The widespread rioting in France sparked a wave of reactions in the Arab and Muslim world. Many columnists attributed the rioting to discrimination against and deprivation of the Arab and Muslim minority in France, while others blamed the immigrant communities, which, they claimed, were making no attempt to integrate into French society and thus improve their lot. The Union of French Islamic Organizations issued a fatwa stating that participation in the rioting was forbidden by Islam, while the leading French Islamic website criticized the fatwa because it reinforces the perception that the riots are religiously based.
The following are excerpts from the reactions in the Arab press and websites to the rioting in France:
The Riots Had a Legitimate Cause and Are the Result of Discrimination
In an article titled "The Revolution of the Rabble" in the London Arabic daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, Al-Arabiyya TV director Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed wrote: "Perhaps they are thieves, rabble, and anarchists, but they have a [just] cause, and there is no choice but to listen to it and deal with it... This is a protest against the bad situation from which a large group of people thinks it suffers. It doesn't matter whether the [French interior] minister calls them names like 'scum' and 'rabble.' These insults and curses will not solve the crisis that will recur in the future, even if it calms down for some time...
"The Country of Law and Liberties [i.e. France] has failed in its handling of the old problem that was bequeathed to it since the end of colonialism - [to improve] the lot of the immigrants and overcome its implications... It is inconceivable that in the French state of freedom and democracy, no one from within this large minority has reached parliament - which is supposed to represent all levels of the population, its rabble and its elite. France's large parties do not include within their ranks representatives of millions of French citizens of foreign origin, Arabs and Muslims, and do not sufficiently defend their rights...
"Those who cause the riots are usually rabble, because they are the ones who know how to shout [the loudest] and they think less than anyone else about the consequences [of their actions]. True, burning down schools and attacking passers-by, sometimes to the point of death, are indeed acts [reflecting] the behavior of the scum of society. Unfortunately, these are the voices of a society which [are not heard] within the political process.
"Let us distinguish between the rabble and the demands it is raising. The rabble would not be getting any of that [considerable] solidarity [of the Arab and Muslim community] were it not for the sense of discrimination."
Leading Iranian Daily: "The Politicians of Paris Can No Longer Hide the Country's Ugly Face of Racist Discrimination"
The conservative Iranian daily Jomhouri-ye Eslami wrote in an editorial: "In addition to the historical claims to being defenders of human rights that the French have engraved on their brows, and in addition to the medal of pride they have awarded themselves for implementing democracy and freedom, the French politicians have tried to install their name at the forefront of the defenders of human rights in the world, and to [have France] renowned as the cultural center of Europe and of the world...
"The killing of two youths by the French police... ended the patience of the people who had for years suffered from the racist discrimination of this country [France]. And their quiet movement has now turned to overt and violent rebellion.
"...Every looted store reflects the repression that the residents of the Elysée have imposed upon the poor and downtrodden people of their country. This is the exposure of all the lies that the French politicians maintain in their glittering and sparkling demands [to be considered] defenders of human rights everywhere.
"Discrimination is also rising in England, Germany, America, Canada, and many other Western countries... are suffering from this disease... The French people see the discrimination, the repression, and the hypocrisy of the French politicians. These matters, in addition to the problems of poverty and hunger, were too hard to bear, and have led them to rebel against their politicians. The domestic reality in France is now revealed. The politicians of Paris can no longer hide the ugly face of the country's racist discrimination..."
The French Government Failed Has to Devise a Policy Giving Immigrants a True Sense of Belonging to the Republic
Dr. Haytham Manna', an Arab Human Rights Committee member who is living in France, wrote in an article in the Kuwaiti daily Al-Siyassa titled "Who Will Apologize to the Immigrant Youth?": "Today, when there is an explosion in suburbs of northern Paris following the death of two adolescents who fled from the police, the French Society of Human Rights can only express what is happening with the words 'three decades of failure and three years of arbitrary [decisions] that is considered to be government policy.' Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who four years ago described those who carried out similar activities as criminals... chose this time to describe the rebels as scum and rabble...
"The French government has completely failed to set an effective policy towards the immigrants - a policy that will cause them to feel that they truly, and not only formally, belong to the Republic... About a decade ago, I demanded [the establishment of] an investigative committee for monitoring racism in the French police. The committee proved our assessments that racism in the security apparatuses had increased significantly. On March 15, 2000, the Advisory Committee on Human Rights [in France] released a report that 70% of the French admit having racist sentiments.
