Guy Andre Javitary, a 32-year-old construction worker, left his apartment at 2 p.m. one recent day to look for jobs. By the time he returned early that evening, he had been stopped six times on the streets and strip-searched once by police.
Why did authorities single out this law-abiding French citizen for scrutiny? There's only one reason: Javitary has dark skin. And these days in France, people with dark skin are suspected of being Islamic fundamentalists and, hence, possible terrorists.
In a massive crackdown, the conservative government has for a month been sweeping the streets, stopping as many as 3,000 motorists and pedestrians a day to interrogate them, demand their identity papers and, in some cases, search them.
With no apologies, the police are focusing on dark-skinned people. And the random checks, sharply criticized by human rights groups, reflect a deeper French antipathy toward Muslims who insist on maintaining their cultural and theological traditions rather than assimilating French values and culture.
"When the police see me, they just see a dark-skinned man, not a Frenchman," said Javitary, who was born in Martinique and who has been "controlled," as the police call it, dozens of times in recent weeks.
To protect himself these days, Javitary carries his passport, birth certificate, social security card and citizenship papers. But those documents didn't stop one police patrol from strip-searching him and then breaking apart the bead bracelets he was wearing.
"I am trying to learn to tolerate it, but I will never understand it," Javitary said. "I don't know anything about politics or Islam. I'm a Catholic."
Interior Minister Charles Pasqua has strongly defended the hard line, citing la securite of France, a nation that has suffered many terrorist attacks.
At his urging, the government last year adopted laws to legalize stop-and-search campaigns and random identity checks to verify the papers of anyone whom police suspect of being a foreign national. Now police carry a laminated card, listing all the conditions under which they may "control" someone.
The stricter measures were used sparingly until August, when five French citizens were killed in Algeria by the Armed Islamic Group, which has claimed responsibility for the deaths of 17 French and 42 other foreigners there in the last year.
If a few innocent people are harassed or arrested in France, Pasqua says, that is the price his country must pay to protect itself.
"If you want to catch fish, you have to go fishing," he has said.
Public opinion polls suggest that most of France supports Pasqua. The 67-year-old conservative's anti-Islamic crusade, and the capture of the fugitive known as Carlos the Jackal, has Pasqua being mentioned as a possible 1995 presidential candidate.
The main targets of his crackdown are what government officials call the "Islamic menace," radical Islamic fundamentalists trying to undermine French support for Algeria's military government.
French law still prohibits racial or religious discrimination. But in this case, the police are checking everyone they suspect of being a North African Muslim, and most of them have dark skin.
So far, France has expelled more than 20 Algerian-born Islamic fundamentalists to Burkina Faso, one of France's closest allies in West Africa. Others are being held for expulsion, which has long been legal in France without a hearing, if the government deems it "an imperious necessity for state security and public safety."
One of the great ironies of France is that, as a matter of public policy, it has granted citizenship to so many immigrants over the years and at the same time insisted that the newcomers abandon their traditions and assimilate into French society.
"We in France refuse to recognize 'communities,' " Culture Minister Jacques Toubon said in a recent interview. "Unlike in the United States, France integrates individuals, not minority groups."
Nevertheless, those communities have taken root, especially in the poorer, working-class suburbs of North Africans that ring Paris, Marseilles, Lyon and other large cities. An attempt was made in the mid-1980s to culturally integrate those communities, but it failed. And yet, the battle continues.
In recent days, Education Minister Francois Bayrou ordered school principals to prohibit pupils wearing Islamic scarves from attending classes. Bayrou says the wearing of such scarves is a religious statement, which is considered disruptive to orderly school life. The government has not said whether wearing a cross, as many people in this mostly Catholic country do, would also be considered disruptive to school life.
In French society, being different is not considered a redeeming quality.
Denis Lacorne, a political analyst in Paris, says the conservative government, which took power in an overwhelming election victory 18 months ago, "is trying to redefine the French identity. They say Islam is a tradition and culture not compatible with French culture."
