It took just two nights of rioting in a single town to set the whole of France on edge. On July 19th and 20th angry rioters torched cars and bus shelters and attacked a police station in Trappes, near Versailles. This time the rioting was brought under control by the third night. But the French are keenly aware that a toxic mix of Islamism, joblessness and grievance can ignite copycat violence in the heavily immigrant banlieues. In 2005 weeks of rioting and car burning spread across the country's banlieues, or outer-city housing estates, after the accidental deaths of two youths. The protests ended only after the government imposed a state of emergency.
The trouble in Trappes began after the police conducted a routine identity check on a woman on July 18th, asking her to remove her face-covering veil as French law requires. According to the Versailles public prosecutor, after a scuffle things turned nasty and the woman's husband tried to strangle a policeman. The man concerned, a 21-year-old convert to Islam, later contested this on local television, insisting that he was only trying to defend his wife. He was promptly arrested, before being released pending a court appearance in September. The rioting started the evening after he was taken into custody, continuing for two hot nights during Ramadan.