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Europe's Fears Increase Over Immigrant Unrest

European countries have been carefully watching the violence that exploded across France, worried that their vehicles and buildings may be the next to burn. For decades, countries across the region have been trying to integrate waves of immigrants and their offspring, none of them completely successfully. From Paris, Lisa Bryant has more on Europe's integration struggle, and the possibility that unrest in France may spread.

The images of smoldering cars and destroyed buildings in France have made the front pages of newspapers from Brussels to Berlin, ever since the violence exploded two weeks ago from the Paris-area suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois. As clashes and arson attacks, largely staged by young people of African and North African descent, spread to other parts of France, many Europeans have come to the conclusion that France's integration model has failed.

But as France goes up in flames, some fear other parts of Europe may be the next to burn. Earlier this week, Belgium and Germany reported copycat arson attacks in their countries. But immigration experts, like Han Entzinger, doubts the unrest still roiling France will spread to other parts of Europe. At least not right now.

"Of course this is a question which is preoccupying people all over Europe, but I still think the likelihood is not really very great," said Mr. Entzinger. "One should never say never, but the situation in France on immigration and integration in particular is rather different from the situation in other European countries."

Over the years, European countries have adopted radically different approaches to integrating the foreigners in their midst. Until recently, Germany and Austria embraced a guest-worker policy, based on the idea their immigrants were temporary laborers who would eventually go home. Britain's immigration policy has championed multiculturalism, and offered affirmative-action programs to give minorities a leg up.

Hugo Brady is an immigration expert at the Center for European Reform, in London. Like their integration policies, he says, the problems European countries face in assimilating foreigners are different as well.

"While there may be regional trends within the EU, there's not one common problem regarding the integration of immigrants. The Euro-Med area -- like Spain, south of France, Greece -- have their own particular problems of immigration for areas such as Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya," said Mr. Brady.

And some countries, including Spain and Italy, are relative newcomers at integrating large waves of immigrants.

Until now, France promoted a theoretically colorblind integration creed. The idea: All French citizens are equal, regardless of their color, religion or ethnic origin. But the last two weeks of riots has exposed deep social inequalities between immigrants and their children and those of ethnic French origin.

But no European integration policy has proved entirely successful. Even Britain, which analysts say has a largely positive legacy of integrating foreigners, is no stranger to unrest, says Danielle Joly. Ms. Joly is director of the Center for Research on Ethnic Relations at the University of Warwick in England.

"The kind of violence were witnessing in France we already saw 20 years ago in Britain, in the 80s," said Ms. Joly. "There were disturbances rampaging through all the main British cities in the 80s -- 81, 82, 85. And I would have said that the underpinnings were very similar to the violence in France at the moment."

Those underpinnings include high unemployment and poverty levels in immigrant communities, underachievement at school and at work, and widespread racial discrimination.

The British government responded to those riots by fully implementing a tough race relations act that had been drafted a few years before. It set up a body to monitor racial discrimination. Today, Ms. Joly says, many immigrants and their children participate in neighborhood associations and in politics. But Ms. Joly, who is of French origin, believes that Britain is no model for France.

"The issue is that the French situation and the English situation, the general societies, are so very different. Britain is a community of communities. It is the United Kingdom. The recognition of difference and of ethnicity is not a problem in Britain, because its part of a tradition," she noted.

Angry ethnic immigrant communities have rioted in Belgium as well, during the 1990s. Today, says immigration analyst Marco Martiniello, the ingredients of ethnic-immigrant discontent are still present in Belgium and in other countries in Europe with high immigrant populations. Mr. Martiniello is director of research at the National Fund for Scientific Research in Belgium.

Mr. Martiniello says the causes for the riots in France can be found in other European cities. They include longtime exclusion, lack of hope for equal housing and jobs, but he believes France's unrest would be difficult to reproduce elsewhere in Europe.

For one thing, he says, many countries don't have the same kind of grimy and isolated suburban housing projects that exist in France, and which increase the sense of alienation and exclusion. In Belgium and the Netherlands, for example, many ethnic immigrants live in large cities, blending in with nonimmigrant communities.

But some European countries are wrestling with certain common issues. Affirmative action is one of them.

Mr. Martiniello says that like France, Belgium has long shunned the notion giving ethnic immigrants special treatment on the grounds that it will be discriminatory. And like France, Belgium does not publish statistics that identify its minority citizens by race or religion. But those policies are now up for review , in part because there is no way to accurately gauge discrimination on the job and the work place.

Terrorist attacks, first in the United States and later in Madrid and London, have also raised fears across Europe of radical Islam. That's bred a growing intolerance of European Muslims who are often secular, or follow a tolerant brand of Islam. Mr. Entzinger from Erasmus University says that intolerance is growing even in relatively liberal countries like the Netherlands. Last year's killing of Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh by an ethnic Muslim immigrant didn't help.

"Until four years ago, the main immigrant communities in the Netherlands were usually referred to as the Moroccan community, the Turkish community. Now most people call them the Muslim community," Mr. Entzinger noted.

The French riots have brought up one other commonality, experts say, that Europe has been slow to accept its changing face. If European countries don't move faster to embrace their increasingly diverse populations, some warn, there may be more riots to come.