As one major European city after another gives way to the invader, one measure of how far along the conquest has advanced is the frequency of car-burnings.
These acts of arson are especially common on one annual holiday – New Year’s Eve – and during one season, namely summer. Earlier this year Robert Spencer quoted an article that traced the “custom” of European car burnings back to “Strasbourg, Germany and eastern France during the 1990’s.” They’re since spread elsewhere, notably to Muslim neighborhoods in the Swedish cities of Stockholm, Gothenburg, and Malmö. They’re also especially big in Paris and other French cities, where on New Years Eve 2012-13, at least 1,193 cars were torched.
On January 3, 2013, Time ran a piece by Bruce Crumley that, bizarrely, made light of all the car-burning. “Burn out the old year; torch in the new,” Crumley began, joking that France had kicked off 2013 “in its uniquely pyromaniac fashion.” He quipped about “France’s distinctive car-burning penchant,” about its “auto roasts,” about “flame-happy France,” about France’s “flaming-auto fetish.” Although Crumley brushed up against the truth – referring euphemistically to the fact that all these acts were taking place in “disadvantaged areas” and the so-called “projects” – he was careful to avoid using the word “Islam” or “Muslim.” No, the whole point of his piece was to spin the annual car fires as a quirky French tradition.
But then it’s par for the course for journalists, politicians, and police spokespeople alike to treat these car fires as a joke, a quirk, a temporary problem, a minor inconvenience – and, most important, to pretend not to know who’s setting them and why. “This crime is very hard to investigate,” said Malmö cop Lars Forstell last January. “We don’t see any patterns and we don’t have any suspects.” Last August, responding to the fact that car-burning was now becoming a familiar activity in Copenhagen, police spokesman Rasmus Bernt Skovsgaard said, “It is still too early to say anything on the extent to which this could have a connection to the fires that have happened in Sweden.” A month later, in a report on the Copenhagen car-burnings, the New York Times quoted a Danish detective inspector, Jens Moller Jensen, as saying: “It is a mystery why this is happening, and there has been a big increase over the last few months and that is worrying.” Jensen added: “I am working on several hypotheses….One theory is that cars in Denmark are being burned by individuals from an angry underclass in a country where far-right groups have organized bitter protests against immigration, calling it a threat to the nation’s identity.” In other words, the firebugs are immigrants whose feelings have been hurt by far-right bigotry. So the fires are, ultimately, the fault of Islamophobes.
Routinely, the mainstream media attribute the car fires to unnamed perpetrators whom they vaguely identify as “youths” and “hooligans.” Last September, the Atlantic’s urban-policy website, CityLab, actually ran a piece headlined “The Mystery of Scandinavia’s Car-Burning Spree.” Noting that dozens of cars had been set ablaze over the summer in Stockholm, Gothenberg, and Malmö, and that Copenhagen was now not far behind, author Feargus O’Sullivan spent 500 words puzzling over the phenomenon. What could possibly be the cause of all this arson? After all, “no particular group [was] claiming responsibility.” Could car owners themselves be doing this to collect insurance money? Could these crimes be “an expression of rage from young men who see no other outlet for it, or find that the attention it gets them a kick”? Like Crumley, O’Sullivan then brushed against the truth, noting that the car burnings “have mainly been concentrated in relatively deprived areas such as Malmö’s Rosengård, neighborhoods where social and ethnic segregation and a perceived lack of opportunities have left many young people, especially those from a non-Swedish background, frustrated that their futures are being overlooked.” In short, the car burnings are a cry for help by those who’ve been “deprived” and “overlooked.”
Nowhere in O’Sullivan’s article does the word “Islam” or “Muslim” appear. There’s no hint that, far from being a cry for help or “an expression of rage,” these fires are straightforward assertions of power – a way of making it clear who’s in charge of the ship now.
Until recently, car-burning had yet to become a regular practice in the European city I know best, Oslo. Yes, during the nearly two decades of my acquaintance with the Norwegian capital, the Muslim population has exploded, hijabs have multiplied, niqabs have begun to appear and then become an increasingly familiar sight, statistics for Muslim rape and gay-bashings and other violent crimes have climbed, and various aggressive assertions of Muslim mastery have occurred, the most notable, perhaps, being a January 2009 explosion of violence that turned downtown Oslo into a war zone. Recent months have seen a wave of anti-police stone-throwing, and some observers have begun identifying certain areas as “no-go zones.” But car burnings weren’t a significant part of the picture.
Well, that has changed. Last August, two cars were burnt in the Norwegian capital. This month, there have been car fires in several largely Muslim neighborhoods of Oslo. It appears to have started with three cars on June 8. On June 21, Oslo-based Human Rights Service (HRS) noted that at least eight cars had been torched the night before. Anonymous police sources told HRS that a group of young Muslim men – who had apparently been complicit in the burnings – had shouted at them: “We’re going to make Malmö!” Malmö having of course become an established metonym for car fires. The next day, Aftenposten reported that at least seventeen car burnings had taken place during the previous month. But there was no mention in Aftenposten (Norway’s purported newspaper of record) of Muslims taunting police about turning Oslo into Malmö: Aftenposten’s official police sources, unlike HRS’s unofficial ones, served up the same nonsense as most of their counterparts elsewhere in Europe: they strove to dismiss the phenomenon (the number of car fires, we were told, was “not very sensational”; Janne Stømner, Oslo’s head of crime prevention, spoke of a “small uptick”) and they pretended that they didn’t have any idea who was responsible for the fires (the official Oslo police spokesperson raised the possibility of “insurance fraud”).
So it’s happened: car-burning has come to Oslo, finally bringing it into line with its fellow Scandivanian capitals. But no worries: on Saturday came the comforting news, via Police Superintendant Rune Skjold, that “major resources” have been allocated “to establish dialogue with the population of the affected neighborhoods.” Well, that’ll straighten everything out. In the meantime – congratulations, Oslo! You’ve finally made it to the big leagues.