POW­DER KEG PARIS

A dev­as­tat­ing of­fi­cial re­port says up to 300,000 il­le­gal mi­grants are liv­ing in one teem­ing sub­urb. AN­DREW MALONE spent a week there and found ex­plo­sive tensions — and a com­mu­nity ut­terly at odds with main­stream so­ci­ety

Scottish Daily Mail - - News - from An­drew Malone

On a steamy sum­mer’s night, the sounds and smells are of africa. Hawk­ers grill meat on fires built in­side shop­ping trol­leys. Oth­ers sell corn, which pops on the flames. Peo­ple jos­tle and sweat; thick smoke hangs in the air.

West african women — les Reines de Marc­hand, the Queens of the Mar­ket — sell fake de­signer clothes. Hustlers in sun­glasses work the crowds. ‘Bur­rha! Bur­rha!,’ they shout, hold­ing bags of coun­ter­feit Marl­boro cig­a­rettes.

Some voices are from sub-Sa­ha­ran africa — Ivory Coast, nige­ria, Sudan, Eritrea, Congo, Guinea, Sierra Leone. afghans shout and joke in Pash­tun; oth­ers speak in lan­guages I have not heard be­fore.

There are thou­sands at this open mar­ket — hag­gling, eat­ing and drink­ing.

at the World Ex­press cafe, groups of men ar­gue in ara­bic. On side streets, men smoke shisha pipes and talk — again, in ara­bic — on ev­ery cor­ner. Women shop in veils and scarves, al­ways ac­com­pa­nied by a male rel­a­tive.

as a white Euro­pean, I at­tract odd looks. When I take out my mo­bile phone for a pho­to­graph, a young man jumps in front of me, wav­ing his in­dex fin­ger in my face, shout­ing: ‘La! La! La!’ (no! no! no!)

Yet this is not an ex­otic, far-flung des­ti­na­tion. This is France. More­over, this is Paris and only six miles from the Eif­fel Tower.

The rea­son for all this ac­tiv­ity — in an area which even the most op­ti­mistic es­tate agent would strug­gle to sell as ‘cos­mopoli­tan and bo­hemian’ — is quite sim­ple: im­mi­gra­tion on a mam­moth scale.

The area in ques­tion is called Saint-Denis in the north-east of the city, where the Basil­ica holds the rest­ing places of many French kings and queens. Re­cently, it was re­ported that this sprawl­ing district now holds as many as 300,000 il­le­gal im­mi­grants, many of whom rely on crime or the ‘black econ­omy’ to make money. The of­fi­cial le­gal pop­u­la­tion in Saint-Denis is es­ti­mated at 1.5 mil­lion.

not only that, ac­cord­ing to French par­lia­men­tar­i­ans in a new re­port that’s caus­ing much an­guish across the na­tion, as many as 420,000 le­gal res­i­dents here are liv­ing ‘be­low the of­fi­cial poverty line’.

The scale of the prob­lem grows each day. an es­ti­mated 80 mi­grants ar­rive in Paris ev­ery 24 hours — 550 a week. Many head for Saint-Denis be­cause of its close­ness to trans­port links, in­clud­ing the rail­way lines head­ing to­wards the north coast, and Bri­tain.

Mi­grant camps, set up in tents along the Seine in this area of Paris, were de­stroyed by the po­lice in May, with the oc­cu­pants who didn’t get away taken for pro­cess­ing in de­ten­tion cen­tres af­ter a raid. But there are still campers ev­ery­where, as well as peo­ple sleep­ing on the streets.

There are an es­ti­mated 135 dif­fer­ent na­tion­al­i­ties in Saint-Denis, most ex­tremely poor, in­clud­ing an es­ti­mated 600,000 Mus­lims from north african or sub-Sa­ha­ran african back­grounds.

‘The chal­lenge,’ says Paris sen­a­tor Philippe Dal­lier, is ‘to pre­vent Saint-Denis be­com­ing a huge eth­nic ghetto of two mil­lion in­hab­i­tants within 20 years.’

Bon chance, mon­sieur — as they don’t say in this teem­ing quar­ter, where speak­ing ara­bic is more use­ful than French.

H

AVING spent sev­eral days in Saint-Denis, it’s clear to me that the area is al­ready lost to France — to the rule of French law, equal­ity, re­li­gious free­dom, and even ac­cess to the streets by the po­lice them­selves.

