In Sarcelles, Muslim and Jewish dignitaries pray for peace

July 22, 2014

On Sunday, July 20 violence marred a pro-Palestinian demonstration in Sarcelles. In its aftermath leaders from both the Muslim and Jewish communities, including France’s chief rabbi Haim Korsia and the imam of Drancy, Hassen Chalghoumi, gathered to pray together.

The multi-faith prayer took place in the town’s synagogue under the protection of local police and included singer Enrico Macias and writer Marek Halter. Soon after Muslim, Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, and Buddhist leaders gathered at the French president’s official residence to denounce anti-Semitism. “The president of the Republic reminded us that the fight against anti-Semitism will be a national cause,” underlined president of the Central Israeli Consistory Joel Mergui.

The violent riots took place in Sarcelles, a city north of Paris, known for its large North African Jewish community and often referred to as “little Jerusalem.” Cars were burned and stores were ransacked, including a kosher grocery store. Eighteen people were arrested and eleven remain in police custody, four of whom are minors.

“I didn’t sleep at night, I was anxious. People from all places live together here, we don’t understand,” said a 67 year-old Jewish resident whose car was destroyed. The city’s mayor Francois Pupponi later stated that “the Jewish community is scared” and no longer feels secure.

2013 Stockholm Riots: a brief overview

Emin Poljarevic

 

The riots have exhausted their destructive energy sweeping through several of Stockholm’s suburbs. In the northern suburb of Husby where the unrests started, the rioting lasted from Sunday evening, May 19 until Wednesday, May 22. Several other Stockholm suburbs, similar to Husby, 23 in total, experienced unrest albeit on the smaller scale. These suburbs are primarily inhabited by a second and third generation immigrants as well as newly arrived immigrant residents many of those have fled from the devastating conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. The unrests were primarily been expressed through burning of a large number of private cars followed by stone throwing on the arriving police units and the fire fighters. Curiously, this seemingly senseless wave of destruction of cars did not include burning shops or residential buildings in any direct way, nor did it include looting of stores and local shops. The reasons behind the riots are certainly complex and multifaceted, nevertheless, deeply rooted in segregation manifested in a range of socio-economic parameters.

 

Many of the local residents, especially the younger generations have been experiencing higher rates of unemployment in comparison to other residential areas of Stockholm both in relative and real terms. Subsequently, the media and public perception that the crime rates as being higher in these areas has effected the law enforcement strategies which had become stricter and more violent over the course of years. It is reported that during the recent period the police has started to stop-and-search a large number of teenagers in Husby and neighbouring suburbs as a strategy to disrupt narcotics distribution and consumption. This strategy included a controversial policing method, which increasingly targeted teenagers without previous criminal record through which the authorities frequently conducted house searches thus intensely invading people’s privacy on weak or non-existent ground. This is something that would be unimaginable in the more exclusive suburbs. It is during one of the police-raids in Husby that a police officer shot and killed an aggressive 68-year old man (May 13), which was later interpreted as a flagrant brutality by the neighbours and residents in the area. The 29-year-old officer has also been placed under investigation for the alleged overuse of violence during the incident. Numerous witnesses have also complained of open racism among a number of police officers that had used racial slurs when addressing young people in the suburbs. Such incidents are readily narrated and certainly overstressed in conversations adding to the collective frustrations. These and other similar fragments of perceived grievances are easily detectable however they are insufficient to explain the reason behind the rioting.

 

For instance, it is impossible to disregard that the rate of unemployment in Husby is 8,8% while it is only 3,3% in the city of Stockholm, or that the average salary in Husby is 195,000 SEK/year (€21,600/year) before taxes, while its equivalent in the city of Stockholm is 68% higher. Is this sufficient to explain the causes behind rioting? It is unlikely, to say the least. Nevertheless, one needs to keep in mind that in a welfare state of the Swedish model there has been a traditional focus on (economic and social) equality involving the welfare of children and young people expectation on the state/municipalities to deliver a high standard of civic services is high. Public places of gathering, such as parks, playgrounds, recreational facilities and municipal public facilities are some of the areas where the current (centre-right) government has, if not neglected, but seriously mismanaged. A deep sense of distrust and neglect is what can be heard from some of the young people in the suburbs, “we will continue until we are noticed”. In addition, many of the residents, including the young rioters, understood the prime minister’s (Fredrik Reinfeldt) choice not to go to Husby or any other affected areas to address the people there as the confirmation of being neglected.

