Teachers in Le Bourget say they don't sleep at night because of the burning cars, but they show up for work the next day, anyway. Schools in this and other Paris suburbs affected by weeks of youth violence have not closed. Still, threats seep into not only a teacher's dreams but also her classroom. One day last week Rebekah Spraitzar, a visiting American teacher at Collège Didier Daurat, a junior-high school here, had one student in jail and one just out. Another marauding pupil, age 13, told her: "We are just having fun."
No one else is laughing. The violence that began Oct. 27 in Clichy-sous-Bois, when two teenagers hiding from police accidentally electrocuted themselves, by Nov. 9 had spread to all 15 of France's largest cities.
The youths also targeted bystanders, killing one 61-year-old man who tried to stop an arson attack and dousing another-a woman in her 50s and on crutches-with a flammable liquid and setting her on fire as she tried to get off a bus in the suburb of Sevran. She was rescued by the driver and hospitalized with severe burns.
As young immigrant toughs with good aim but no future set fire to thousands of cars each night, torched buildings, and lobbed bottles, rocks, and gunfire at police, copycat rioting spread to Belgium, Denmark, Germany, and Spain.
In Le Bourget, an apartment community northeast of Paris where Charles Lindbergh landed after his famous solo transatlantic flight, rioting youths burned three factory warehouses and torched hundreds of vehicles. They also successfully closed a commuter train line linking Paris to Charles de Gaulle airport. The train authority ran a scaled-back schedule through violence-riddled suburbs starting Nov. 4 after youths targeted two trains with what appeared to be Molotov cocktails. Ms. Spraitzar, who lives inside Paris and uses the train for the daily commute to Le Bourget, said hundreds had to jam aboard the sporadic trains. "It was chaotic," she said, "but did not feel unsafe-until I read the news."
Commuters and others are meeting the unrest with a mix of shock and "c'est la vie." Life in much of downtown Paris is perfectly normal, say residents, until a fireball erupts around a corner. Most people feel safe during the day, said Ms. Spraitzar, but nights are full of anxiety.
Having observed the coordinated terror attacks in London last July, the French are wary of similar attacks on their own soil. In the quest to thwart deadly conspiracies by bearded Muslim men, however, few experts anticipated escalating violence at the hands of mostly Muslim immigrants too young to grow facial hair.
Bat Ye'or, author of Eurabia and a critic of Western complacency toward advancing Islamic states, said she is surprised by the breadth and severity of the violence (see interview below). Such unrest "is not conceivable" in a Muslim country, she pointed out, faulting "the lethargy and incapacity" of parents and local residents for continuing riots. "However, it is the state of total unpreparedness to deal rapidly with an intifada that is worrying," she said.
Not until nightly riots peaked Nov. 6-with more than 1,400 cars torched, 400 youths arrested, and more than 30 police injured in gunfights-did President Jacques Chirac admit that he faced a Muslim intifada, or uprising. He declared a national emergency Nov. 7 and imposed a 12-day curfew.
"The peak is now behind us," said Gerard Gaudron, mayor of Aulnay-sous-Bois, one of the worst-hit towns. He told French radio that parents appear determined to keep teenagers home to prevent further unrest. "People have had enough. People are afraid. It's time for this to stop."
At Ms. Spraitzar's school no one was surprised that the violence began and no one believes it is really over. Seine-Saint-Denis is one of the country's smallest départements, or local government regions, but, at 2 million, one of its most crowded. A class taught by Ms. Spraitzar is typical: Nearly half its students are from the Maghreb states of north Africa, Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia; one-fourth are traditional French; a tenth, she said, are Serbs and Croats from Eastern Europe; and the rest are black Africans. "It's easy to tell by their names who is not from France," she said. Most know more about Ramadan, she noted, than the roots of French civilization.
At parent-teacher conferences last month she realized most parents are first-generation immigrants who speak little French. Many have jobs but overall their lot is defined by poverty. Unlike the United States but like most metropolitan areas in Europe, French cities build low-income, high-density housing in the suburbs. "These people are completely isolated," said Ms. Spraitzar. "The parents may be working, but the children will say they don't feel Algerian and they don't feel French." One student recently asked her, "Do Americans hate Arabs, too?" Many of her students are tough, said Ms. Spraitzar, "but I think some of them are scared and feel isolated from a future in France."
Teachers and other ground-level experts have long recognized that the suburban enclaves walling Arab immigrants from the rest of the country are a potent breeding ground for Islamic radicalism, and terrorism. Ms. Spraitzar sees many children fasting in observance of Ramadan, something not required of young children under Muslim law. "This is a dark place," she said. "As a Christian I feel that I am fighting a good fight, and God has allowed me here at a pivotal point to teach very lost kids."
Teachers who can do so choose not to be there. Under the French system, teachers and administrators are assigned to schools, often according only to seniority. So at the Le Bourget college (the French designation for junior-high school) and others like it, Ms. Spraitzar, 26, and her colleagues make up for experience with tenacity. After the worst night of rioting, she said, her classes were "rowdy," so she marched students out into the hall, turned them around, ordered them to be quiet, and returned them to their seats. Many had older siblings out burning cars the night before. "The atmosphere is very tense and we are trying to educate students. It is hard and sad. As one of my colleagues said, 'We are on the front line of the biggest education issue in France.' We believe a major step out of poverty is through education. But the schools in these suburbs are not working."
