Tuesday, Nov. 8, 11 a.m. ET

France Riots

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Molly Moore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 8, 2005; 11:00 AM

In a television address to the nation Monday night, France's prime minister, Dominique de Villepin, announced his government's new plan to curb riots that have spread to 300 French towns and cities in the last 12 days: 1,500 additional police officers on the streets, local curfews, parental intervention and more educational opportunities for students in affected suburbs.

Read more: France Beefs Up Response to Riots (Post, Nov. 8)

Washington Post staff writer Molly Moore was online from Paris Tuesday, Nov. 8, at 11 a.m. ET to report the latest news about the rioting and the French government's response.

The transcript follows.

Video: Rioting Spreads to 300 Towns in France (AP, Nov. 7)

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Molly Moore: Greetings from Paris. I look forward to your many questions.

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Cambridge, United Kingdom: So far, we have seen the rioting spread from Paris to all over France. Do you think the rioting could possibly spread to neighboring countries?

Molly Moore: European leaders are certainly watching this carefully. Many countries here have large immigrant populations in similarly impoverished conditions as France. Yesterday we saw a few cars burned in Brussels and Germany. But as of yet there hasn't been a large scale leap over the French border.

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Washington, D.C.: I was booked for my eleventh trip to France on Thursday and canceled due to riots. It's amazing to me that American Airlines continue to dump their passengers each morning into a situation that most French commentators are describing as "tres grav." It is such an irony that a culture that recently refused to accommodate headscarves in school may have to do much more to appease immigrant populations they allowed into their French Republic. Vive la France.

Molly Moore: You could drive from Charles de Gaulle to Paris and not see any problems at all. That is in fact part of the problem for the French government. Much of the poverty here in the immigrant populations and the populations of their French born children is hidden from view of the average French person. Every sign you would pass on your way into Paris, however, points to a community that has had violence and unrest.

There has been one incident of attacks in central Paris, but thus far the Paris that most tourists see has not been touched. One of the big questions here is whether it will indeed spill outside the neighborhoods where anger and frustration is so high.

As of now, it would probably be fairly safe to visit the country unless you happened upon an isolated incident, but the U.S. embassy and other countries have issued travel advisories urging caution.

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Easton, Md.: What areas of Paris (the city proper) should be avoided? What areas of Paris will have a curfew?

Molly Moore: No city has issued an order for a curfew yet. If any are called in Paris, it would likely not be inside the city but rather in the troubled suburbs.

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Washington, D.C.: It's hard to get a feel for how serious and widespread these riots are. Is it like the LA riots back in the early 90s? How much would an average citizen notice what is happening?

Molly Moore: Good question. The riots have hit about 300 cities and towns, including scores of communities surrounding Paris itself. These are not places the average tourist, or unfortunately, the average French citizen or politician visits. I notice an amazing disconnect between the residents of the Paris tourists would recognize and the residents from the poorer suburban housing project areas. There are many Parisians would seem extraordinarily blaze to the rioting; at the same time it has stirred and emotional debate among others over France's treatment of these communities over the years.

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Washington, D.C.: Any indication that Islamic terrorist elements are getting involved with the rioting?

Molly Moore: None whatsoever thus far, though some politicians have tried to stir up that idea. Many Muslim leaders have been working hard to try to curb the violence because they are concerned about the image it is giving Islam. It is true that many of the participants in the violence are Muslim, but it is also true that they are African or Arab and are poor. Right now the violence is more directed at their social circumstances than their religious ones. It is also true, however, that many Muslims are angry that they are viewed with suspicion and distrust in France and elsewhere.

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Charleston, S.C.: Ms. Moore,

Is it possible to put this current situation in a broader perspective? Perhaps, what we are seeing in France is truly no different than what we may see more of in the future. With porous borders and immigration as never before, this could be a prelude to coming difficulties in many other countries. Today, unlike the past, these immigrant communities value their own culture more than they value integrating into the predominant culture. Do you see this as a failure of multi culturalism? What can the U.S. learn from this with respect to Mexican immigrant communities?

Molly Moore: Good questions. There are implications here for every country with large immigrant populations. But there are also some big differences. France has no such thing as affirmative action. In fact, it's illegal to designate anything in terms of ethnicity or race--therefore it's almost impossible to get figures on the percentage of minorities in the police department. But go into the communities where the violence is occurring and you see very, very few, if any brown or black faces in the police department. There is also not a single immigrant representative in the nation's parliament. So there is much discussion here of the pervasive discrimination the government should be attempting to resolve.

