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Riots in France – is the police to blame?

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On 27 June 2023, Nahel Merzouk a 17-year-old French-Algerian youth was shot by the police in Nanterre, a suburb of Paris, France leading to a widespread public debate.

The fatal shooting incident which led to Merzouk’s killing by a French police officer Florian sparked unprecedented riots in several cities of France.

According to CBS, rioters damaged over a thousand buildings including 99 town hall buildings and two police stations, ransacked banks, set as many as 3,000 cars ablaze and, most despicably, also burned down the largest public library in the city of Marseille. In a heinous incident, rioters rammed a burning car into the house of Vincent Jeanbrun, the mayor of the town l’Hay-les-Les Roses, south of Paris, injuring his wife and one of his children while they were sleeping. Later the mayor’s house was burned down.

Can the police officer be blamed?

Riots in France – is the police to blame

The shooting of Nahel is a professional issue in the complex job of policing a terror-torn country, which the liberals are deliberately refusing to discuss. Had the boy been law-abiding, he should have stopped when signalled. Why did he not stop? It means he had a guilty conscience. However, the Muslims and the liberals have used the incident to pillory the French government as anti-Muslim.

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France has a long history of terrorist attacks by Muslim immigrants. How is a police officer supposed to know that a car that refuses to stop on being signalled, and instead attempts to speed away, does not have heavily armed terrorists in it? Ordinary folks do not drive a Rs. two crore Mercedes AMG with a 486 hp engine! Traffic cops cannot abandon their duties and go for a car chase. For all you know, the fleeing car could be laden with explosives and inflict hundreds of casualties if it is somehow forced to stop at a more crowded place. The liberals must explain what should the police do in such a situation, or keep quiet. In any case, there are reasons to believe that the apology of the police officer has been tendered under pressure.

The law empowers police to shoot at fleeing cars 

Most people are not aware that for years, French police unions had been arguing and demanding that officers must get broader discretion over when to shoot at fleeing drivers. However, due to political expedience, the request was denied. Finally, in February 2017, after a string of terrorist attacks, the government, eager to be seen as tough on terrorism, passed a bill (called Usage des Armes par les Forces de l’Ordre – Article 1) with an overwhelming majority, authorizing officers to fire on drivers who flee traffic stops, even when the officers were not in immediate danger. For God’s sake, let no liberal or Muslim give ‘gyan’ on how, in filmi style, they must shoot at tires only! It is extremely difficult in practice.

In the USA, cops regularly shoot to kill even if someone merely inserts his hand in his pocket in a suspicious manner, because he could be drawing a pistol! Cops on traffic duty are not supposed to wait for the drivers or passengers to draw pistols first before reacting because they would be killed. Cops are not there to lecture radicalized youth about law-abiding behaviour. They gave a lawful order to stop and people are under an obligation to stop—as simple as that! If you do not stop, it can only mean that you are up to some mischief, and police do not have the luxury to investigate that mischief because hundreds of people could be dead by the time they find out.   

People’s support for the police officer

Whether the shooting was justified under the aforesaid law would be clear only after a judicial verdict; however, there is overwhelming support from the French people for the police officer’s action.

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As AP has reported, the ‘unusually personal attack’ on the mayor’s family and house has generated great revulsion in the minds of the French people and prompted an outpouring of support for local governments where the office of the mayor/town hall is the focal point of public life. Crowds gathered at town halls across France on July 3 to show solidarity with local governments. “We saw the real face of the rioters, that of assassins,” Mayor Jeanbrun said in an emotional speech. France and “democracy itself” were being attacked in days of rioting. He added that the “silent majority” was speaking out to say “Stop. This is enough!” The crowd responded with the chant “Enough!”

Fundraising for the police officer and his family

The police officer has been charged with voluntary homicide essentially as a safety valve to release public anger. However, by the morning of July 5, that is in just two days after the appeal of French media personality and former politician Jean Messiha, more than 85,000 people had come forward to donate as much as 1.6 million Euros (over 14.3 crore Rupees) to support him and his family. It was not a typical right-wing clarion call but used temperate words, “Support for the family of the Nanterre police officer, Florian. M, who did his job and is now paying a high price. Massively support him and our police forces!”

For such a call to evoke such tremendous response, resonating with the people, it has to be grounded in what people believe. Joseph Downing, a senior lecturer in politics and international relations who has lived in Marseille for more than a decade, told CNN that if you spoke to people on the ground, they constantly complain about the deterioration of security in French cities over the years because of the immigrants. Particularly in Nanterre, where the shooting took place, they are known to carry illicit guns bigger than the cops’.

Police response to the riots has been restrained

The response of the French police to such violent riots has been extremely restrained. Even as an unprecedented 45,000 cops were deployed on the streets and more than 700 of them were injured by rioters, they responded only by arresting 3,354 people, but not a single rioter was shot by the police.

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Interestingly, the average age of these arrested people is 17, highlighting the radicalization of the Muslim youth. The religious component intrinsic to the riots cannot be brushed under the carpet. Amy Mek, an investigative journalist, has posted videos of the riots on Twitter, where the mob can be heard shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’ while vandalising vehicles and setting them ablaze.

