Tuesday, November 08, 2005

French Neighbors Say, "No More!"

CS Monitor reports: "Riots ebb as citizens take stand"

Subsidiarity in action: that's what this is. They weren't going to get the help they needed from the Interior Minister or Le President. Sure, After eleven days, the government finally authorized local municipalities to establish curfews. Great. Close that barndoor while you're at it, boys! People decided enough was enough. They stood guard over their childrens' schools and community's gathering places.

Standing in the midnight chill outside the cultural center he's guarding, its windows boarded against rioters, Patrice Carteron chuckles.

"Nobody is going to bother me," says the European heavyweight champion in Muay Thai, a form of kickboxing. "If they come here, that's the end of the riot. No need for the police."

Mr. Carteron's attitude toward the gangs of youths who have been setting fire to cars and buildings in this poor suburb 15 miles south of Paris is understandable.

But Michele Lemaire, a middle-aged white woman, isn't afraid either. She's spending the night - along with a dozen companions - guarding a nearby primary school that was torched two nights earlier.

Carteron and Ms. Lemaire are two links in a growing civic chain forged in the last few days by city hall, the local mosque, and neighborhood associations, which has reclaimed Grigny's streets from rioters, and restored calm. This heavily immigrant town is typical of many of the suburbs that have been torn by violence for the past 12nights. Residents of the high rise blocks come from 72 different nations, with more than a quarter of them under age 20; unemployment in some projects reaches 40 percent among young people and half the population is Muslim, according to local residents.

With few other communities able to replicate Grigny's abatement of violence, the French government declared a state of emergency from midnight Tuesday, allowing local government officials to impose curfews and giving the police permission to search homes without a warrant if they suspect weapons are present.

Grigny's community leaders don't intend to do the police's job for them; In a green-carpeted mosque tucked among serried ranks of 13-story public housing projects, Abdel Hak Eddouka made that clear earlier Monday evening.

"We are not there to replace the police, or to stop things beyond our control," said Mr. Eddouka, a local Muslim leader, who stepped up before the faithful just after evening prayers and asked for volunteers to stay on the streets that night.

"But we can tell people to think about what they are doing," added the soft- spoken Eddouka, a bookseller who works as a prison chaplain in his spare time.

"The cars they are burning could be our cars, and the schools they are burning are where our children learn to read and write."

A gas can emptied

Those were the kinds of arguments that Nourredine, a young mosque-goer of North African descent who did not want to give his last name, says he used on Sunday night when he came across a neighbor, face hidden by his sweatshirt hood, carrying a plastic jerrycan of gasoline.

"I was with a couple of other guys taking a turn around the neighborhood to see what was going on and he ran right into us," Nourredine recalls, adjusting the black and white checkered kaffiyeh he is wearing over a woolen cap.

"I recognized him, and I told him that what he was doing was not very smart, that it's pointless to burn schools. I didn't preach a sermon but we persuaded him. He poured the gas away."
The presence of calm civility withstood the literal fires of barbaric rage. Counsels of common sense soothed the irrational hatred of troubled young men determined to avenge the affronts to their Faith and race by destroying their own neighborhood. The quiet Presence of the Lord admidst people committed to peace and determined to end violence overcame the blood-lust of the enemy's latest unwitting agents. If France wins this second battle of Tours, it will be because of the common Fools of the street peacefully soldiered in the night against the ravenous hate-mongers in their midst.