The French unrest continues into its 12th successive day, and has just claimed its first life. Thousands of cars across France have been burned, alongside a few kindergartens and the inevitable McDonald's. The rioters are testing the strength of the rule of the law they so despise. Al-Jazeera says that a copycat action may have occurred in Berlin early this morning, with five cars torched, but the German press haven't yet picked up on that. But it seems that the French example may yet inflame the rage of lawless Muslims - and their lawless Western allies - elsewhere in Europe.
This does not appear at first sight to be Islamist violence, but of course it is: it is low-level civil unrest of the sort that has been simmering away for years and is now happening on a bigger scale than we have seen before. The French rioters are overwhelmingly (if not exclusively) Muslim. If they are not motivated directly by jihadist emotions, the idea of jihad does inform their actions, giving it a broader context than mere tedium or frustration.
The question is what effect, if any, French political incompetence, dithering and overreaction may now have.
It seems Interior Minister Nicolas "Sarko" Sarkozy is most interested in building his presidential standing by placating petit-bourgeois xenophobia. The trouble is not that he described the rioters as "scum", for scum is only an accurate term of mild disapprobation. The trouble is that the epithet is assumed to refer to all Muslims, rather than to the relatively small number of malcontents. Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, meanwhile, is more interested in appearing statesmanlike by appeasing the rioters. Chirac has been sitting on his hands so far, more interested in seeing the outcome of the struggle between his would-be successors than in restoring peace to the streets of the banlieux.
And this is all wrong. Now would surely be the ideal time to get law-abiding Muslims on-side. That doesn't mean treating the scummy rioters with kid gloves, but it does mean unambiguously standing up for the rule of law. Another problem is the prissy political correctness under which the rioters are never referred to (by politicians or on the media) as Muslims - as if ignoring this reality is in any way helpful. The council of Muslim organisations has been firmer and less-mealy mouthed than most: it has issued a fatwa against the rioters and affirmed that their actions are against Islam. This is much to be welcomed.
This wave of futile violence is terrible not just for France but for all of Europe. For all over Europe we share a fatal tendency to shut our eyes to actual and potential Islamist outrages, pretending that we can wish the problems of Muslim immigration away. But they won't be wished away, not in our lifetimes.
Aljazeera.Net - Police shot, wounded in France unrest