"That same day, the Arab Human Rights Committee called some French human rights activists to warn them of the danger. Sometimes an artificial tranquility prevailed, as if France, which was 'the land of the Declaration of Human and Civil Rights,' cannot fall victim to the AIDS of racism. Shortly thereafter, a special poll showed that 60% of the French think that the proportion of those of foreign origin [in France] is [too] high..."
Tareq Ramadan: "The Unity of France and the Republic is Just a Myth..."
The European Islamic intellectual Tareq Ramadan warned about mixing up religion in the riots: "In what is happening today [in France], there are clearly groups interested solely in destruction and arbitrary violence. But that is not all there is to it. There are [other] things underlying this wave of violence. The notion that the religious motive [is responsible] has taken hold, but we are losing sight of the socio-economic motive which is destroying France by creating two isolated areas: the suburbs, on the one hand, and the affluent and middle-class areas, [on the other hand]."
In response to a question how to deal with the problem, Ramadan said: "My position is clear. Security and order must be restored, because violence is not the answer, and it is clear there will be retribution against the gangs... We need a modern Jean Jaurès, since he is the one who said that the religious issue should be put aside in order to get to the social issue. The unity of France and the Republic is just a myth socially and economically. The problem is not the issue of secularism. Nicolas Sarkozy's statements (about the 'rabble') are totally unacceptable: we cannot defend one part of France by humiliating the other."
In an article posted on the leading French Islamic website www.oumma.com, Ramadan compared the French integration system with the British: "The French model is neither better nor worse than the British." He said that while discrimination in England is ethnically based, in France it stems from economic causes. According to Ramadan, the phenomena of racism and of the ghettoes must be dealt with through education, which has to reflect the contribution of the immigrants to French society: "The school curricula include very little about the history and traditions of those people who make up French society today. If formal education does not acknowledge the contribution of the parents, it will be difficult to make them believe that their sons are appreciated." According to Ramadan, the legitimate demands of the French and British Muslim citizens are not being heard, "and their violence, though illegitimate in its means, can, unfortunately, be understood."
Al-Qaradhawi: We Wish France Security, Peace and Quiet, Especially Since its Positions are Fair and Reasonably Independent of the U.S.
In a statement to the Qatar news agency, Sheikh Yousef Al-Qaradhawi expressed his sorrow over the events in France and called on the Muslims of France to handle the situation wisely: "We are deeply saddened by the [fact] that events have escalated to the point of burning cars and public facilities, and harming the interests of France and its people... As Arabs and Muslims, we wish France and its friendly people security, peace and quiet, especially since the French positions on Arab and Muslim issues are characterized by fairness and honesty, and are reasonably free of dependence on the United States."
Al-Qaradhawi called on the Muslim communities in France to calm the situation down and handle it wisely and rationally. He also urged the French government not to focus only on the security aspects of the situation, but to speak with the religious and political leaders of the [Muslim] communities, and to reach a mutual understanding on how to solve these problems and deal with the real reasons for the cultural, social, educational and economic deterioration of the [Muslim] communities in France.
Former Kuwaiti Education Minister: "The French of Arab Origin Must Rid Themselves of the Ghetto Mentality and Become Part of French Civilization"
The former Kuwaiti education minister Ahmad Al-Rab'i wrote in Al-Sharq Al-Awsat: "We can find some justifications for the accumulated anger, and can show understanding for the consequences of the policy of racism against and marginalization of minorities [in France]. But this does not exempt the leaders of the Arab community [from conducting] an internal dialogue before [conducting] a dialogue with the other, or from discussing the [Arab] community's internal crisis before discussing the crisis in French society.
"Destruction and violence are not in the interests of the French of Arab origin and will not improve their lot. On the contrary, they nourish the racist ideology that is hostile to the minorities, provides [the French government] with fuel to continue the [racist] policy, and hampers the [minorities'] integration into French society.
"There is anarchy within the Arab community, and recent events have proven this. There are no sources of authority capable of filling the role of leadership and of bringing calm. There are no real institutions of civil society to shape and motivate public opinion among the minorities. The French of Arab origin have not managed to organize themselves culturally, or to rack up achievements in French society that would enable them to play a greater role [in society] and weaken the policy of the extremist racists.
"This minority must ask itself about this contradiction between its [significant] size and its minimal achievements in politics, the economy, culture, and academic life.
"The French of Arab origin must act like French citizens, and must prove to the rest of the French population that they are an essential part of French society. This means that they must rack up achievements, must be very active in improving their livelihoods and educational conditions, must fight those elements [among them] that harm the Arab minority through deviant behaviors that damage the image of the French of Arab origin, and must rid themselves of the ghetto mentality and become part of French civilization..."
