(AINA) -- The Paris riots had not only strained the fashion capital of the world for two weeks but spread out to other French cities like Rouen, Lille, Nice, Marseilles and Toulouse. The rioters are 'North African immigrants' a thinly veiled word for Arab and Berber Muslims, an amazingly productive community when it comes to demography. Their uneasy presence in France, veering on aggressiveness, has been a subject of discussion for last two decades. Whether it is 1994 plot to blow up a high jacked Air France plane over the Eiffel Tower, oblique remarks on Arab from right winger Jean Marie Le-Pen, vandalization of Jewish synagogues by Arab immigrants or demanding for rescinding ban on headscarves France's encounter with radical Islam's radar is getting sharper. That the rioters torched nearly thirteen hundred automobiles, fired upon Police personnel betray the planned nature of the riots. In Ervy, south of Paris, a Molotov cocktail factory was unearthed by the French Police. Schools, town halls and suggestively a synagogue (France's Post-WWII anti-Semitism is a North African import) were attacked.
Reporting on Paris riots has underscored an unsavoury fact that there exists certain 'no-go areas' in Paris suburb where even police dare not enter. Prime Minister Dominique De Villepine has said inaccessible areas are unacceptable. These, one could say, are mini-Isalmistans in Paris- carbuncles of face of world's most beautiful city. While disturbance snowballed in France an intifada broke out in Arhus, Denmark where young 'oppressed' Muslims were heard chanting 'This land belongs to us' and - 'This is our area, we rule this place'.
The North African, primarily, Algerian immigration in France is a legacy of days when France ruled Algeria (1830-1964). Phillip C. Naylor in his book France and Algeria: A History of Decolonization and Transformation (University Press, Florida) informs-"Emigration began in late 19th century. During WWI, 119,000 workers arrived in France to labour in factories. By, 1948 there were 180,000 emigrant workers in metropole, number rose to 280,000 four years later." But yesterday's asset has become today's headache.
Today there are around five million Muslims in France, mostly from North Africa. After the World War II, that was a demographic disaster for Europe (forty million white European perished), there was a need to import cheaper labour from North Africa. It was also a message that racism in Europe, after having touched monstrous proportions in Hitler's time, was on its way out. But the catch is that the French presence in Algeria disappeared with its liberation. FLN (Front de Liberation Nationale), the group that spearheaded Algerian independence, had given a choice between 'briefcase and coffin' to one million Francophone Europeans who knew Algeria as their only homeland.
Today in Corsica, the Mediterranean island where Napoleon Bonaparte was born in the year it was annexed to France (1769), one hears the echo of Algeria. With Arab population reaching ten percent, and comparatively younger, one hears slogans of 'Arabs chose between Coffin and Suitcase' from Corsican Frenchmen. The North African problem in France is not merely a racial, or economic issue, it is fit case of 'clash of civilizations'. Some fifteen years ago well known futurologist Alvin Toffler in his bestselling book "Power Shift" (1990) informs "Some Muslim fundamentalists actually dream of Islamcizing Europe. Says the director of the Institute of Islamic Culture in Paris: "In a few years Paris will be capital of Islam, just as Baghdad and Cairo were in other eras" (p.452).
The French rule in Algeria so unlike a benign rule in India (this writer hails from Chandernagore, an erstwhile French colony in West Bengal) is defending the indefensible. But French occupation of Algeria in 1830 destroyed the last bastion of Barbary Corsairs (as Arab pirates were known as) in Algiers. Barbary Piracy that emanated from Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Tripoli was a scourge for European commerce on the Mediterranean Sea for three hundred years. The European islands and coastal towns were also subject to repeated attacks by Corsairs who enslaved men and women. Recently Robert C. Davis' book 'Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters: White Slavery in the Mediterranean' (Pan Macmillan) is a book on this subject.
The First Crusade convened by Pope Urban II, a Frenchman at council of Clermont in France, was largely a French (or Frankish) affair. Hence till today Crusaders of First Crusade as summarily called Franks. From First Crusade to French Revolution; Napoleon to Charles Da Gaul French worldview has moved forward and secularized itself. They have spearheaded liberal 'European' philosophy and introspected themselves. But Islamic challenge unfolds as if it were on the eve of First Crusade. Can descendants of Franks who wrested the Holy Land, resist Islam's March unto Paris?
By Priyadarsi Dutta
Priyadarsi Dutta based in New Delhi, India writes on Islam and allied subject in The Pioneer.