Scholar warns against putting Islamic spin on French riots

From his current vantage point at Oxford University, Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan cautions against putting an Islamic spin to the unrest that has swept France’s downtrodden surburbs.

In an interview with AFP, Ramadan said the French authorities will need to embrace a more sophisticated approach if they want to respond effectively to the rioting that has run for a dozen nights straight.

“In all that is happening, there are of course groups who are in it for pure vandalism, for wild violence,” said the scholar, named by Time magazine as one of the leading thinkers of the 21st century but barred from the United States.

“But the phenomenon doesn’t stop there,” he added, citing “objective events” involving the relationship between those living in the grim suburban housing projects and French society as a whole.

“People (in the suburbs) have the impression that they count for nothing, that they can be looked down upon and insulted in any way.”

He added: “We’re in the process of losing a footing in the suburbs. Even so-called Muslim associations are more and more disconnected. The fracture is profound… We are seeing an Americanisation in terms of violence.”

“Above all, one must not Islamisize the question of the suburbs,” Ramadan stressed. “The question that France must answer is absolutely not a question of religion.”

Asked where the roots of the malaise lie, Ramadan said the entire political class in France has been “blind” to what has been happening in the suburbs, with their unemployed youth of Arab and African origin and bleak high-rises.

“There’s an obsession about a religious divide, but no one sees the socio-economic divide in France, with places in the process of becoming ghettos with the suburbs on one side, the better-off areas on the other.”

“There must be a struggle against this institutionalised racism. There are second-class citizens in France. That is the reality.”

AFP, 8 November 2005