Riots in France expose underlying tension
Anna Sonny, 2 August 2013
Riots in France were sparked recently after an altercation over a routine identity check in Trappes led to the arrest of a 21-year-old convert to Islam. Iance Mikael was accused of trying to strangle a police officer in the scuffle that ensued when police asked his wife to remove her face-covering veil, which is banned in France. Mikael later said on local television that he was trying to protect his wife as he was afraid the police officer might hit her.
A crowd gathered outside the police station on the night of his arrest, with some throwing rocks – 20 cars were set alight, a building was torched and six people were arrested.
The law, often referred to as the ‘burqa ban’, was introduced by the Sarkozy administration in 2010, and enjoys cross-party support. Manuel Valls, the Socialist interior minister defended the secular law and the actions of the police, arguing that the law is ‘in the interests of women’ and that the police did the right thing.
France is home to Europe’s largest Muslim population, between 5 -6 million, but according to ministry figures fewer than 2,000 women wear the full veil and in 2011, 423 women were fined for wearing it.
The riots in Trappes are the first time the ban has led to violence; however in 2005, France declared a state of emergency after the accidental deaths of two teenage immigrants ignited riots that lasted weeks. Although the violence in Trappes was brought under control by the third night, it has exposed underlying tensions that still exist within France’s social fabric, especially within its immigrant community.
It is often hard enough to distinguish when the religious becomes the political – but set against backdrop of austerity and astronomically high youth unemployment rates, most societies in Europe have become tinderboxes for social unrest.