In­deed, this is a par­al­lel state — a state within a state, with its own rules and re­li­gious courts — where al­le­giance to Is­lam comes ahead of fealty to France.

Here, I saw a woman walk­ing in full face veil — il­le­gal un­der a French law in­tro­duced to pro­mote in­te­gra­tion. no one bat­ted an eye.

Peo­ple bought and sold drugs openly. What law there is takes place in­side Sharia courts, where Is­lamic lead­ers dis­pense the same forms of jus­tice prac­tised in the coun­tries from which many here fled. and where, as I dis­cov­ered, other faiths and reli­gions are be­ing driven from the area.

When he­li­copters flew over­head in train­ing for the Bastille Day cel­e­bra­tions ear­lier this month, one man pre­tended to shoot at them with a ma­chine gun. an­other pushed him away and pre­tended to fire a shoul­der-mounted mis­sile, trac­ing the mis­sile with his hand to­wards its tar­gets and shout­ing: ‘Boom!’ Every­one laughed.

Fur­ther down the street, there was a flurry of ac­tiv­ity. a woman was sur­rounded as she opened a huge bag full of phones, shoes, sun­glasses and hand­bags — clearly stolen from tourists or Parisians. The goods were quickly sold and the crowd melted away.

Po­lice have re­port­edly ad­mit­ted the area is a ‘no-go’ zone, and will only drive through the areas armed and four to a ve­hi­cle.

Mean­while, politi­cians on the Left try to deny the prob­lems: anne Hi­dalgo, So­cial­ist Mayor of Paris, an­nounced she was go­ing to sue Fox news, the Trump-sup­port­ing Right-wing U.S. Tv chan­nel, for claim­ing that there were ‘no-go areas’ open only to Mus­lims. The suit was never filed, but it is surely im­pos­si­ble to deny that the num­ber of im­pov­er­ished mi­grants in France is caus­ing a dan­ger­ous so­cial dis­lo­ca­tion.

The ap­palling at­tacks in novem­ber 2015 by home-grown Is­lamic State killers shone a piti­less spot­light on the prob­lems that can grow out of immigrant ghet­tos.

The car­nage started close to the Stade de France, the na­tional sports sta­dium, which is in Sain­tDe­nis, where some of the killers sought refuge af­ter the at­tacks.

One hun­dred and thirty peo­ple died in a sin­gle night of vi­o­lence in­volv­ing sui­cide bomb­ings and Kalash­nikov fire around bars, cafés and venues, in­clud­ing the Bat­a­clan con­cert hall.

Five days af­ter the at­tacks, the sus­pected mas­ter­mind was run to ground in an apart­ment by hun­dreds of se­cu­rity of­fi­cers. ‘The po­lice had no idea who any­one was, and were pretty much shoot­ing on sight be­cause every­one was a sus­pect,’ a lo­cal who wit­nessed the raid told me.

‘The ter­ror­ists had rented rooms with no ques­tions asked, and were left to get on with their crimes.’

at the time, Manuel valls, the prime min­is­ter, spoke of a ‘ge­o­graph­i­cal, so­cial and eth­nic apartheid’ and that ‘these last few days have un­der­lined a lot of evil that is gnaw­ing at our coun­try’.

The 2016 Bastille Day attack in nice left 87 dead — in­clud­ing the terrorist — and 458 in­jured, when a truck ploughed into rev­ellers on the Promenade des anglais.

S

INCE then, as I dis­cov­ered, in many ways the sit­u­a­tion has wors­ened, al­though thankfully there has not been an­other ma­jor terrorist attack.

There are around 350 known ji­hadists liv­ing in Saint-Denis, while 1,700 are be­lieved to have re­turned to France af­ter fight­ing for IS in Syria, with 15,000 ter­ror­ism sus­pects in France.

In Saint-Denis it­self, there is a record num­ber of mosques — 160 of­fi­cial ones, and many more un­of­fi­cial — com­pared with 117 Catholic churches and 60 Protes­tant. Yet it is the unau­tho­rised mosques — set up in base­ments and garages — that the au­thor­i­ties fear the most.

‘The rad­i­calis­ers use these hid­den places of wor­ship to in­flu­ence the young and im­pres­sion­able,’ said a vet­eran po­lice of­fi­cer who has worked in Saint-Denis for more than two decades.

