Jan 2 2014
Interior Minister Manuel Valls said that 1,067 vehicles were torched by French youths overnight in what has become a dubious New Year’s Eve tradition. The number is a 10.6% reduction over last year.
Gee, I wonder if the number of burned vehicles was down because many car owners now know better than to park their cars in Muslim-heavy areas? What does it say about a city when authorities are joyous at the news of “only” 1,067 torched cars?
France24 It happens every year and the unveiling of the night’s tally is as traditional as New Year’s Eve itself: Muslim residents of France’s notorious suburbs go on a car-burning spree.
Hundreds of empty, parked cars go up in flames in France each New Year’s Eve, set afire by young rangy Muslims, a much lamented tradition that remained intact this year with 1,193 vehicles burned, Interior Minister Manuel Valls said Tuesday.
His announcement was the first time in three years that such figures have been released. The conservative government of former President Nicolas Sarkozy had decided to stop publishing them in a bid to reduce the crime — and not play into the hands of car-torching youths who try to outdo each other.
France’s current Socialist government decided otherwise, deeming total transparency the best method, and the rate of burned cars apparently remained steady. On Dec. 31, 2009, the last public figure available, 1,147 vehicles were burned.
Vehicle arson – mostly confined to disadvantaged suburbs near big cities – has become an embarrassing tradition of bringing in the New Year in France. Furthermore, the public expects to be informed exactly how many cars were set alight, in what could be seen from abroad as a unique and bizarre annual ritual. Valls was quick to point out that there had been a 10% drop in the number of incidents on last year.
The infamous custom can be traced to the northeastern city of Strasbourg that straddles France’s border with Germany. Strasbourg, which hosts thousands of tourists who flock to the city for its renowned Christmas market, first began to be blighted by holiday season vehicle arson in the late 1980s. But the phenomenon exploded to alarming levels during the 1990s.
The year 1997 proved to be decisive. After that, the national media descended en mass on the bustling picturesque city following a spree of car burnings, as young Muslim vandals from rival housing estates began “competing” for the media spotlight.
Local government official Patrice Magnier said at the time he saw a clear “correlation between the media focus on the phenomenon and the rise in incidents.” Despite efforts by the police and local bodies, the tradition has not been stamped out. Rather, it has spread across France, with a new peak in New Year’s car burning between 2005 and 2009.
Car burning is not limited to New Year celebrations in France. Bastille Day, France’s national holiday on July 14, also sees a peak in incidents.
Observers who have studied urban violence in France say youths from poor communities, burn cars as a form of protest against the state, who they blame for their lack of economic opportunities. It is also a direct way for them to defy law enforcement, and provoke confrontations with police.
The spike in New Year’s Eve car arson starting in the mid-2000s is likely related to the wave of urban unrest that gripped France in October and November 2005.
Following the controversial death of two Muslim teens in the Parisian suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois, young men from disadvantaged districts across the country clashed with police for several nights, burning public buildings and dozens of vehicles each night.
Blaming media coverage and the obsession for figures, Valls’ two predecessors at the interior ministry decided not to give figures on the seasonal wave of destruction in 2010 and 2011. However, this move also prompted criticism from some corners. Opponents said that the ministers were more than willing to share the number of arrests on New Year’s Eve and were in fact only hiding those figures that could prove embarrassing for the government.
Valls, a Socialist, reinstated the practice of revealing the car burning numbers last year, and pledged to do the same in 2013 as the year drew to a close. This year’s festivities showed the troubling tradition remains widespread.
From last year:
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