For two days, they burned cars. They shouted about racism and attacked police, hurling stones and shattering windows of the local police department. In Trappes, France, the riots that broke out last month over laws against wearing a niqab (or veil) in public threatened lives, disrupted the country, and raised, yet again, questions about conflicts between the culture of France's secular democracy and much of its Muslim population. And though such riots take place frequently in France (in 2005, they ended only after the government was forced to impose a state of emergency), those conflicts – and the issues they represent – seem no closer to resolution.
This time, the trouble broke out after police, conducting a routine identity check, stopped a woman wearing niqab in Trappes, near Versailles, on July 18. When they asked her to remove the face-covering, her husband – a French-born convert to Islam – allegedly attempted to strangle one of the officers. He was immediately arrested, but the riots broke out soon after. By July 20, nearly 1,000 of Trappes' 30,000 inhabitants had joined the violent clashes, which spread to nearby neighborhoods.