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Viewing cable 05PARIS7835, ANALYZING THE CIVIL UNREST -- THE ISLAMIC FACTOR

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
05PARIS7835 2005-11-17 17:05 2010-12-01 12:12 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Paris
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

171719Z Nov 05
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 PARIS 007835 

SIPDIS 

DEPT ALSO FOR EUR/WE, DRL/IL, INR/EUC, EUR/ERA, EUR/PPD, 
AND EB 
DEPT OF COMMERCE FOR ITA 
DEPT OF LABOR FOR ILAB 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/07/2015 
TAGS: PGOV ELAB EU FR PINR SOCI ECON
SUBJECT: ANALYZING THE CIVIL UNREST -- THE ISLAMIC FACTOR 

REF: A. (A) PARIS 7682 AND PREVIOUS 

B. (B) EMBASSY PARIS DAILY REPORT FOR OCTOBER 28 - 
NOVEMBER 16 (PARIS SIPRNET SITE) 
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 
group. 

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 
election. 

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 
prophecy. 

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 
today. 

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 
Republic." 

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 (www.al1jup.com) 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. 

Comment 
------- 

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: 
http://www.state.sgov.gov/p/eur/paris/index.c fm 

Stapleton