Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Civil unrest continues in France even though media coverage in the United States suggests the riots are finished, the violence subsided and peace restored. Although the situation has improved considerably from its peak — Nov. 5-7, when more than 3,600 cars were destroyed — the dangerous situation still exists in the Paris suburbs, despite increased police authority, curfews and other restrictions. The number of cars destroyed Monday night, 215 according to French police, is, in fact, more cars than were destroyed during the first week of rioting. The unrest has by no means been quelled.

A week before the riots started, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy explained to the newspaper Le Monde the culture of violence that pervades the Parisian suburbs, claiming that each night 20 to 40 cars were torched. If 20 to 40 cars a night is the baseline, much more progress needs to be made before the unrest is fully under control. Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin noted there was work left to do, telling parliament, “the situation remains serious in a great number of districts. We cannot accept that more than 200 cars burn each night.”

Focus in the press was quick to shift from the challenge of restoring order in the destitute suburbs around Paris to speculation of the underlying causes. The American media consistently overlooked or disregarded, however, the potential Islamist threat, even during the height of the riots. Many of the rioters are second- or third-generation Muslims whose ancestors immigrated from North Africa.

Not until nearly two weeks after the rioting started was the state of emergency declared. Only this Monday did President Jacques Chirac finally hold his first national address — after 18 consecutive nights of rioting had reportedly destroyed 8,500 vehicles and 100 public buildings. Is this tepid response indicative of how the French authorities regard the balance of power between France and its Muslim communities?

Mr. Chirac requested an extension of the belatedly declared national state of emergency, moving its expiration date from Nov. 21 to the middle of February. Parliament passed the bill yesterday. Neither ABC, CBS nor NBC covered the president’s address (although CBS found three minutes to air the segment “Cross Country Trip Sheds Light On U.S. Obesity Crisis”), and the speech was buried by the New York Times. Until order has truly been restored, this disregard is unacceptable.

Because the problem has moved out of the Paris city-center and back into the suburbs, the lackadaisical attitude seems to have returned. But it was this complacency on the part of the French government with regard to the problems stewing in the outer rings of Paris that allowed, if not encouraged, the violent outburst of the past three weeks. This is an ongoing crisis that requires ongoing international media attention.

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