FRANCE: Nothing says ‘Happy New Year’ like the Muslim tradition of car torchings

Burn out the old year, torch in the new. How many cars will Muslims in France incinerate this year? We’ll probably never know the actual numbers.

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Firefighters extinguish a burning car during New Year’s eve celebrations in Lille last night. While we don’t know if the government will put a media blackout on the annual ritual of Muslims burning hundreds of cars for New Year’s, we did manage to find some pictures this year.

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TIME  France celebrated the onset of 2013 last year in its uniquely pyromaniac fashion, with officials reporting that 1,193 cars were torched overnight from Dec. 31 to Jan. 1 — 209 of them in the Paris area alone. Those figures marked a 4% increase over the 1,147 autos set ablaze on the same night in 2009 — the last year for which French officials released figures on the nation’s peculiar New Year rite.

The mere fact the government of Socialist President François Hollande resumed publication of the burnt-car toll also caused sparks to fly. Conservative opponents claimed that revealing the information only poured gas on the New Year’s fires by inspiring copycat arsonists, while leftists countered that they were simply informing the public about a reality hidden by the previous government of the right. But as the debate raged over whether to publicize the nation’s flaming-auto fetish, some French observers sought explanations for the singularly antisocial custom of car toasting.

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