Ironically, the seeds to the current unrest were sown with France's last major popular uprising 37 years ago when students, led by Communist and anarchist movements, launched a nationwide strike. In its aftermath a number of educational reforms, aimed at secularizing school curricula, stripped once-vaunted French history and literature emphases from classrooms-depriving today's immigrants of the cultural reference points they need to find their place in French society. Following a Communist grid, city planners at the same time built monolithic apartment complexes in the suburbs where low-income residents were essentially collectivized and Arab discontent now seethes.
In that vortex local Muslim leaders and imams are trying to broker a peace between angry youths and the French government. One Islamic group issued a fatwa, or edict, against the uprisings. Dalil Boubakeur, director of the Great Mosque of Paris, renewed calls for French officials to grant Muslims autonomy within certain districts in what he calls a "house of covenant." Such prescriptions sound eerily reminiscent of failed policies in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that have encouraged Palestinian violence and deepened Arab poverty. "This would make of France an Islamic-type state, or two states: one ruled by French law, with extraterritorial entities ruled by Islamic laws," said Bat Ye'or.
-with reporting by Priya Abraham
Egyptian-born scholar Bat Ye'or has written extensively about the treatment of dhimmis, or non-Muslims, under Muslim domination. Her latest book, Eurabia (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2005), chronicles Arab determination to subdue Europe as a cultural appendage to the Muslim world-and Europe's willingness to be so subjugated. It is her first book to be published in English before French, a decision Bat Ye'or now says took into account U.S. terror threats but did not foresee the dramatic spike in Muslim-led violence in France. Its publication in French is soon due out.
WORLD: Have the intensity and longevity of the uprisings in France surprised you?
BAT YE'OR: Yes, I was surprised. I did not expect such violence for the accidental deaths of two youths, a tragedy that can happen at any moment in any city, including in Muslim countries; in fact, such a reaction in a Muslim country is not conceivable. Nor did I expect the lethargy and incapacity of parents and the people in the suburbs to control the youth. However, it is the state of total unpreparedness to deal rapidly with an intifada that is worrying.
WORLD: Please explain how its roots go back to the 1970s and even further.
BAT YE'OR: In the 1960s after decolonization, France and Great Britain wanted to establish good relations with their former Arab colonies, while the Arab League was trying to bring Europe to adopt an anti-Zionist and pro-Arab line. The nine countries of the European Community (EC) made a deal with the Arab League countries based on a strategy: the creation of a Mediterranean multicultural and united society. This Euro-Arab alliance was based on three pillars: anti-Zionism and the promotion and support by Europe of Arafat; anti-Americanism and a European policy contrary to that of America; the guaranty of oil supply to Europe. Within this framework, specialists set up numerous unofficial agreements. Muslim immigration is a part of these agreements with a view to create a multicultural Mediterranean society where Christians and Muslims would be reconciled-on the base of anti-Zionism and the delegitimation of Israel and its withering away.
WORLD: Is Europe's Muslim population seeking to be ghettoized?
BAT YE'OR: The radicalized youths of the suburbs of Paris and elsewhere want to control their "territory." [They see] state control as an occupation and an infringement on their rights.
WORLD: Muslim leaders are, according to press reports, working as mediators between angry youths and authorities. Can Islamic leaders come alongside a secular state?
BAT YE'OR: This would make of France an Islamic-type state, or two states: one ruled by French law, with extraterritorial entities ruled by Islamic laws.
WORLD: With these uprisings spreading through Europe, what can European leaders do to halt the violence?
BAT YE'OR: The first thing to do is to stop immigration, and this is not in the cards. Then they should reassess European laws, values, and identity. These have been depreciated by our leaders, fascinated by multiculturalism-the Andalusian utopia, the greatness of Islam-and business profits. We need to re-valorize Europe and stop making it a cheap souk open to anyone. Europe must stop its antisemitism and anti-Zionism, because the biblical values are at the root of Christianity and of Europe's civilization.
WORLD: You have a provocative chapter in Eurabia on "The Islamization of Christianity" . . .
BAT YE'OR: There are many processes of Islamization. One of them is through theology and the adoption of the Muslim replacement theology, whereby the biblical figures from Adam-Abraham, Moses, down to Mary and Jesus-are all considered as "Muslim prophets." Hence, Israel's history is transferred to the Muslim Palestinians, and it is easy to see from there the final transition to Islam where the Jewish Jesus becomes an Arab-Palestinian-Muslim prophet.
WORLD: How is Eurabia being received in Europe?
BAT YE'OR: It brought me enemies, and I was calumniated in The New York Times. A major French weekly ran several articles against me, forcing me to take a lawyer, obliging them to publish my response. Half a dozen European publishers have shown interest to publish it in different languages, and there is a great interest from the public as well.