Saudi Columnist: The Problem is Not with the French Government, but With the Arab Immigrants
Columnist Dr. 'Ali Sa'd Al-Moussa wrote in the Saudi government daily Al-Watan: "The fires in Paris also set fire to all [the problems] that had accumulated with regard to Arab immigration. The Arab cannot live in harmony with a culture different from his own, for a simple reason: Today, the Arabs are spinning alone in a circle outside the circle of world culture... However much the immigrant puts down roots in the new country, he cannot aspire to full equality with the native residents of the land. The Arab generations that immigrated [to France] one after the other do not understand this, and cannot live with this fact, even though France is the best country for immigration...
"Whoever blames only the French government for the grave situation in these Parisian suburbs is mistaken. The Arabs clash culturally with the other, forcing each [side] to flee to his own community, so that the suburbs of the cities acquire the character of their mother culture. [The French immigrants of Arab origin] carry with their bags their heritage, their culture, their customs, and their conduct...
"The appearance of the streets, the doors, the schools, and the level of services [in the Paris suburbs] takes you back to the cities of Morocco, which have not changed for centuries. Respect for the [French] government is almost non-existent in daily life. Immigration requires a mental predisposition; why would any of us, who longs to immigrate to a different world, revile it with the most ugly of terms as soon as he reaches it?"
Events Prove that Western Ideas Will Not Improve the Middle East
In an article in the Kuwaiti daily Al-Siyassa, titled "Freedom, Equality, and Fraternity are Not for All," columnist Dr. Khaled 'Awid Al-Jinfawi wrote: "This obvious failure of some of the immigrant societies in Western countries to integrate culturally and socially again sheds 'historical' light on the degree of success in implementing many Western ideas of progressivism, such as 'liberty, equality, and human fraternity,'... in the Middle East.
"If the ideals of equality, justice, democracy, human rights, and fraternity, which emerged in the West and were adopted by the French Revolution in the late 18th century, have not managed to eradicate poverty and inequality, and have even increased the marginality of the [immigrant] communities, deprived [them of] their rights, and denied them many opportunities in the economy, in education, and in development - then how can these ideas... improve the lot of many in the Middle East?..."
Fatwa from the Union of French Islamic Organizations: "The Rioting is Forbidden by the Religion"
On November 6, 2005, the Fatwa Office of the Union of French Islamic Organizations issued a fatwa forbidding the participation in riots because they are "forbidden by the religion." The fatwa stated: "People's rights cannot come at the expense of the rights of others. The need to express [protest against] misery must not be at the expense of the rights of others, who watched their cars being burned before their eyes... Aggression is forbidden by Islam according to the verse [Koran 2:190]: 'Begin not hostilities. Lo! Allah loveth not aggressors'... This is also supported by the Sunna of the Messenger of Allah, and enjoys a consensus of the various schools of jurisprudence... [It is forbidden for] Muslims who want to gain Allah's satisfaction to participate in activities that are liable to harm the common good and the good of the individual, and are liable to cause damage to people."
Sheikh Ahmad Jab Allah, member of the Fatwa Office and of the European Council for Fatwa and Research told www.islamonline.net: "The fatwa was needed in order to dispel confusion, and because it was a message directed to the French" so that they would know that Islam had nothing to do with what was happening. He continued, "The role of the Islamic institutions is to clarify their stance with regard to what is happening. Our responsibility as French Muslims is to create a framework for Muslim youth, and to prevent them from being dragged into adopting illegitimate means in order to defend their rights... We will aspire to distribute this fatwa in the institutions, in mosques, and where the fires are raging, since many imams have lost their way in the turmoil of the events. Therefore, this fatwa is meant to help them take the proper stand regarding the riots."
The leading French Islamic website www.oumma.com posted a counter-opinion in an article titled "The Unbelievable Fatwa," arguing that this fatwa strengthened the belief that [riots] are Islamically motivated, and that it was therefore reinforcing the prejudices against the Muslims, and helping French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy.
* Ayelet Savyon is Director of MEMRI's Iranian Media Project.
 Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), November 7, 2005.
 Jomhouri-ye Eslami (Iran), November 8, 2005.
 Al-Siyassa (Kuwait), November 8, 2005.
 Jean Jaurès (1859-1914) was one of the leaders of the French socialist movement in its formative stages.
 Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), November 9, 2005.
 Qatar news agency (Qatar), November 7, 2005.
 Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), November 8, 2005.
 Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), November 8, 2005.
 Al-Siyassa (Kuwait), November 8, 2005.