He added: ‘Salafists (fol­low­ers of an ex­treme form of Is­lam) im­pose the rule of re­li­gion, so we can have very lit­tle in­flu­ence. These rad­i­calis­ers are the ones who mo­ti­vate the young to­wards ter­ror­ism.’

Much of the money-rais­ing ac­tiv­ity comes from drug-deal­ing by gangs, many of them Mus­lim. at one high-rise block of flats not far from where I was stay­ing, the scale of the oper­a­tion was ev­i­dent.

Like a depart­ment store, dif­fer­ent drugs are sold on dif­fer­ent floors. Moroc­cans and north africans sell hashish for ten euros a bag on the third floor.

On the next floor up, two West african youths — one with his hair dyed pink, the other blonde — were dis­pens­ing skunk mar­i­juana for 20 euros a bag.

Fur­ther up were older black africans sell­ing rocks of co­caine at 20 euros for a small plas­tic wrap. above, heroin was be­ing sold, and there was also, ap­par­ently, a room set aside for in­ject­ing. at this

point, I told one of the men I was a jour­nal­ist and asked whether we could have a chat.

A chunky char­ac­ter in a red El­lesse sports shirt, he was re­laxed, smiled at me and said po­litely to me in English: ‘No — go.’ I went.

Most blocks seemed to have the same oper­a­tion, with youths guard­ing the front doors, ‘spot­ters’ on the streets op­po­site for signs of po­lice or other gangs, and the drugs held and sold in­side.

Rabbi Yis­roel Beli­now, 50, is ei­ther a fool or very brave. As I walked near a mosque, I saw him look­ing out of his win­dow. His home was fire­bombed in 2009, and a kosher restau­rant next door burned down.

He’s since watched other Jews flee the area, and his dy­ing fa­ther begged him to leave be­fore it was too late. He came down to speak to me, but de­clined my in­vi­ta­tion to stroll around the streets.

‘My par­ents came here from Rus­sia and Poland,’ he told me. ‘When I was a kid, there were the usual jokes be­tween chil­dren; we made fun of each other, but there was al­ways a limit. I could go any­where I wanted when­ever I wanted.’

‘The prob­lem is peo­ple com­ing to France and want­ing to change it. And it’s worse be­cause they want to force peo­ple to change. I know I look dif­fer­ent. The ha­tred is ob­vi­ous — peo­ple spit when you walk past.

‘I re­spect this coun­try be­cause I was born here. I re­spect the laws of this coun­try. I re­spect Christ­mas even though it has noth­ing to do with be­ing a Jew.

‘Now they won’t let Christ­mas hap­pen. France has ex­isted for thou­sands of years. If I didn’t like those laws, I would move to an­other coun­try.

‘It wasn’t al­ways like this. In the be­gin­ning, [French peo­ple] wanted to help. The char­ity these peo­ple [re­cent mi­grants] were shown was tremen­dous. But you wake up and re­alise pretty soon that this works one way only. Many peo­ple have left.’

Mireille Knoll, an 85-year-old Jewish grand­mother and Holo­caust sur­vivor, vowed never to leave Paris, but she was stabbed to death in her apart­ment in March. Two men in their 20s have been charged with her mur­der, one of whom Mrs Knoll’s fam­ily say was a Mus­lim neigh­bour they had known since he was a boy.

The dead woman’s son said: ‘At first we weren’t sure [the killing] was due to anti-Semitism. We waited for po­lice to say it, and now we know the truth.’

WHIlE only a few hun­dred at­tend weekly mass at the Basil­ica here, thou­sands of Mus­lims stream into the area’s mosques for Fri­day prayers — so much so that, in a rare in­ter­ven­tion, the au­thor­i­ties banned them from pray­ing in the streets as well.

Women suf­fer the most. Not far from the drug deal­ers out­side the sta­tion, I vis­ited a women’s refuge set up by Ghada Hatem, a se­nior gy­nae­col­o­gist, who says al­most one in five of her pa­tients have been vic­tims of fe­male gen­i­tal mu­ti­la­tion (FGM) — the bar­baric rit­ual of cut­ting the sex­ual or­gans of young women. Now a spe­cial­ist in the re­pair of such in­ti­mate mu­ti­la­tion, Hatem, who hails from lebanon, says she is in daily con­tact with ‘women who tell me about the hor­rors they ex­pe­ri­ence at home’.

