FRANCE: HOME-GROWN, EXTERNALLY-INSPIRED INTIFADA
INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM MONITOR---PAPER NO. 315
Certain areas in the suburbs of Paris, with a large immigrant Muslim community from North Africa, have been going through a wave of violence by sections of Muslim youth acting collectively against the Police since November 25,2007. The Muslim youth rioting in the streets are not acting in the name of any organisation. They are acting in the name of and on behalf of their community.
2. The current street violence, which resembles that of October,2005, has been---- as in the case of the violence of 2005-- spontaneous to start with, but orchestrated in its continuation. While the geographical spread has not yet been as wide as in October, 2005, the intensity of the violence has been as high as in 2005. There are two new factors in the current violence, which one did not notice in 2005. The 2005 violence was the work of mainly young Muslims born and brought up in the ill-developed suburbs. There was little involvement of elders, who had migrated from North Africa. This time one has been seeing a mix of home-grown Muslim youth and their elders, who had migrated to France, acting in unison. The second new factor is the readiness of the rioters to use firearms against the police. The fire-arms used so far have not been of a very lethal type and hence have not caused fatalities among the police, but a large number of policemen has reportedly been injured. Whereas the 2005 incidents were largely acts of vandalism focussing on destruction of property,this time the attacks have been on property as well as individuals.
3.The current violence started spontaneously after the death of two Muslim youth in a street of Villiers-le-Bel, a blue-collar town in Paris' northern suburbs. The Police were blamed for their death. The allegation of the local Muslim community was that the Police deliberately caused the death of the two Muslim boys, who were on a motor-bike, by ramming their patrol car against them and going away without stopping as the two Muslim boys lay dying on the road. The October 2005 violence erupted after the death due to electrocution of two Muslim boys, who were running away from a police party, which was checking the identity papers of passers-by.
4. There are increasing pockets of anger in the immigrant Muslim communities of West Europe----particularly in the UK, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Denmark and France. But, the phenomenon of Muslim anger in France differs significantly from the phenomenon in the other countries. France did not support the US invasion and occupation of Iraq. But, as a member of the NATO, it has been involved in a limited way in the NATO's operations in Afghanistan. There is so far no evidence to show that its external policies have in any significant measure contributed to the anger of sections of its Muslim community.
5. The causes for the anger in France are more domestic---- unemployment, poverty, lack of respect for Islamic traditions and practices through measures such as banning the use of a head-cover by Muslim girls in Government-funded schools, alleged excesses of the police against the Muslim migrants etc. The anger in France tends to be collectively expressed through co-ordinated street violence by individual Muslims not known to be belonging to any known jihadi terrorist organisation. What one has been seeing in France is jihadi Intifada and not jihadi terrorism. At least, not yet.
6. In the other countries, the anger has been more due to external causes such as the support of the local Governments for the US in Iraq, involvement of their troops in the operations against Al Qaeda and the Neo Taliban in Afghanistan etc. In those countries, the expression of anger has not been collective, but individual through the Jundullah phenomenon. This phenomenon refers to angry and self-motivated individual Muslim youth, who perceive themselves as Jundullah or Soldiers of Allah, taking to sporadic acts of suicide terrorism to give vent to their anger. Examples: the Madrid blasts of March,2004, the London blasts of July,2005, and the attempted blasts in London and Glasgow in June this year. Although conventional causes of anger such as poverty, unemployment, the perceived anti-Muslim attitude of the Police etc are prevalent in those countries too, these have not so far resulted in Intifada-like street violence.
7. While one does not see for now, the conscious influence of any organisation --- despite past suspicions of the involvement of the Hizbut Tehrir, which advocates AGITPROP methods and not terrorism--- the new outbreak of violence in France has come in the wake of Al Qaeda'as decision of last year to adopt a mix of strategies to achive its objective of a global Islamic Caliphate. The mix consists of terrorism and Intifada .
8.Since last year, Ayman al-Zawahiri, the No.2 to Osama bin Laden in Al Qaeda, has been appealing to the Muslims of the world to emulate the Intifada in Gaza in giving expression to their anger against their Governments.Zawahiri projects Intifada as a kind of struggle in which the role of motivated individual Muslims will become more important than that of organisations so that the weakening or collapse of an organisation does not result in a collapse of the Intifada. He wants the Intifada to acquire a momentum of its own as a result of the sacrifices of individual Muslims. He said in his message of January 22, 2007: "Every Muslim today is directly responsible for defending Islam, Islam’s homeland and the Islamic Ummah."The importance of a central command and control in keeping the Intifada going is down-played. The motivation of individual Muslims is more important than any centralised command and control. He also projects the Intifada as a mix of military and non-military struggles. He said in his message of December 20, 2006: "We must bear arms. And if we are unable to bear them, then we must support those who carry them. This support comes in many forms and guises, so we must exploit all Da’wah, student and union activities to back the Jihadi resistance....... The Muslim Ummah must exploit all methods of popular protest, like demonstrations, sit-ins, strikes, refusing to pay taxes, preventing cooperation with the security forces, refusing to provide the Crusaders with fuel, hitting traders who supply the Crusader forces, boycotting Crusader and Jewish products, and other ways of popular protest."
9.One has been seeing this mix in operation in West Europe---Intifada in France and jihadi terrorism in other countries. Al Qaeda looks upon Algeria, Morocco, Spain, Portugal and France as constituting the Western garrison of the Ummah and Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan as the Southern garrison. Both the garrisons are encouraged to act in unison, with the Muslim communities in each country using methods appropriate to local conditions. (29-11-07)
( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: email@example.com )