Still, the French government is so ‘kind’ that Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti said that parents who abdicated the responsibility of their teenagers, “either through disinterest or deliberately,” would be prosecuted. The Interior Minister also said that police “can’t educate children in the place of their parents.”

Increasing Islamic radicalization and terrorism in France

Pic: Jaipur Dialogues

By 2021, immigrants (some 7 million) comprised 10.3% of the total population, with 28% of them coming from Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia alone, that is, predominantly Muslims.

In November 2015, in the aftermath of the Paris attacks, the government closed three mosques for extremist activities and radicalization. In 2016, police claimed that 120 of the 2,500 Islamic prayer halls were disseminating Wahabi ideology to which most of the Muslim terrorists subscribe, and 20 mosques were closed for hate speech. They also disclosed that 15,000 of the 20,000 individuals on the list of security threats belonged to Islamist movements. Intelligence agencies monitored around 11,000 individuals with suspected ties to radical Islamism. In 2018, EU anti-terror coordinator Gilles de Kerchove estimated that 17,000 radicalized Muslims and jihadists were living in France. During 2015-18, 249 people were killed and 928 wounded in a total of 22 terrorist attacks.

In February 2019, authorities in Grenoble closed the Al-Kawthar Mosque for six months for propagating radical Islamist ideology that sought to legitimize armed jihad, violence, and hatred towards followers of other religions. In November 2019, cafés, schools, and mosques in about 15 neighbourhoods had to be closed for disseminating radical Islam. In 2020 two Islamic terrorist attacks were foiled by authorities. In October 2020, President Emmanuel Macron announced a crackdown on Islamist separatism in Muslim communities in France through a bill. After the murder of Samuel Paty, a bill was put forward to fight Islamist extremism and separatism. It was approved by the National Assembly in February 2021.

Muslims refuse to integrate

Pic: The Washington Institute

Justice Louis Brandeis (famous judge of the Supreme Court of the USA) had declared that Americanization meant the immigrant “adopts the clothes, the manners, and the customs generally prevailing here…substitutes for his mother tongue the English language”, ensures that “his interests and affections have become deeply rooted here,” and comes “into complete harmony with our ideals and aspirations”. The renunciation of foreign allegiances and the rejection of dual loyalties and nationalities are key components of this process.”

Samuel Huntington, an American scholar and political scientist, says that if millions of European immigrants and their children could achieve wealth, power, and status in American society, it was because they assimilated themselves into the prevailing culture. However, Muslims have consistently refused to integrate into the mainstream.

Despite receiving worldwide praise for her pro-refugee policy, in December 2015, the then-German Chancellor Angela Merkel called multiculturalism a ‘sham’ and said that ‘we want and we will reduce the number of refugees noticeably’. “Multiculturalism leads to parallel societies and multiculturalism thus remains a living lie”, she said.

The issue is simple. Immigrants cannot be granted all rights on a par with the native citizens, and yet allowed to follow their own culture, language, customs, and practices—that is, maintain their own ‘islands’ amidst the majority.

Eternal outsiders in a society that sheltered them

Pic: WESTEND61

In April 2018 an Algerian Muslim woman refused to shake hands with an official for religious reasons at a citizenship ceremony. As an applicant must demonstrate being integrated into society as well as respect for French values, officials considered her not ‘integrated’ and denied her citizenship application.

Muslims have been found to have an inveterate habit of remaining ‘eternal outsiders’ who, in their ‘self-othering’, place their communal identity above any other consideration. According to a poll by Institut Français d’Opinion Publique in 2020, 46% of Muslims maintained that their religious beliefs were more important than the values and laws of the French Republic. Among Muslims under 25 years of age, a large majority (74%) considered their religion more important than French laws and values.

Incidentally, in a fundraising drive parallel to that for the police officer, some 21,000 Muslims have donated to the family of the slain boy. Beyond doubt, they have made it into an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ issue.

Do Muslims have the right to indulge in violence

If the Muslims had humanitarian grounds to seek refuge in France or, for that matter, in any other European country, they must be grateful to the concerned government for giving them shelter and must live with humility. In any case, if they feel there is irremovable racial bias in the French police, why don’t they go back to the country they came from? Who stops them? Their allegation of racial and religious bias of the police is punctured by the simple fact that a similar accusation is not made by the remaining non-Muslim immigrants in the country!

Also Read: Police encounter – a necessary evil?

Rioting and destruction of public and private property must not be tolerated by any government. They should be eternally grateful that the French police and government did not crack down upon them with brute force that their ‘sins’ actually deserved! Had the French police really been Islamophobic, scores of Muslims would have been lying dead! It is high time they realized that they do not have a ‘divine right’ to indulge in rioting over anything that they perceive as injustice or an affront to them or to their religion. If they expect the police to obey the law in its spirit, they too must obey the law in letter first!

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Dr N C Asthana IPS (Retd)
Dr N C Asthana IPS (Retd)
Dr. N. C. Asthana, IPS (Retd) is a former DGP of Kerala and ADG BSF/CRPF. Of the 51 books that he has authored, 20 are on terrorism, counter-terrorism, defense, strategic studies, military science, and internal security, etc. They have been reviewed at very high levels in the world and are regularly cited for authority in the research works at some of the most prestigious professional institutions of the world such as the US Army Command & General Staff College and Frunze Military Academy, Russia. The views expressed are his own.

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