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Author Topic: Cable: ANALYZING THE CIVIL UNREST -- THE ISLAMIC FACTOR (Embassy Paris)  (Read 617 times)
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« on: December 07, 2010, 02:07:15 am »

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 PARIS 007835



E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/07/2015


C. (C) PARIS 7527

Classified By: Pol/MC Josiah Rosenblatt for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)

1. (SBU) Summary: The perpetrators of the urban rampaging
(refs) in France are by and large of Arab-African and
Black-African background. In most cases, they are also
Muslims, raising the question as to what extent their
religious affiliation helps explain the explosion in France's
immigrant suburbs. There is widespread agreement that
unemployment and lack of education, and not religious
affiliation, are the primary factors underlying the angry
hopelessness of urban youth. That said, responsible
commentators on the situation -- from officials who monitor
potential support for terrorist activities to rights
activists with long experience working in troubled
neighborhoods -- see religious affiliation as a complicating
factor. Thus far most of the youths in question, while
happening to be Muslim by culture, are generally not viewed
as individually inspired by Islam, just as Islamic political
groupings are generally not viewed as being directly behind
the violence. Observers note, however, that these groups
have not hesitated to try to exploit the unrest for their own
purposes, just as extremist and nativist politicians on the
far-right have played to racism and xenophobic fears. The
government's decision to turn to Muslim leaders to quell the
unrest is itself seen by some as misdirected and a bad
precedent, in contradiction with the French republic's strict
secularism. In sum, while efforts to politicize the unrest
are seen as unsuccessful to date, there is concern that not
"getting it right" in dealing with the problems of France's
underclass Muslims could eventually produce the very Islamic
extremism identity that (almost) no one wants. End summary.

No direct links to Islamic extremism

2. (C) Though it has carefully watched for it, the French
Government has not discerned any significant link between
Islamic extremism and the recent unrest. As Christophe
Chaboud, head of the Ministry of Interior's counter-terrorism
coordination body (known by its French acronym - UCLAT),
categorically reconfirmed to PolOff on November 15, "we (the
GoF) have not found any link between Islamic extremists and
those fomenting the unrest. He acknowledged that police and
internal intelligence organizations have received "a few"
signs that some Islamic extremists have participated in the
violence. That said, he believed that they were acting as
individuals and not as members of a coordinated, Islamic

Fears of extremist and criminal exploitation

3. (C) Chaboud reported that GoF monitoring of websites and
blogs (in France and abroad) nonetheless reveals that
extremists are trying to exploit the unrest to their
advantage, claiming (for example) that it results from GOF
attempts to control and muzzle Islam in France. Asked
whether there was any connection between organized criminal
gangs and Islamic extremists in exploiting the unrest,
Chaboud said those in the "revolt movement" were, at most,
only petty criminals. Indeed, police are quoted in press as
observing that where organized crime is strongest is often
where there has been, counter to conventional expectations,
little unrest, presumably because drug-selling organizations
view burning cars as bad for business. (See also ref C for
the views of a investigating judge on the connection between
criminality and current unrest.)

Just hoodlums?

4. (SBU) Samira Cadasse, vice-president of a leading women's
rights group that focuses on empowering women in poor
immigrant communities, told PolOff that the small groups of
youths responsible for car burnings and police taunting are
the same ones who "hold hostage" suburban housing projects
throughout France. Cadasse's NGO -- "Ni Putes Ni Soumises
(NPNS -- translated literally as "Neither Whores nor
Submissives") focuses on the difficulties poor, often Muslim
women of immigrant background face in resisting
discrimination from French society as well as oppression
within their own cultural traditions. Cadasse said NPNS has
tried to highlight for years the way frustrated, angry,
aimless young men in poor neighborhoods, under the blind eye
of French authorities, visit their powerlessness first and
foremost on their female relatives.
Or "Islamic" hoodlums?