Sarah Oussekine, who has an Al­ge­rian back­ground and who runs a group called the Voix d’Elles Re­belles (Voice of the Fe­male Rebels) in Saint-Denis, says: ‘When you ask girls why they are start­ing to wear the head­scarf — and many more are — they tell you it is an act of faith, but ac­tu­ally when you dig deeper, they have to wear it to stay safe.’

All this, of course, has led to a toxic, in­cen­di­ary at­mos­phere in this Parisian sub­urb — with Mus­lim groups coun­ter­ing that they suf­fer ha­rass­ment, po­lice vi­o­lence and re­li­gious and racial dis­crim­i­na­tion.

Ri­ots erupted in Fe­bru­ary last year af­ter a young black man was al­legedly sex­u­ally as­saulted with a ba­ton by po­lice of­fi­cers.

Yasser louati of CCIF (Group Com­bat­ing Is­lam­o­pho­bia in France) said at­tacks and ha­rass­ment of in­no­cent Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ties had ‘risen con­sid­er­ably since the terrorist at­tacks’, even though many of the vic­tims of the 2015 Paris out­rage were Mus­lims.

Mosques have been fire­bombed, and Mus­lim cen­tres daubed with pigs’ blood. New pow­ers for the se­cu­rity ser­vices make house searches and ar­rest eas­ier, es­pe­cially when sus­pects are tar­geted be­cause of their ‘phys­i­cal [Arab] ap­pear­ance’, said Mr louati.

The in­flux of mi­grants into Sain­tDe­nis has been made worse be­cause of a crack­down at Calais which has seen the in­fa­mous Jun­gle camp — used by mi­grants as a base to try to reach Eng­land — de­mol­ished and thou­sands of in­mates dis­persed.

One group I met com­prised mi­grants try­ing to reach Bri­tain who told me they were orig­i­nally from coun­tries such as Pak­istan, Bangladesh and Ghana, which may be trou­bled but are hardly war-torn. I also met men from Afghanista­n.

‘We will stay here un­til we can get to Bri­tain,’ I was told. ‘In lon­don they will give you a home; here, they just let you sleep in a park. I will make friends there and find a girl­friend.’

So what can be done? Ex­treme cir­cum­stances have prompted ex­treme re­sponses, with one French in­tel­lec­tual, Pro­fes­sor Chris­tian Mo­liner, even sug­gest­ing a par­al­lel Mus­lim state should ef­fec­tively ex­ist in France, so that any Mus­lims who wished to do so could fol­low sharia law, in or­der to pre­vent civil dis­tur­bances.

He said that if this did not come about, there could be a civil war in France.

Mo­liner, an au­thor on Is­lam, stated: ‘We can never con­vert the 30 per cent of Mus­lims who de­mand the in­tro­duc­tion of sharia law to the mer­its of our democ­racy and sec­u­lar­ism.

‘We are now al­low­ing seg­re­ga­tion to take place that does not say its name.’

E VEN left­wingers be­lat­edly ac­knowl­edge the scale of the prob­lem. Vet­eran politi­cian Jean-louis Bor­loo, a for­mer min­is­ter, was this year tasked by Pres­i­dent Macron to re­search and write a re­port on the bur­geon­ing prob­lem of the Parisian sub­urbs. As well as rec­om­mend­ing that €5 bil­lion be spent, he stressed the need for ‘na­tional rec­on­cil­i­a­tion’, es­pe­cially in dis­tricts fac­ing up to the with­drawal of French iden­tity and com­mu­nity, which in turn fu­els xeno­pho­bia.

Hav­ing had the good for­tune to spend much of my work­ing life re­port­ing from around the world, and Africa in par­tic­u­lar, I adore melt­ing pots of dif­fer­ent cul­tures, lan­guages and races.

And I have al­most al­ways been treated with kind­ness and re­spect in Mus­lim coun­tries.

Yet, frankly, the time I spent in Paris has con­vinced me of the dif­fi­culty of achiev­ing gen­uine in­te­gra­tion be­tween these de­fi­ant, trou­bled in­ner-city Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ties and main­stream French so­ci­ety.

In­deed, the only per­son to shake my hand dur­ing my visit was the rabbi. Every­one else of­fered me their wrist, not want­ing to touch hands with an in­fi­del — some­one un­clean.

As a metaphor for what is hap­pen­ing in the French cap­i­tal, it couldn’t be more sad — or more trou­bling.

Top: French po­lice of­fi­cers es­cort evicted mi­grants from their makeshift camp by the Seine in May. Above and right: Mi­grants in Saint-Denis

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