Today's piece by Craig S. Smith contains this fascinating sentence:
Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin met with eight of his ministers and a top Muslim official on Saturday, trying to find a way to break the chain of violent events.
Now, the "top Muslim official" may have been there in a purely advisory capacity, much as a priest or minister or rabbi might attend such a meeting in one of our cities, should there arise trouble with delinquent "youths." Here we would expect the priest's, minister's, or rabbi's participation to be a kind of spiritual counterpart to the civic authority of, say, the mayor or the chief of police.
And indeed that may have been the nature of the "top Muslim official"'s participation in the meeting with de Villepin.
Consider these three paragraphs:
But the violence continued, with two schools destroyed in the Essonne region south of Paris and more cars going up in flames. More than 1,000 vehicles and many buildings have been destroyed in the disorder that began Oct. 27, with nearly 900 vehicles reported burned Friday night alone, although the violence seemed to be lessening by Sunday morning.
Most of the unrest remained confined to immigrant neighborhoods surrounding Paris, where about 100 people were evacuated Friday night from two apartment blocks after an arson attack set dozens of cars alight in an underground garage. Rampaging youths have also attacked property in the southern cities of Toulouse and Nice, and in Lille and Rennes to the north.
Hundreds of young people, including teenagers as young as 13, have been detained in the past 24 hours. Although the police have been unable to stop the violence because of its apparent spontaneity and lack of clear leaders, officials say they have also begun to detect efforts to coordinate action and spread it nationally. In remarks on Europe 1 Radio, the prosecutor general in Paris, Yves Bot, said Web sites were urging youths in other cities to join the rioting.
What Web sites? Can they not be identified? Are they ad hoc Web sites with affiliation to no particular group, hastily thrown together to encourage overly excitable "youths" to join in the fun?
A bit further on in the piece:
Roman Catholic, Protestant and Muslim leaders led a march of about 2,000 people on Saturday morning in Aulnay-sous-Bois, one of the affected suburbs. The parents of two teenagers, whose accidental deaths while hiding from the police touched off the rioting, also issued a statement appealing for calm.Here the religious leaders, Roman Catholic and Protestant as well as Muslim, appear to be acting in the "spiritual advisory" or "moral authority" capacity I alluded to above. Well and good. Perhaps the rioters are a random mixture of elements from all three faiths. From the contents of Mr. Smith's article, we cannot know.
But then in the next paragraph we read:
Many see the violence as a test of wills between Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy and the young, mostly French Arab rioters. Many immigrants and their children blame Mr. Sarkozy for alienating young people with the way he has pressed a zero-tolerance anticrime campaign, which features frequent police checks of French Arabs in poor neighborhoods. But he has ignored calls from many French Arabs to resign, and is keeping up the pressure. During a visit to a police command center west of Paris on Saturday, according to local news reports, he told officers, "Arrests - that's the key."
Ironically, Mr. Sarkozy, himself a second-generation immigrant, has been one of the loudest champions of affirmative action and of relaxing rules that restrict government support for building mosques.
"Young, mostly French Arab rioters" may be, probably are, Muslim in their heritage; perhaps they are entirely lapsed Muslims, or their faith, whatever it may be, is irrelevant as a factor in whatever causes these particular "youths" to riot. Perhaps the inflammatory Web sites alluded to above had no religious content whatever.
One wants to be fair.
In any case, we see again the curious power of Mr. Sarkozy. Somehow his careless statement about "cleaning out" the "thugs" behind the rioting has assumed a symbolic, even totemic power. It appears that he may become the Marie Antoinette of this revolution, if that is what it turns out to be, a Marie Antoinette who advocated, not "letting them eat cake," but affirmative action and the building of mosques!
(Mosques? Why not temples and cathedrals, too?)