21 MARCH 1987, Page 17


Richard West joins the

growing number of those attacked by immigrants

THOSE who anguish about the growing number of guns in modern society, might spare a thought for the that older but less deadly weapon, the knife. The latest fig- ures for London show that last year mug- gings increased by 14 per cent, and re- Ported rapes by 50 per cent, in both of which crimes, the knife is the favourite instrument of intimidation. The annual and dreaded Notting Hill Carnival, near where I live, produces a regular toll of stabbings, Many of them in the course of theft. Last week's trial of the London Mafia shows that the Italian drug smuggler, murdered a few doors down from us, had been stabbed through the mouth, to signify that he talked too much.

A few weeks ago, the elderly and dis- tinguished French priest, Jean Charles- Roux, was robbed at knife point, thrown to the ground and stabbed when going home to St Etheldreda's, in Ely Place, a church both near and dear to the Spectator. Happily, Fr Charles-Roux survived the attack and has since returned to the pulpit to preach on his favourite themes such as the need to canonise Marie Antoinette and Charles I of England. For it has to be said that Fr Charles-Roux is not a progressive priest nor liberation theologian. He told me once that Cardinal Koenig, Archbishop of Vienna, was 'a delightful dinner com- panion but, of course, a Red'. Although a reactionary, Fr Charles-Roux is not a racist, to use the humbug word of the Race Relations Industry, so he was merely stat- ing a fact that his assailant was black. It is also a fact that in the police album of photographs of known or convicted mug- gers, black faces outnumber white. When I was held up at knife-point and lightly stabbed, in Paris, two weeks ago, the `There's no village Squire any more, but you could have a word with the Godfather.' footpads were North African immigrants.

It seems that parts of Paris which I have known almost 40 years are now unsafe for pedestrians, like New York or Johannes- burg, where it is always wiser to take a taxi, and place your valuables in the hotel safe. As it happened, the three nervous and inexpert men who held me up near the Bastille did not manage to get my money, credit card or anything more valuable than a tawdry watch. Some Frenchmen appeared as they were searching my pock- ets, and I made the usual mistake of getting angry and swinging a punch. It was not till they had fled that I noticed blood from a stab on my hand. For such a small wound it is rather surprisingly painful, though Jef- frey Bernard, who bears many scam from encounters with women, says that a stab is not as bad as a bite.

Getting attacked makes you angry against your attackers, personally. I do not believe that these three muggers were making a sociological cry for help; voicing a protest against the structural racism in French late capitalism; or acting out the thoughts of Franz Fanon, the turgid Alge- rian Marxist gasbag. Quite simply, I should have liked to kick all three of them in the balls. Nor does this mean that I am 'racist' against Algerians, although I can under- stand why some Frenchmen, living in immigrant quarters, might be inclined to the demagogue Jean-Marie Le Pen and his National Front. I once spent a few days in Algeria, and found it dreary, but I encoun- tered no unpleasantness. But just as Alge- rians fought to get the French out of their country, I can understand why some French want Algerians out of theirs. As the French often say, 'it is a question of numbers'. Any country can welcome, or at the least accept, a small number of tempor- ary foreigners. No country welcomes a large and permanent foreign population. This explains why Britain and France, which once took a pride in the welcome they gave to all the world, are now xenophobic.

Although the French were sometimes brutal colonialists, they showed little pre- judice against people of other races coming to France. Senegalese as various as the boxer 'Battling' Siki, and poet Leopold Senghor, were lionised in their respective circles, while French women considered it smart to take a black lover. Vietnamese communists flourished in Paris throughout the colonial stage of the war. The mon- strous Pol Pot lived it up on the Left Bank as he planned the annihilation of Cambo- dia. When I first started to visit Paris, in school and university holidays, much of its charm was cosmopolitan. An Algerian plays a part in one of the fondest memories that I have of Paris, during a long vacation, when I was meant to be reading about the Revolution. The Algerian had befriended two pretty Scandinavian girls, a Swede and a Finn, and I was somehow called in as interpreter. We ate cous-cous and drank North African wine, and by next day, the Swede was lodged with the Algerian in his attic room, while the Finn and I were installed at the Hotel de Plaisance, some- where near the Bastille.

The Algerian worked night shifts, so we all four would spend the early evening and eat together, generally with North Afri- cans, but also with French friends. This was before the Algerian troubles had turned really savage. Ibrahim liked living in Paris; he suffered none of the sexual frustration that now besets immigrants from the Mahgreb; he was saving to go home and get married. He did have a knife in his room, and asked me to tell the Swede that if she betrayed him, he would stab both her and the man, but he said it jokingly, and I am sure he would not have used a knife for criminal purpose. The Swede adored him, except that his male pride forbade him to take precautions. She took me round chemists' shops to get her fitted up with a Dutch cap. When this failed, she resolved to go back to Sweden, which was wise, for Ibrahim was betraying her with a French woman.

The East End of Paris in those days was poor and harsh and communist but I do not recall it as violent. The North Africans were single men. There was no discernible race problem. It was not till the French left North Africa that North Africans started to come to France in hundreds of thousands. For France, as for Britain, immigration and with it drugs and violence — came as an odd, unhappy side-effect of the end of empire.