregating Muslims into ghettoes, this is a war being waged for separate development.

Some Muslims have even called for the introduction of the ancient Ottoman 'millet' system of autonomous development for different communities.

The director of the Great Mosque of Paris, Dalil Boubakeur, has previously suggested that France should be regarded as a 'house of covenant', by which he appears to mean that France should enter into an agreement with its Muslims to grant them autonomy within the state.

His response to the current violence is not to take steps to bring his own community under control but to suggest instead that the French government shows 'respect' and sends 'a message of peace'.

But M. Sarkozy and the police are determined to take back the streets. The Muslims are equally determined to keep territory they feel they have conquered from the French state with which they feel no identification.

This crisis, however, did not start with the electrocution tragedy in Clichy-sous-Bois. It has been going on for decades. The scale of it is astonishing. Nine thousand police cars have been torched or stoned since the beginning of this year. The problem has not been M. Sarkozy's tough approach. On the contrary - until now this permanent grumbling insurrection has simply been ignored.

For more than twenty years France's Muslim areas have been out of control. Indeed, they only turned into Muslim ghettoes in the first place because Muslim violence and harassment forced everyone else out. And they became no-go areas for the police, seen by the Muslims as occupation forces entering their territory.

In schools in such areas, teachers trying to teach French or European history have been threatened with their lives by both pupils and their parents. In some cases young French people have converted to Islam just to escape the harassment.

Blaming an official policy of segregation is wide of the mark. The fact is that French Muslims want to be segregated. The ghettoes are a way of ensuring a separate Islamic existence without having to assimilate into French society.

The fact is that whatever policies different European countries have pursued to deal with minorities, they have not cracked this problem. France has enforced a rigid policy of state secularism and assumed that all minorities would adopt French values simply by being French.

By contrast, the British and other Europeans have adopted multiculturalism, which means giving minorities equal status to the majority, and have bent over backwards to be accommodating to them and not give offence.

Yet while France was burning, there were riots over several days in Denmark over the publication of cartoons satirising the prophet Mohammed. In the super-tolerant Netherlands, the film-maker Theo van Gogh was murdered exactly a year ago because he had made an 'insulting' film about Islam. The Dutch immigration minister has had to wear a bullet-proof vest after shots were fired into her office, and death threats have been made against other ministers who have spoken against Islamist violence.

In Britain, British Muslims turned themselves into human bombs last July to murder as many of their fellow citizens as they could. We are told this was because of the war in Iraq. But France was a principal opponent of that war, and yet it is now being torched from Normandy to the Mediterranean.

For every country, a different reason can be found to blame it for the attacks being mounted upon it. Yet the common factor is the hostility of Muslims to the countries in which they have settled.

Clearly, not all fall into this category. Thousands of British Muslims are highly integrated and live law-abiding and productive lives. But it is equally clear that across Europe, those moderates are either unable or unwilling to stop those who want to impose their values on the majority.

And European governments have played into their hands. As the writer Bat Ye'Or reveals in her book Eurabia, the European Union and the Arab League entered into a series of official agreements some thirty years ago guaranteeing that Muslim immigrants in Europe would not be compelled to adapt in any way 'to the customs of the host countries.'

This is all bound up with the erosion of national identities across Europe. This has affected even France, once a ferocious proponent of French culture which was imposed through a centralised schools system, a strong police force and national military service.

But now the schools system and the police have been weakened and national service has gone. Banning the hijab (Islamic headscarf) in schools represented a flickering of the old national certainty as France sniffed the danger that had arisen in its midst. But it was too little, and maybe too late.

Even now Britain, France and the rest of Europe are still in varying stages of denial over Muslim unrest. Reluctant even to admit that religion is central to this phenomenon, they look instead for ways to blame themselves and use the insult of 'Islamophobia' to shut down debate.

The warning for us from the disturbing events in France could not be clearer. We must end the ruinous doctrine of multiculturalism and reassert British identity and British values - and insist that although Muslims are a valued minority, they must abide by majority rules.

But if France fails to hold the line, the fall-out will be incalculable for us and for all of Europe.

About Melanie

Melanie Phillips is a British journalist and author. She is best known for her controversial column about political and social issues which currently appears in the Daily Mail. Awarded the Orwell Prize for journalism in 1996, she is the author of All Must Have Prizes, an acclaimed study of Britain's educational and moral crisis, which provoked the fury of educationists and the delight and relief of parents.

Read full biography


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Melanie Phillips
Daily Mail
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2 Derry Street
London W8 5TT

Contact Melanie