 

Another important component behind the rioting in the suburbs is an element of hooliganism directly related criminal activities of a substantial number of rioters (30-100). A well-known Professor of Criminology at the University of Stockholm, Jerzy Sarnecki, commented that there are a thousand reasons for the “bad boys” to start rioting, however, their activities are fundamentally criminal. The group dynamic often triggers more and more audacious behaviour that assumes a destructive logic of its own and that is often replicated by other impudent groups of young individual males. This is also shown by the number of arrested youth, which topped 44 individuals within a week of the start of the unrests. Out of 44 young males, an overwhelming majority was “known to the police” as having criminal records adding some strength to the previous assertion. A social activists and resident of Husby, said that one of the instigators of violent attacks on the police has long been a trouble–maker in the area, involved in an assortment of criminal activity with an extensive network of contacts among the youth in northern Stockholm (reported to the author June 2). Moreover, the Swedish Security Service (SÄPO) has reported that there have been a substantial number of left-wing extremists who had participated in the unrests (i.e. stone-throwing on the police). This indicates that there has been a presence of both “professional” demonstrators and individuals with extensive criminal records adding to the complexity of these events.

 

But, where does Islam, fit in this overview? It is not unreasonable to assume that a large part of the residents are either from or have family ties to the Muslim majority societies. There is no official statistic over religious affiliation of Swedish citizens; nevertheless, the assumption is based on a large number of media sources and field research of a small number of academics in this area. First reactions of various community leaders that I spoke to expressly condemn the behaviour of the rioters, regardless of their faith. I gathered from several Friday sermons that the violence in the suburbs is condemned and viewed as a failure of the (Muslim) community in their efforts to engage the young individuals in more constructive endeavours. This can be translated into a notion that community leaders’ inability to create group activities interesting and exciting enough to attract those young people in the “risk zone” of “behaving badly” (author’s interviews with Muslim community leaders in Stockholm and Uppsala, May 26-June 2, 2013).

 

The Swedish mainstream media has not given any attention to the “religious factor” as an explanation for the unrests focusing instead its analysis on the related subject – integration. The articles and various interpretations in the newspaper articles and columns are riddled with statements such as “integration has failed” or “more is needed to carry the integration process forward”. If one is to believe these readings it is easy to argue that there are structural mechanisms that need attention and calibration to correct the “failures” (of integration process). This part of the explanation includes discrimination and segregation of immigrants and/or their descendants (i.e. second and third generation), which is being introduced into the policy agenda of both the government and the opposition. The mainstream political debate is therefore becoming increasingly focused on how to improve the system to come to a set of solutions that will defuse the risks of recurrence of the recent riots. The debate effectively excludes religion as any relevant element of recent rioting.

 

The only people linking Islam and Muslims directly as causes to the suburban upheavals are the extreme-right parties, including the Swedish Democrats – the only far-right party represented in the Swedish parliament, and its supporters. Virtual discussion forums, blogs and commentaries are riddled with “politically incorrect” arguments claiming to have “proved” their long-held convictions that the Muslims are in Sweden to essentially take over the country (e.g. Eurabia conspiracy etc.). Some more radical groups among the right wing extremists and neo-Nazi activists had attempted to organize “citizen militias” in order to patrol the outskirts of the affected suburbs thus assisting the police. Nevertheless, their efforts were either disrupted by the police or disbanded due to the organisational incoherence.

