The Great Train Razzia

Nidra Poller, Tech Central Station, Jan. 17, 2006

French opinion makers are against the clash of civilizations the same way they are against the war in Iraq: fervently sure of their own moral superiority. But reality has a way of its own, and the Great Train Razzia that rang in the New Year on the Côte d’Azur is a smashing illustration of the clash of civilizations.

One hundred drunk and disorderly “youths” from the “sensitive neighborhoods” outside of Marseille were let loose in a train carrying revelers from Nice to Lyon via Marseille. They vandalized the train, terrorized the passengers, stole from them, sexually assaulted several young women, made convincing death threats and, when all these wicked deeds were done, pulled the emergency brake and jumped the train on the outskirts of Marseille.

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Here, as far as one can gather without having been in the train, is what happened:

Police shoved a hundred drunken rowdies into regional train N° 17430 that was carrying 600 passengers home at dawn on the 1st of January. The SNCF had been running a promotional New Year’s Eve fare of 1€20 since 2001. The idea was to save lives by discouraging people from driving after partying all night. Civilized idea, n’est-ce pas? For the rest of the voyage, imagine a 1950s French comedy on the Riviera combined with a slapstick version of a medieval jihad raid. Now think of the train chugging its way along a breathtakingly beautiful coastline, and crossing approximately 20 frontiers in the space of three hours. Yes, France without Borders is cross-hatched into a muddle of intersecting administrations governed by a bevy of chiefs, préfets, commanders, divisionary commissioners, and assorted petty officials whose indecisions outweigh their decisions.

The four SNCF security agents who boarded the train at 6:30, seeing nothing amiss, got off at St. Raphaël at 6:50. And the rambunctious young people immediately started roughing up passengers, stealing from them, threatening to kill them if they resisted or tattled. They took possession of a first class car, ripped up the curtains, bashed the seats, vomited and who knows what else. Cultural difference, if you see what I mean. For a civilized traveler, first class means greater comfort for a higher price. For the marauders it means épater la bourgeoise, or more precisely vomit on them.

At approximately 7:30 AM, the conductor decided that the train was no longer safe and stopped at les Arcs. Employees have the right to lay down their tools and walk off the job if their safety is endangered. According to some accounts the gendarmes were waiting on the platform, others claim it took them half an hour or more to arrive. One gendarme describes “prostrate passengers who didn’t dare intervene.” Little by little the gendarmes fanned out through the 10 cars of the train, “without confronting the troublemakers.” The train was immobilized for an hour-and-a-half, the gendarmes tried to encourage passengers to file complaints, but for some reason didn’t get much of a response. A few passengers fled the train. Including one young woman who had been sexually assaulted. When she resumed her voyage on a later train with a higher fare, the conductor made her pay the difference. Bonk! Clash of civilizations. A law-abiding young woman, victim of the traditional jihad treatment of conquered peoples, is expected to pay the correct fare. A horde of wild bandidos is allowed to run riot up and down the train. And when a handful, a tiny handful are caught, the judge sets most of them free.

Except for Aziz Ed Doubia of Moroccan origin and a repeat offender named Ashraf Bouzizoua; they are in prison awaiting trial. The train pulled out of Les Arcs, under a light guard of fifteen gendarmes, who got off in Toulon as three policemen got on but for some strange reason were not able to curtail the razzia. As the train reached the outskirts of Marseille, the junior jihadis pulled the emergency brake, jumped the train, turned around and bashed and stoned it, and then scattered to their just abodes, there to sleep off a most exciting New Year’s Eve escapade.

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But the prize for lucidity goes to a real youth, a 17 year-old from Draguignan named Habib. He was accosted by those hooligans on his way to Nice with some friends on the afternoon of the 31st. “They were Arabs. We tried to defend ourselves but they said they had 47 guys with them . . . They said they were going to go on the rampage (‘hala’ in Arabic), they were going to make a massacre on New Year’s Day . . . They pushed around some guys, and then they went after the girls. They would rub their own sex and then smear the girl’s face. They threatened us with teargas bombs . . .They said they had knives. The way it looked to me, they were organized . . ..The next day we waited until the afternoon train. We didn’t want to meet up with them again.”

Ah bon? So it didn’t all start at the break of dawn?

In fact, the police first met up with the Barbary pirates when they sailed into Nice on New Year’s Eve, already drunk and disorderly. The police patted them down, took mug shots, held the most dangerous ones under arrest for the night, and kept tabs on the others so they wouldn’t get into trouble. Then, making sure the kids calmed down, they escorted them to train N° 17430.

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