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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
05PARIS7682 2005-11-09 18:06 2010-12-01 12:12 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Paris
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 PARIS 007682 


E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/08/2015 

REF: A. PARIS 7599 
B. PARIS 7525 

Classified By: POL/MC Josiah Rosenblatt, for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d). 

1. (C) Summary and Comment: Continuing violent unrest in 
France -- only now diminishing after thirteen intense days -- 
has very publicly brought to light the ugly reality of 
France's persistent failure to integrate its immigrant 
population. Importantly, the violence has not taken on 
religious overtones, nor have mainstream (or, as far as we 
can detect, underground extremist) Muslim groups sought to 
manipulate the situation to their own advantage. Indeed, the 
Muslim establishment has been actively trying to calm the 
unrest. The government response -- to reestablish order 
while exercising restraint and to promise to address the 
underlying issues of unemployment, education, and family 
breakdown -- seems to be working for the moment. But any 
longer-term solutions will depend on successfully tackling 
the underlying issue of social exclusion -- in particular, 
employment discrimination. This is likely to prove a 
difficult challenge for any government given France's slow 
economic growth and chronic unemployment problems. Changing 
deep-seated attitudes will also be a daunting challenge. 
Failure could push a largely unpoliticized minority 
underclass to embrace the Islamic political extremism the 
French fear most. End Summary and Comment. 

Where We Are Now 
2. (SBU) Images of rampaging youth hurling Molotov cocktails 
and defying French authorities have gripped France for the 
past thirteen days. Although France is accustomed to a 
certain level of violence (prior to the unrest, the country 
averaged 80 car burnings daily), the numbers to date are 
staggering: some 300 towns affected since the onset of 
unrest, more than 6,600 cars burned, nearly 1,800 individuals 
taken in for questioning, 11,500 police and gendarmes 
deployed, and over 100 security agents injured. In response 
to the violence, the GoF has invoked emergency measures used 
only twice since their enactment fifty years ago, during the 
war in Algeria. On the first night of the law's application, 
curfews were implemented in parts of 25 different departments 
and appear to have had some success. There were 617 cars 
reported burned, 280 arrests, and violence reported in 196 
towns overnight, as opposed to the 1,173 vehicles attacked, 
330 people taken in for questioning, and 226 communities 
reporting unrest the night before. Press reports indicate 
that the suburbs ringing Paris were notably quieter November 
8 in comparison with past nights. 

What the Violence is Not 
3. (C) The destruction of both public and private property 
has been enormous and often self-defeating, as the youths 
have targeted their own schools and gyms or their neighbors' 
vehicles. But it has fallen short of full-scale riots. The 
perpetrators have generally not sought out open 
confrontations with state security agents, with the notable 
exception of a birdshot attack November 6 that wounded 10 
police and hospitalized two. Similarly, casualties have been 
relatively limited. One youth lost a hand in a confrontation 
with police. One bystander was killed after being punched by 
a youth, and there have been a few instances of other 
injuries, primarily during attacks on vehicles. 

4. (C) Nor has the unrest taken on the tone of an intifada, 
despite the fact that a large portion of those responsible 
for the violence are of Muslim background. In fact, Muslim 
groups have played positive roles in trying to quell the 
violence. During the first weekend of unrest, a tear gas 
canister landed in a mosque, sending some 700 worshipers 
fleeing. While some of the perpetrators used the incident to 
justify their actions, the leadership of the mosque and many 
of the worshippers there have downplayed the event in French 
and international media and actively circulated among the 
youth to act as mediators. The fundamentalist Union for 
Islamic Organizations in France (UOIF) issued a fatwa 
November 6 condemning the violence as un-Islamic. 

5. (C) For the moment, the unrest is not viewed as 
specifically Muslim. The French media, and French commentary 
generally -- and perhaps deliberately -- identify those 
involved as "minority" youth, sometimes specified as Arab 
(North African) or Black (Sub-Saharan). Rarely are they 
classed as "Muslim." The issue is seen as a problem of 
disaffected ethnic minorities, not a local playing out of a 
clash of civilizations between Muslims and the West. That 
said, the GoF has alluded to the potential that radical 
elements may yet seek to use the unrest to try to further 
nefarious aims. Some commentators see the mediating role 
being played by Islamic organizations itself as a possible 
cause for concern. 