 

Now, in the end of the violent rioting, there is an upsurge of civil engagement in searching for long-term solutions to the youth-crisis. Secular and religious associations are coming together to discuss the recent violence and various strategies. Local residents, parents, groups of mothers and large numbers of young people seem to have realized that only they themselves can contribute to provide positive attitude and care for the disenfranchised youth, but also contribute to the improvement of the negative effects of segregation, racism and the perceived government neglect. At the moment we see several attempts to form neighbourhood committees and public forums through which both parents and teenagers are supposed to exchange both experiences and ideas about how to move forward. Religious communities are certainly highly important in this evolving process.

 

Keywords: Stockholm riots, Husby, Youth violence, Integration, Racism

 

 

“Riots – day by day” – “Upploppen – dag för dag” (Dagens Nyheter – Daily News)

http://www.dn.se/sthlm/upploppen-dag-for-dag

 

“The Police’s drug bust may have contributed to the riots” – “Polisens knarkinsats kan ha bidragit till upploppen” (Metro) http://www.metro.se/stockholm/polisens-knarkinsats-kan-ha-bidragit-till-upploppen/EVHmeE!21yn93g8g2zYY/

 

“The Police practical manual might have prevented the riots in Husby” – “Polisens handbok kunde stoppat upplopp i Husby” (Metro)

www.metro.se/nyheter/polisens-handbok-kunde-stoppat-upplopp-i-husby/EVHmeE!GrekMC9XyROzQ/

 

A Police officer is suspected of negligence – a 69-year-old died” – “Polis misstänks ha varit klantig – 69-åringen dog” (Nyheter24 – News24) nyheter24.se/nyheter/kronikor/746823-polisen-misstanks-ha-varit-klantig-69-aringen-dog

 

“Unrest in 23 places in Stockholm” – “Oroligheter på 23 platser i upploppens Stockholm” (Svenska Dagbladet – Swedish Daily News) www.svd.se/nyheter/inrikes/artikel_8207046.svd

 

“A survey on rioting in Stockholm’s suburbs” – “Undersökning om upploppen i Stockholms förorter” (Demoskop – Public Opinion Nalysis) www.demoskop.se/aktuellt/nyhet/undersokning-om-upploppen-i-stockholms-fororter/

 

“We will continue until we get noticed” – “Vi håller på tills vi blir sedda” (Svensk Television – Swedish Public Television)

http://www.svt.se/nyheter/sverige/forskaren-vastra-stockholm-ar-i-niva-med-rosengard

 

“If I see teenagers, I send them home” – “Ser jag tonåringar ute skickar jag hem dem” (Expressen – www.expressen.se/nyheter/dokument/ser-jag-tonaringar-ute-skickar-jag-hem-dem/

 

“After the Husby-riots, the police has been reported (for negligence) – by the police” – “Efter Husby-upploppen: Nu anmäls polisen – av polisen” (Nyheter24 – News24)

http://nyheter24.se/nyheter/inrikes/746347-efter-upploppen-i-husby-nu-anmals-polisen-av-polisen

Funeral Service for Riots’ Victims

18./19.08.2011

Between 20.000 and 25.000 people gathered in Birmingham’s Summerfield Park last Thursday to attend a public funeral prayer for the three Muslim men who died last week while protecting their community from rioters (as reported). Syrian Muslim scholar Scheik Muhammad al-Yaqoubi led the prayers and honored the three young men by referring to them as “martyrs”. The father of one of the victims, Tariq Jahan, who had been praised for his reaction to the deaths and his appeal to stop rioting, also addressed the mourners. According to the Guardian, he thanked the crowd for their presence and said: “This is for the three shaheeds [martyrs]. Please remember them”. A private burial ceremony was held later on Thursday.

 

Meanwhile, four men have been charged with murder and three more arrests have been made on suspicion of being involved in the murder of the three men.