5. (SBU) Contrary to much of the media reporting, Cadasse
said she definitely also perceived an Islamist element behind
some of the violence. Exclaiming that, "we all know who
these guys are," she claimed they had shaved their (Islamic)
beards in order to spread violence. These unemployed
Islamist youths were the same troublemakers who had sought to
repress women in the troubled suburban neighborhoods. She
also believed it significant that there were no girls among
the troublemakers. That said, while Cadasse clearly believed
that the misapplication of tenets some attribute to Islam
abets the widespread oppression of women in these immigrant
communities, she stopped well short of calling the "big
brothers" committed Islamist fundamentalists.

No role models or jobs

6. (SBU) Cadasse identified lack of jobs as the real root of
the problem, which was compounded by the relative generosity
of the social safety net. As a result, young men sat idle at
home, while receiving a generous -- but ultimately
insufficient and humiliating -- 950-euro stipend from the
government. They could not afford to move away from their
parents, but at the same time accepted no parental control.
She did not think it accurate to portray these youths as
victims; these young men were guilty of arson and other
crimes and should be punished. At the same time, she thought
it would be difficult to break the vicious cycle. Cadasse
saw the current crisis -- due to larger failures and
shortfalls in education, employment opportunities and housing
-- as very difficult to resolve, and doubted that the
government had the will do go beyond the "Band-Aid" solutions
employed in the past.

30 years of "ghettoization"

7. (SBU) According to Cadasse, the government's history of
treating only the symptoms rather than the causes of minority
unemployment and social exclusion, and its failure to curb a
thirty-year ghettoization trend among French immigrant
communities, "has been an error" of governments of both left
and right. Cadasse was pessimistic about the prospects of
bettering the circumstances of France's immigrants of Arab
background. She said that overall, "we're no better off than
22 years ago" -- at the time of the "march of the beurs" -- a
turning point in North African immigrant activism. While she
did not envision a "Marshall plan" for France's
inner-city-like suburbs, she believed that "drastic measures"
were necessary nonetheless. PM de Villepin's pledge to
reverse the budget cuts to associations (like NPNS) and to
offer a range of other social program enhancements was a
positive start. Government funding was also critical for
secular NGOs like NPNS to combat the influence of Islamists.
But she doubted the government had the will to stay the
course. In her view, it was too tempting for the government
to focus on security in an attempt to appeal to
far-right-leaning voters in the upcoming presidential

8. (SBU) Comment: French NGOs are largely dependent on
government support, and typically receive 80 percent or more
of their funding from the state. These associations are
essential to holding together the social fabric of poor
neighborhoods, providing everything from food kitchens to
tutoring to psychological support activities. Soon after
President Chirac's re-election in 2002, the state financing
of these associations was cut severely. Prime Minister
Villepin last week promised to restore the cuts. The
government appears to understand that diminishing the
viability of these secular, state-funded charitable
organization risks a vacuum that could be filled by home
grown, Islamist self-help organizations. End Comment.

GOF guilty of using religion?

9. (SBU) Interestingly, some see the government itself as
guilty to some degree of having violated the principle of
secularism it holds so dear. In a meeting with the rector of
the Grand Mosque of Lyon on November 15, one Muslim religious
leader's criticized the government for violating France's
strict separation of the religious and the public. The
Rector, Kamel Kabtane, took to task the government's effort
to use Muslim religious figures to calm the situation in
troubled neighborhoods. Kabtane said that many of his
fellow-clerics were also ambivalent about the French
government's call on religious leaders to "do the work of the
government and security forces." "If farmers started
protesting", said the Rector, "the government wouldn't call
on the Archbishop to resolve the situation." He warned
against attributing a religious dimension to socio-economic
problems; there was a risk it could become a self-fulfilling

Better ecumenical than Muslim-only

10. (SBU) Kabtane went on to point out that, "the government
says that France is a secular state, but then -- when it
serves its purposes to do so -- it turns around and calls on
religious leaders to solve non-religious problems that the
secular state should have been addressing over the last 20-30
years." Kabtane has not issued a statement condemning the
violence or calling upon the perpetrators to stop, as he
believes it is important not to conflate the actions of
violent youths with Islam. If religious leaders are to be
involved, he believes it would be preferable to adopt an
ecumenical rather than a sectarian approach. To that end, he
was organizing a meeting of religious leaders from the
Muslim, Christian, and Jewish communities in Lyon on November
16. His aim was to convince those present to issue a joint
statement condemning the violence and calling for it to end.

