November 9, 2005: In France, Islamic clerics issued a Fatwa (religious ruling) condemning the street violence of young Moslems over the last two weeks. Fortunately, or unfortunately, most of the thugs on the streets are not very religious. The violence is more ethnic and economic, than religious, with a major criminal element (the gangs, like the IRA, know they will thrive if the police can be driven from their neighborhoods).
There's a generation gap, as well, between the wild child element in the street, and the mainline Islamic leadership, who remember the hard life in the old country. While overall unemployment in France is ten percent, it is much higher in immigrant communities. That's because French law makes it very difficult to fire anyone, which means employers are very reluctant to hire anyone. This makes jobs precious, and rare, commodities. The migrant families don't have the connections and clout to compete with native French families when it comes to getting jobs for their young. Thus, a disproportionate number of young men from Middle Eastern and African countries are unemployed. Those without jobs are not happy. A job provides status, and the means to make a good marriage.
Actually, a lot of these Moslem men have succeeded, many going to college or getting tech school educations. Most have jobs. But these are not the guys out in the street every night burning and stealing. Many of those guys on the streets have taken to a life of crime. Many of the criminal gangs are run by Moslems. This means being a Moslem has become synonymous with belonging to organized crime. Drug gangs are very common, with young Moslems being out front selling and distributing the illegal substances.
There's another serious problem, and that is the French approach to property crimes. The cops are inclined to concentrate on crimes against people (assault, murder, rape), and look the other way when it comes to property crimes. The courts, or at least many judges, are lenient when it comes to Moslems and property crimes. It's sort of group guilt among the French upper crust. They brought the Moslems in half a century ago, to do the dirty work. But now many of those manual jobs have been automated, and the Moslems don't want to go back to the Middle East or Africa. Why should they? France provides generous social benefits to the permanently unemployed. Compared to the old country, France (even with the local drug gangs), is a much safer place to live.
Thus, the street violence is partly a lark, because the kids know the cops are not going to use lethal force, and anyone who gets caught will, at worst, do maybe a year in the slammer (for burning cars looting stores). The drug gangs encourage the violence as a way to intimidate the cops. When the violence dies down, the gang bosses can threaten the local cops with a revival, if the cops do not back off (when it comes to the drug trade).
There are some Islamic radicals running around in all this, but they are a minority. The Moslem kids like to talk about respect and payback, but very few see this as a religious war. It's become a sport, with various groups competing to cause the most destruction. Text messaging, Internet bulletin boards and email made it possible for the rioters to stay in touch and compare notes. The media coverage also encouraged the violence, giving the kids some positive (for them) feedback.
But now, nearly two weeks of street violence have thoroughly embarrassed the government so much that curfews and more arrests have taken some of the joy out of these Autumn Antics. But it's not jihad, and never has been.