Riots in London – British Muslims’ Reactions to the Death of Three Young (Muslim) Men

11./ 12./ 13.08.2011

Earlier last week, the UK was shaken by a number of serious riots that ripped across London, before spreading to other cities, such as Birmingham, Bristol, Nottingham and Liverpool. On Wednesday, the riots resulted in the deaths of three young South Asian Muslim men in Birmingham, who had tried to protect their property from looters. The three men were fatally hit by a car that drove through the line of defense. On Thursday, the West Midlands Police arrested three men from Birmingham, aged 16, 17, and 26, on suspicion of murder of the three Muslim men.

 

While the deaths of the three men has heightened tensions amongst some parts of Britain’s multi-ethnic communities, the local Muslim community in Birmingham decided to react with prayer rather than more violence. This was mainly due to an appeal made by Tariq Jahan, father of one of victims in Wednesday’s hit-and-run attack. Jahan, who – as Channel 4 reports – has been heralded as one of the heroes of the riots, repeatedly called on people to not seek revenge for his son’s death and to not march in protest of the killings (albeit this march was intended to be peaceful). Not only did Jahan call on Muslims to find solace in their religion, he also called for peace and an end to the riots. As the Daily Mail reports, Jahan’s speech reminded British society of the “true meaning of decency”; similarly, the Independent describes it as “extraordinary” and very much in contrast to the overheated rhetoric chosen by politicians and the press. This description especially applied to the following abstract of the speech:

 

I don’t blame the Government, I don’t blame the police. I don’t blame anyone.

I’m a Muslim. I believe in divine fate and destiny, and it was his destiny and his fate, and now he’s gone.

And may Allah forgive him and bless him.

Tensions are already high in the area. It’s already bad enough what we are seeing on the streets without other people taking the law into their own hands.

My family wants time to grieve for my son. People should let the law deal with this.

Today we stand here to plead with all the youth to remain calm, for our communities to stand united.

This is not a race issue. The family has received messages of sympathy and support from all parts of society.

I lost my son. Blacks, Asians, whites – we all live in the same community. Why do we have to kill one another? Why are we doing this? Step forward if you want to lose your sons. Otherwise, clam down and go hom – please.” (As published by the Daily Mail)

 

In the aftermath of Wednesday’s events, the local Muslim and Sikh communities have united and, as the Birmingham Mail reports, openly demonstrated this unity by guarding each others’ places of worship.

Riots Point to Racially Divided France

Hundreds of French riot police were deployed on Wednesday night to help quell the violence in tense Paris suburb of Villiers Le Bel, after the death of two boys in a motorcycle accident triggered violent clashes last week. Despite isolated incidents of a few burning cars, the suburb returned to a general calm as security and law enforcement increased their presence. French officials pointed to a host of causes in the eruption – including poverty, unemployment, the influence of criminal gangs, and racism. Most of the rioters come from immigrant and Muslim backgrounds, and while most of them are simply described as youth, their vulnerability to poor living conditions is of significant concern. Anger and distrust over racial profiling fuel already brewing tensions in many of Paris’ suburbs.

