There are reports it has already spread to Germany and Belgium.

Cities in Europe worry French unrest will spread
Colin Nickerson, Boston Globe
November 8, 2005

As riots that started in France's poor suburbs claimed their first fatality Monday -- a 61-year-old retiree who died after being beaten while trying to put out a trash fire -- leaders across Europe are watching with increasing alarm as chaos engulfs districts of France that are heavily populated by disaffected Muslims, in what is being called the "French intefadeh."

Suspected copycat attacks were reported Monday in other parts of Europe for the first time. Belgian police reported that cars had been torched outside the main train station in Brussels. Several cars were also set afire in Berlin and Bremen, both cities with substantial Muslim populations, according to German reports.

Authorities in the two countries played down the incidents as isolated hooliganism, but "everybody's concerned at what's happening," said British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

"This is something that should concern all European cities," said Dick Leurdijk, an expert on Europe at the Clingendael Institute of foreign policy in the Netherlands. Inter-ethnic violence has recently affected various countries, including Britain and the Netherlands, and Leurdijk said he expects the situation to get worse.

The violence in France -- home to Europe's largest Muslim concentration, more than 5 million -- has been carried out by young men of Arab and black African heritage.

By and large, Europe's Muslims live in neighborhoods apart from the white mainstream, often in grim housing developments rife with unemployment, crime and anger. In recent years, these sections have been fertile recruiting grounds for Islamic fundamentalist groups.

According to police and French press reports, Islamic militants appeared to have been playing at least some role in organizing disturbances that are still primarily the work of youth gangs and disaffected jobless young men.

Belgium, Germany, Britain, the Netherlands and Italy also have large populations of Muslims, many of them disaffected second- and third-generation people who consider themselves victims of racial and religious prejudice.

In many ways, Europe is reaping the whirlwind of history. The years since World War II, and particularly in the 1950s and 1960s, saw a major migration into Europe. In part, the newcomers came as temporary workers to rebuild a continent left devastated and bereft of many of its young men.

Decolonization propelled the migration, as well, with people from former North African colonies such as Algeria and Morocco, for example, moving to France.

Massoud Shadjareh, the chairman of the Islamic Human Rights Commission in Britain, said immigrants tend to compare their circumstances with those of people back in their home countries, a comparison that makes them feel lucky. But members of the second generation, he said, compare their circumstances with others born where they were born, and that comparison can leave them feeling cheated.

The riots in France began Oct. 27 after two Muslim youths in the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois took refuge in a power plant, believing they were being chased by police, and were electrocuted. The anger was inflamed when police set off tear gas near a mosque, and when the French interior minister and prospective presidential candidate, Nicolas Sarkozy, referred to the rioters as "scum."

The causes of the anger run deep. According to reports, half of the suburb's inhabitants are under age 20, unemployment is above 40 percent, and identity checks and police harassment are common. Housing is dilapidated.

Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said Monday that France "must offer them hope and a future." But he also alleged that organized criminal gangs are backing the violence, and he did not rule out the possibility that Islamic extremists are involved.

There have been recent incidents of violence, and signs of a clash of cultures, in other European cities, as well. Most notably, British citizens of Pakistani descent allegedly perpetrated the July 7 bombings of the London transportation system, which killed 52 people besides the four bombers. And rioting flared last month in Birmingham, England, sparked by tensions between members of the Afro-Caribbean and South Asian communities over the alleged rape of a 14-year-old black girl by an Asian man.

Last year, Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh, who made a film critical of Islamic culture, was stabbed and shot dead in Amsterdam, allegedly by a man with joint Dutch and Moroccan nationality, police said.

French officials have said that residents of France must accept the French value of secularism. Last year, the wearing of headscarves or other religious clothing in school was banned.

'Learn from ... the U.S.'

Just last week in Denmark, thousands of Muslims, unimpressed by defenses of the Danish value of freedom of expression, took to the streets to protest the publication of unflattering cartoon images of the Prophet Muhammad.

Europe prides itself on having a worldly and enlightened outlook. But some are now suggesting that the continent should take lessons from the United States.

Abdelkarim Carrasco, a leader of Spain's estimated 1 million-member Muslim community, said the French experience poses a key test for Europe.

"Either Europe develops and supports the idea of a mixed culture, or Europe has no future," he said. "Europe has to learn from what the United States has done. It is a country that has taken in people from all over the world."

The rest of Europe has watched the riots in France with dread and fascination. "From Bordeaux to Nice, from Strasbourg to Rennes, France has been set ablaze by the embers of racial resentment," declared the Spanish newspaper ABC. "It is too late to call the firefighters."

The Berlin newspaper Die Tageszeitung predicted that widespread violence could also explode in Germany. The countries of Europe have maintained policies of "social apartheid," the newspaper said, by shuffling immigrant workers off into public housing estates on the periphery of major cities -- out of sight of tourists, and out of the public consciousness of most Europeans.

"In France, the ghettoes are particularly big and isolated," Die Tageszeitung said.

Some officials and immigrant group leaders across Europe expressed at least a cautious and tentative conviction that the chance of riots on the scale of the ones in France breaking out in other countries is small.

"From my point of view, we don't have to fear this in Germany," Norbert Seitz, director of the German Forum for Crime Prevention, a private information center, said. The main reason, he said, is the effort of Germany's state and local governments and the police to create youth services and build relations with immigrant groups.

"It's not that there aren't problems," said Oguz Ucuncu, the secretary-general of the Islamic Community of Milli Goerus, one of Germany's main Turkish organizations. "But here you don't have the sort of depressing environment you have in France, where there is no prospect of getting out."