The risk of an anti-Muslim backlash

11. (SBU) Kabtane indicated that he was much more worried
about backlash against Muslims following on the recent unrest
than about any putative use of the unrest by fundamentalists.
On November 12, a Molotov cocktail was thrown over the wall
into the Grand Mosque of Lyon. Then on November 13, someone
threw a Molotov cocktail over the wall of a mosque in
Saint-Chamond (a town near Lyon). Kabtane said that Muslims
were paying the price for the fact that French politicians --
and foreign media -- have blamed the violence on "Muslims"
and "immigrants" instead of on "unemployed" or
"underprivileged" youths. (Comment: We have now heard
reports of a handful of such attacks against mosques. In all
likelihood, they were perpetrated by right-wing,
anti-immigrant nativists. End Comment.) Kabtane added that
he was satisfied with the demonstrations of support he had
received from French authorities in the wake of the attack on
the mosque. The local prefect visited the site the following
morning, and Interior Minister Sarkozy had telephoned Kabtane
to offer support.

The French school system as the key

12. (SBU) During a public affairs talk show on the evening
of November 13, conservative philosopher Alain Finkelkraut
addressed how "the Republic" could reclaim the troubled,
inner-city-like neighborhoods "lost" to both law and order
and social integration. Finkelkraut poetically evoked his
experience in France's public school system, stressing its
role in separating youths from surrounding society in order
better to inculcate the values that underpin the "Republican
ideal" of equal citizenship blind to race, nationality,
religion and social class. Finkelkraut lamented the way
"society had invaded the schools," bringing with it a raft of
demands, identities, exceptions and resentments that, taken
together, interfered with the inculcation of a shared
national identity. In Finkelkraut's view, taking back the
neighborhoods for "Republican" law and order was the lesser
half of the battle. Providing, to those most removed from
the possibility of it, the convictions and opportunities
required for successfully integrating into French society was
the more difficult, and most urgent challenge, facing France

Otherwise sectarianism could follow

13. (SBU) Finkelkraut warned that failure to meet this
challenge would inevitably open the door to the ascendancy of
separate, alternative identities focused on religion.
Controversial Islamic activist Tarik Ramadan, who also
participated in the round-table discussion, indirectly
confirmed as much. Turning around the image of "the Republic
needing to take back the neighborhoods", Ramadan, unctuously,
but deftly, argued for the right of "the neighborhoods" --
their cultures, identities, religion, etc. -- to "take the

The French fear of "communitarism"

14. (SBU) Former Prime Minister Alain Juppe -- spending a
semester teaching in Canada -- posted a long piece to his
blog ( that clearly identified "Islam in
France," specifically "radical Islam," as a factor also
"responsible" for the current unrest. In Juppe's view,
"French Islam's" refusal -- so far -- to "solemnly proclaim"
its acceptance of the "separation of the temporal from the
spiritual" and its recognition of "non-negotiable, universal
human rights" (including gender equality) contributes to the
difficulty of integrating those who live in the neighborhoods
where radical Islam presents itself as an alternative model
for social organization.


15. (SBU) The gangs of underclass youths who are the
perpetrators of the car burnings and urban violence in France
are not Islamists, nor are they at all motivated by religion.
It is highly misleading to characterize them -- as is often
done in media coverage -- as "insurgent" and "Muslim" youths.
The anger felt by these youths stems from how they are
trapped and without a future -- facing pervasive racial
prejudice, and without the skills and education needed to
get-a-life of employment and conventional respect.

16. (SBU) That said, the dominant religion in France's
low-income housing projects affected by the recent violence
is Islam, and there are those intent on "saving" these
communities from their social ills by re-founding them on
religious, as opposed to secular, principles, in effect
filling the vacuum where French republican values have failed
to take root. Whether or not Islamic organizations and
fundamentalist proselytizing will make significant inroads
among the inhabitants of France's immigrant suburbs of course
depends on the effectiveness of the GOF's social programs and
the willingness of French society at large to face up to its
pervasive prejudices against Blacks and Arabs.

Please visit Paris' Classified Website at: fm

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