The Psychology of Europe's Muslim Rioters

Rioting that began in the largely Muslim suburbs of Paris has now spread to immigrant communities in other European cities. Alex Chadwick speaks to Hans-Hermann Nikolei, Paris correspondent for the Deutsche Presse Agentur news agency, about what motivates rioters.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

And joining us now from Paris is Hans-Hermann Nikolei. He's a reporter for the Deutsche Presse Agentur Agency. He's been to several of the neighborhoods around Paris that have seen these troubles.

Hans-Hermann, can you explain why it is that young people not just in Paris but throughout the country are specifically burning cars? What is the symbolism of burning cars?

Mr. HANS-HERMANN NIKOLEI (Deutsche Presse Agentur Agency): Well, I think there is no symbolism. It's just easy targets. You know, they're not only burning cars. They're also burning buildings, but especially cars because they are on the streets. You see them everywhere, and it's very easy to burn a car and then run away.

CHADWICK: I know, but that has been true for a long time. And I haven't seen or at least I don't recall the presence of burning cars as sort of political symbols in past demonstrations. Surely, they've always been easy to burn.

Mr. NIKOLEI: No, it's not a new phenomenon. You know, every night in France, about 80 cars are burning, and nobody talks about it because it's a common phenomenon. What is new now is they start to burn schools and other official buildings, you know?

CHADWICK: And when you say 80 cars are burned every night in France, this is before this particular series of demonstrations and riots began.

Mr. NIKOLEI: Yeah, that's it.

CHADWICK: Are these young people who are burning--is this the same kinds of young people who've been burning 80 cars a night?

Mr. NIKOLEI: Half of them are below 18 years. They're very young people. Sometimes they are 10 years, 11 years old. So it's really a phenomenon of youth. It's sort of a gang phenomenon. What they are having at night is having fun also. It's thought of as sport to burn cars. So you have blogs on the Internet where they say, `Well, we burned down 15 cars tonight. How many did you?' And the gangs from the other cities will answer them. So it's not very politicalized. It's often not a religious thing, you know. The imams from all these cities, they try to cool the youth down, but they don't have a grip on them, and if you ask them, `Why are you doing that?' they say, `Well, we hate school,' or they say, `Nobody cares about us.' But they don't have really complete ideas of what to do.

CHADWICK: Hans-Hermann Nikolei, a reporter for the Deutsche Presse Agentur Agency in Paris.

Hans-Hermann, thank you.

Mr. NIKOLEI: OK. Bye-bye.

CHADWICK: And our online division has more on this. More perspectives on the roots of the continued violence in France and other places in Europe at the Web site npr.org.

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