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London, U.K.: Mr Sarkozy angered many by calling troublemakers in poor districts "dregs". Will it damage his ambitions to succeed Mr Chirac as president?

Molly Moore: I'm writing a story about this very issue for tomorrow's newspaper which you'll be able to read online. The analysts I speak with say it's a bit too early to tell, though the entire government has come in for extreme criticism for it's slow response to the crisis. Sarkozy has made his reputation on "zero-tolerance" for crime. If he can be seen as getting this under control, he may not be too damaged. If it continues much longer or moves out of the troubled neighborhoods into tourist districts or the neighborhoods of middle and upper class French, his political career would be in deep trouble.

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Arlington, Va.: I lived in Paris for years and this is breaking my heart. And yet this seems long overdue. France has kept its immigrant populations marginalized for so long. I don't think Americans - all of us immigrants - can fully understand how the French still see nationality in almost racial terms. Either you are French or your are an outsider. I think this is why there is still strong anti-Semitism in France - Jews will always be outsiders in some sense. These kids in "les cites" have few prospects and they know it. It does not excuse their acts of violence. It all seems so hopeless. I cannot imagine any near time solutions.

Molly Moore: Your comments are very perceptive. Many people here feel the government is incapable of responding to the problems because the discrimination is so deeply ingrained in French institutions. You hear numerous stories from Muslim, Arab or African young people who say that as soon as an employer or a landlord sees their name or address on an application, it is immediately discarded.

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Centreville, Va.: A disturbing trend is emerging. After the 9/11 atrocities, numerous commentators blamed the U.S. for bringing the attacks upon itself. After the Madrid and London bombings, the same sort of "blame the victim" opinions surfaced almost immediately. And now French society is being singled out as the cause for the riots breaking out all over France.

The one constant I see is Islam's inability to exist in a diverse world. Rarely in the 21st century do you see Christians, Jews or Hindus fighting each other, but put a large population of Muslims in proximity to the other groups, and there will be violence. It is unfair to blame the French for not assimilating their Muslim population, since that population has no long term interest in being part of a society with freedom of expression and religion.

Molly Moore: Have no comment on this comment, but I think it's important for other folks to see opinions like this expressed from Fairfax County.

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Arlington, Va.: My 22-yr old daughter is in Dreux, Eure & Loir, as a Teaching Assistant. Although cars have been burned in her neighborhood and near her school, she is staying in at night and being smart. Overall, she isn't too concerned; just bummed she can't go into Paris this weekend. I, on the other hand, am a wreck. Should I really be that worried, or is her common sense her best protection?

Molly Moore: You sound like my mother. The main danger is being on the streets being caught in a skirmish between the police and the protesters. Most folks who are uninvolved are staying safely inside their apartments and houses. Sounds like your daughter is handling herself just right for the situation.

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Atlanta, Ga.: Are there indications that the riots will increase the Le Pen vote in a significant way? How are the "ethnically French" French reacting to all of this?

Molly Moore: There is much discussion that the only politician "winner" as a result of these riots will be the Le Pen supporters who will see it as a rally cause for their positions.

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Washington, D.C.: Is it wrong for me to snicker inside that the French, who think they are so above the rest of the world in practically every manner, have this problem on their hands?

Molly Moore: I think it would be wrong for anybody to snicker at the French. Racism, discrimination and religious intolerance are found in all our societies. It could blow up in anybody's backyard. Washington DC certainly has it's own history.

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Clarksville, Md.: Any evidence that this is being directed by Muslim radical fundamentalists in or outside of France?

Molly Moore: None at all.

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Buffalo, N.Y.: The Muslim population seems to be growing quite rapidly in Europe. Are they primarily from Northern Africa? Also, how large of a political force has the Muslim community become in France?

Molly Moore: Good question. The Muslim community is almost non-existent as a represented political force in France. This is one of the problems of the ongoing violence. As one political activist told me, France doesn't have a single Jesse Jackson or Colin Powell it could send in to try to mediate it's current situation.

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Maryland: Don't regular French citizens want a more decisive response to the rioting? Is the French government really that afraid of the immigrant community or are they just spineless wimps?

Molly Moore: They do and many consider the government's slow response as unacceptable. As mentioned before, part of the problem is the government simply has so few lines of communication into these communities that it has been unable to negotiate an end to it.

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Molly Moore: I'm very sorry to have to end the chat with so many questions remaining, but I have a long night yet go. Thank you all for writing and I hope we can do it again.

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