Study: French Riots Not Caused By Islamists

BRUSSELS — The urban riots that shook France to its core last year were not sparked by Islamist fanatics and had little to do with the radicalization of the country’s Muslim youth, says a new report by the International Crisis Group. Instead, the independent Brussels-based grouping blames the violence on political frustration and social deprivation among Muslim communities and the heavy-handed tactics adopted by French police in deprived suburbs. Almost 9,000 cars were torched and 3,000 people were arrested in October and November after two African youths were electrocuted fleeing police officers. The center-right government responded by declaring a state of emergency and imposing a curfew in the worst-hit suburbs. The rioting, which lasted 20 days and nights, was the worst civic unrest in France for almost four decades and led some commentators to declare that the country was teetering on the edge of a civil war between its indigenous population and largely Muslim immigrant communities. “France faces a problem with its Muslim population, but it is not the problem it generally assumes,” says the ICG in its latest report, citing French concerns about the security threat posed by a five million-strong Muslim population mobilized by radical Islam. “In fact, the opposite is true: paradoxically, it is the exhaustion of political Islamism, not its radicalization, that explains much of the violence, and it is the depoliticization of young Muslims, rather than their alleged reversion to a radical kind of communalism, that ought to be a cause for worry.” French interior minister and likely presidential candidate Nicolas Sarkozy caused a storm shortly after the start of the disturbances by describing the rioters as “scum” and promising to clean up one of Paris’ most notorious suburbs with a high-powered vacuum cleaner. French President Jacques Chirac was also pilloried for telling the alienated youth that they were all “sons and daughters of the republic” — despite all evidence to the contrary. The ICG report accuses French politicians and trade unions of failing to deal with the problems faced by the country’s Muslim communities. But it also takes Muslims to task for shying away from politics and not organizing themselves into a cohesive political force. “Muslim immigrant populations are not participating in French politics,” says Robert Malley, Crisis Group’s Middle East and North Africa Program Director. “There is currently a dangerous political void, particularly within the unemployed or underemployed youth in suburban areas. Political frustration is assuming a violent expression, taking the form of jihadi Salafism and riots, and is feeding off precarious social conditions, in terms of employment and housing, social discrimination and the s stigmatization of Islam.” A small minority of rioters were swayed by radical Islamist propaganda, but the vast majority was not motivated by religion, says the ICG, a highly-respected conflict resolution group headed by former Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans. The unrest in the suburbs last year “took place without any religious actors and confirmed that Islamists do not control those neighborhoods,” claims the study. “There were no bearded provocateurs behind the riots, and no bearded ‘older brothers’ to end them.” Rather, the ICG says the rioting resulted from a profound feeling of abandonment among France’s immigrant communities, who often suffer from high levels of poverty and unemployment. Ignored by politicians, living precarious lives in poor tenements, often the victims of virulent Islamophobia and police aggression, some young Muslims see violence as the only means of expression left to them, says the report, which was published Thursday. The theory that alienation, rather than religious extremism, lies at the roost of the rioting, appears to be backed up by interviews with young Muslims from the Paris suburbs. “France has betrayed the young people of the suburbs,” one unemployed 24-year-old told the BBC in a program titled “Europe’s angry young Muslims,” which was aired Wednesday. “When you’re called Ali you can’t get a job. The French don’t accept Islam. Politicians promise us mosques and so on, but at the same time they smear us and call us terrorists.” The study, the first in a series on Islamism in Europe, urges the French government to use less coercive police tactics in deprived neighborhoods, to re-introduce community policing in suburbs that have become no-go areas and to abandon the idea that institutionalizing Islam as a religion will quash the emergence of radical groupings. It also advises mainstream political parties to become more active in underprivileged suburbs and Muslims to set up political parties and local associations to channel their discontent peacefully.

Islam, Ethnicity and the Banlieues

The most astonishing thing about the recent riots was the surprise of the media, in France as elsewhere, at this outbreak of violence. For indeed, violence in the suburbs is nothing new. In the 1980s, the suburbs of Paris and Lyon were similarly set aflame. And in November of 2004, the violence of the suburbs broke out in the very heart of Paris when two rival gangs clashed on the Champs Elysées. Nor is the isolation of French youth a new phenomenon. Since the 1981 “rodeo riots” in the Lyon suburb Les Minguettes, social and economic conditions in the suburbs have only deteriorated, despite the often generous funding of urban development projects. It is not sufficient, however, to attribute these outbreaks of violence solely to factors of social and economic marginality. This marginality is exacerbated by a general context of urban degradation: a degradation, furthermore, which affects a very specific sector of the population. That is, the crisis of the banlieues primarily concerns first- and second-generation immigrants from the former colonies of the Maghreb. This population has frequently been treated as a separate case, not only in terms of the history and conditions of immigration, but also in terms of the politics of integration. This constant exclusion results in the fact that the issues of poverty, ethnicity, and Islam tend to be conflated, both in current political discourse and in political practice. The recent violence is but the direct consequence of the constant amalgamation of these three separate issues.