In Anthropology News January 2006, Susan J Terrio criticizes main stream medias coverage of the youth protests in the suburbs in Paris. The protests can't be explained by religion, culture or by pointing to that the rioters are immigrants:
Yet, the “immigrants” are second and, in some cases, third generation French children of non-European immigrants of Antillean, North and Sub-Saharan African and Turkish ancestry who are French citizens. They are not, for the most part, observant Muslims. The riots are not a response to perceived attacks on Islam or a reflection of their cultural distance from mainstream French society.
To assert that the rioters are culturally alienated and difficult to integrate is to isolate cultural difference as a cause for social unrest and to downplay the more significant factors of economic marginalization, spatial segregation and anti-immigrant racism.
Rioters feel alienated from French police, judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys and social workers in part because minorities are still underrepresented in all these fields.
Anthropologist Cicilie Fagerlid has posted several related entries in her blog: Among others she comments that "I haven’t seen any empirical basis for blaming the riots on neither religion nor ethnicity". In the same post she mentions a seminar, arranged by the French Association of Anthropologists on the actuality of anthropology and the crisis in the banlieues. She also lists some links.
Some commentators have tried to link the riots to religious revitalisation and militant Islamism in the Arab-speaking world. Yet, others – including the anthropologist André Iteanu, who has done research in these areas for years – point out that the riots have social causes, not cultural ones: The people living in these parts of Paris have no metro, few buses, hardly any libraries – and the majority have no work. Deprived and poor people have rioted in Paris several times before. It has nothing to do with their being Muslim and everything to do with their being socially excluded. Conclusion: Leave culture out of this matter.
(part of an interesting debate on the culture concept!)
Check also Erkan Saka's coverage on this and the extensive round-up by Perlentaucher: Voices on the French riots