The French "Way" Questioned 
6. (C) The recent upheaval has raised many questions within 
France about its "unitary" (as opposed to multicultural) 
integration model, as well as the social inequalities and 
racism that exist in French society. Although many -- 
particularly on the left -- have been quick to blame the 
current government, it is clear that the unrest playing out 
throughout France today is the result of decades of neglect 
by governments of both the left and right. The role that 
France's generous social welfare system may have played in 
fueling the discontent has also come under scrutiny. In many 
of the areas most affected by the violence, there exist 
scores of state-subsidized, long-term unemployed (Villepin 
cited 57,000 in a nationally televised interview November 7) 
who are provided enough money to survive, but no real 
incentive to seek gainful employment. 

7. (C) Many of the youth are products of homes where the 
primary breadwinner is among the long-term unemployed. For 
other young men, there has been a breakdown in the family 
structure. But the real problem is the failure of white and 
Christian France to view their darker, Muslim compatriots as 
real citizens. The cumulative effect has been the creation 
of a generation of young males lacking parental control and 
unequipped to secure and hold a job, even if they could break 
through the formidable barriers of prejudice faced by young 
Arabs and young blacks in particular. 

Possible Political Ramifications 
8. (C) Nor did the French government do a good job of 
managing the situation. With an eye to the 2007 presidential 
elections, Prime Minister de Villepin and Interior Minister 
Sarkozy initially tried to manipulate the unrest to 
individual political advantage. President Chirac was 
conspicuous by his unusual silence. Only belatedly did 
Villepin and Sarkozy put their differences aside and present 
a common front. Villepin's decision to invoke curfew powers 
has been criticized by some in the opposition as an 
overreaction, but an initial poll indicates that 73 percent 
of those polled agree with the hard line. 

9. (C) It is impossible at this time to predict with any 
precision the long-term political repercussions of the 
violence, including with regard to the 2007 presidential 
elections. It is also too early to know what effect, if any, 
the events will have on the political activism of the 
disaffected immigrant population or what steps the government 
is prepared to take to give minority groups more of a 
political voice. At present, the immigrant community is 
vastly underrepresented in all parties and barely represented 
at all in official positions, from the mayoral through 
parliamentary and ministerial ranks in the French political 

10. (C) The dimensions and persistence of the unrest -- and 
the depth of the frustration reflected by it -- largely 
blindsided France's political class, which is generally 
regarded as being far-removed from the lives and experiences 
of ordinary people. That said, the government response -- to 
focus on re-establishing order while scrupulously avoiding 
excessive police violence, and to promise effective 
engagement to better social conditions -- appears initially 
to be working. The nightly violence is decreasing, both as 
police enforce newly authorized curfews in selected areas and 
as local government and citizens mobilize to defend their 

11. (C) While this approach may prove successful in quelling 
the current wave of unrest, sporadic incidents of car 
burnings and clashes with police are likely to persist. The 
youths perpetrating the violence and vandalism -- and the 
criminal groups that in some cases are manipulating them -- 
are present in every poor suburb, and no amount of policing 
will preventively keep them completely in check. While 
responsible leaders across the political spectrum agree that 
France must do more to integrate its more recent immigrants, 
agreeing is not the same as doing. The recent wave of unrest 
has publicly and embarrassingly exposed France's deep social 
inequalities, reminding the broader public of the persistence 
of France's large, probably growing underclass (estimated at 
4.7 million by Social Affairs Minister Borloo). 

12. (C) Once calm returns, the GoF will be expected to 
follow through on promised reforms to address the underlying 
issues that have fueled the unrest. But unless there is some 
measurable amelioration of the structural unemployment, 
societal discrimination, and widening gulf between mainstream 
French society and the people of the suburban projects, the 
nightly violence will continue to simmer just below the 
surface and will recurrently boil over. The challenge is 
enormous for the government, given France's slow economic 
growth and chronic unemployment. Any job creation program is 
likely to focus on inefficient public-sector programs that do 
nothing to empower the private sector and provide incentives 
to the unemployed. It will also be a challenge to change 
deeply ingrained negative attitudes towards non-white 
immigrants. However, not to make the effort would squander a 
crucial opportunity to significantly enhance the well-being 
and prospects of a disaffected Muslim underclass before it 
becomes politically radicalized. End Comment. 

Please visit Paris' Classified Website at: fm