WHEN THE MEDIA began covering the spreading violence in France, it appeared to go out of its way to avoid the notion that Islam had anything to do with the riots or their organizers. After all, even the French viewed the first couple of nights of unrest with a jaundiced eye. A nation that experiences nationwide protests every decade over some real or perceived injustice doesn't react quickly to a few burning cars in the Parisian suburbs. France averaged 80 cars a day lost to arson this year even before the riots began, and they assumed the riots meant little.
After a few straight days of increasing violence, however, the only people still believing that comforting line appeared to be members of the French government and the media, who insisted on doing everything they could to miss the story. Twelve days into the riots, even after they had spread across France and inspired violence in Germany and Belgium, the media for the most part still could not bring itself to mention the "M" or "I" words: Muslim and Islamist. The lack of even any suggestion that radical Islamists might have initiated the violence, or at least be taking advantage of it, boggles the imagination.
The New York Times still hasn't mentioned the Muslim aspect in its coverage of the riots. The paper mentions "youths" at least a half-dozen times in every report it writes on the violence, as if a post-Berlin Wall birthday automatically explains a proclivity to set fire to one's neighborhood. The Los Angeles Times has barely covered the story at all. The Washington Post's reporter Molly Moore bravely mentioned a possible Islamist connection to the violence, but the paper's editorial board went out of its way to disavow this nexus.
INTERESTINGLY ENOUGH the Post warned its readers just three weeks ago that Islamist groups had targeted France for the next stage of their war.
In September, the Algerian Islamist terror group GSPC issued a communiqué describing France as "enemy number one" and called for Muslims to conduct attacks on France. Agence France Presse reported this threat without great fanfare, but the French authorities took it seriously enough to round up over a dozen suspected terrorist cell members throughout the country. The Post took a different look at the Algerian threat, noting that the training for terrorists had focused on younger French citizens, with a greater ability to move unrestricted through the streets of Paris and other target-rich environments. Among the training areas that intrigued the Post was the urban-warfare areas of Iraq:
French police investigating plans by a group of Islamic extremists to attack targets in Paris discovered last month that the group was recruiting French citizens to train in the Middle East and return home to carry out terrorist attacks, sources familiar with the investigation said.
One French official said the extremists were using a virtual "underground railroad" through Syria to spirit European and Middle Eastern citizens into and out of Iraq. A senior French law enforcement official, who declined to be quoted by name because he was speaking about classified information, said French citizens had undergone terrorist training at camps in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.
"There's always been an enormous jihad zone to train people to fight in their country of origin," the official said. "We saw it Afghanistan, in Bosnia, in Kosovo, and now we're seeing it in Iraq."
John Ward Anderson wrote this dispatch, and the Washington Post published it, eight days prior to the start of the two-week insurrection that has now spread to over 300 cities in France. Various media reports have described the coordination of activities and evasive tactics via cell phones, web pages, and instant messaging. French police have discovered at least one bomb-making facility in the riot zone near Paris and suspect that more exist elsewhere. Despite this rather sophisticated infrastructure of support for the riots and the warnings just prior to the outbreak of the riots they themselves published, the Washington Post's editorial page--and most of the rest of the media--seems stuck on the notion that poverty and a lack of opportunity alone must account for this sudden and growing uprising.
FRANCE--like much of the media--stood foursquare against Bush's interventionist policy in Iraq. So if Islamists have targeted France as their next front in an attempt to establish "no-go" territories in the center of Europe, it might call into question much of the anti-Bush narrative. Instead of Muslim anger being caused by America's policies of intervention, Islamofascism might really be a worldwide movement against Western interests.
Amir Taheri noted in the New York Post that the French have already heard from people who claim that they can negotiate an end to the violence. Local "emirs" representing the sink estates want the French police to withdraw from the territories and allow sheikhs from the Muslim Brotherhood, a terrorist organization with ties to al Qaeda, to arbitrate an end to the riots. "All we demand is to be left alone," says Mouloud Dahmani, an "emir" who promises a return to quiet in exchange for autonomy. It is, in effect, a land-for-peace proposal aimed at the heart of France and Christendom.
Will the French surrender to the Islamist demands for sharia in the shadow of the City of Lights? Will they abandon their own territory and allow the establishment of enclaves in which French police dare not tread? Or will they, the media, and the world finally wake to the threat of Islamist expansionism after years of denial?
Edward Morrissey is a contributing writer to The Daily Standard and a contributor to the blog Captain's Quarters.