About 3 million Muslims, 500,000 of them French citizens, live in France, and most of them are immigrants or the sons and daughters of immigrants from former French colonies in North Africa. When they melded conveniently into French society, they were tolerated and even welcomed. But no longer. And new laws enacted last year make it more difficult for the French-born children of immigrants to obtain French citizenship.
These days, many Muslims are afraid to go to mosques out of fear of police harassment. And shops in predominantly Muslim areas close early to avoid conflict with the authorities.
The crackdown has driven some moderate French Muslims into the radical camp. And Islamic religious leaders worry that the French are beginning to view every Muslim as a potential terrorist.
An official at a large Paris mosque has said he fears that it may already be too late to restore the "fragile consensus" that had begun to form between North African immigrants and French society.
That was clear enough for Ahmed Zitouni, an Algerian-born grocer arrested as a suspected Islamic terrorist a few weeks ago in northern France.
Zitouni is hardly a radical Muslim. Married to a Frenchwoman for 25 years and a resident for three decades, he has three children and a thriving shop. Not only that, but he chain-smokes, drinks beer and happily cuts pork for his customers.
Authorities eventually released Zitouni but rearrested him later--on an old drunk driving charge. He was convicted of the charge and sentenced to six months in prison. But authorities also plan to expel him as a suspected terrorist. His lawyer believes that Zitouni's drinking problem is his best defense against expulsion.
"It's totally unjust," complains Zitouni's wife, Martine. "Everyone around here knows very well that he is not political. But the police just don't want to admit they made a mistake. Now they're trying to shut him up."
For its part, the government contends that the Islamic threat warrants extraordinary measures.
Pasqua has vowed to expel militants "by the planeload, if necessary," to prevent terrorist attacks on French soil.
"Do I have to wait until bombs blow up in our country and kill French people?" Pasqua asked recently. "Or should I intervene ahead of time in order to dismantle the networks?"
The answer seems obvious enough to most here. In recent polls, 57% agree that repeated identity checks are "efficient and dissuasive."
Pasqua quickly sent the police to search for Islamic militants who he said were using French soil to plot further attacks. France also closed its three consulates in Algeria, making it nearly impossible for Algerians to emigrate to France. A centralized visa service was set up in western France, and the government declared that only "recommended" Algerians would be allowed to enter.
More than two dozen men, including Zitouni, were detained for two weeks 60 miles northeast of Paris. Most were sympathizers, if not members, of the Islamic Salvation Front, or FIS, which opposes the Algerian military government but is considered less radical than the Armed Islamic Group.
None of those detained were directly linked to any terrorist activity in Algeria, however, and the government decided against returning them to Algeria, where they would have faced certain prison terms.
All but four were eventually expelled to Burkina Faso, where the French government reportedly is paying for their hotel rooms.
Then, a few weeks ago, eight North Africans were arrested in four French cities and charged with ties to the terrorist organization responsible for killing two Spanish tourists in Morocco on Aug. 24.
The government has braced for terrorist reprisals on French soil, but so far nothing has happened.
Yet many in France well remember that the war of independence in Algeria, a former French colony, was fought for eight years in the streets of French cities as well as in North Africa before it ended in 1962.
The politics in Algeria are even more complex these days. About 6,000 people have been killed in violence there since January, 1992, when the military government scrapped elections as the Islamic Salvation Front was emerging as the winner.
The FIS and several other banned Islamic groups recently entered into talks with the military government after two leading radical figures were released from jail. (They remain under house arrest.) But the Armed Islamic Group has refused to take part.
The attacks on French people in Algeria reopened a cultural rift in France between immigrants who cling to Islamic traditions and the French, who fear that their culture is being undermined by everyone from Muslim holy men to Hollywood pitchmen.
With an unemployment rate of 12.6% in France, many see foreigners as a threat to their livelihood as well as their safety. And Islam, especially its fundamentalists, with their philosophy of obedience to theology over loyalty to secular laws, is a ready-made target for French politicians seeking favor with the unhappy populace.
Caught in the middle are dark-skinned French men and women, from North Africa, West Africa and the Caribbean. The police have only arrested a few dozen militants but have detained hundreds more immigrants for other irregularities.
The police checks, on the street and in the subways, have become a fact of life for people such as Javitary, a former sailor in the French marines and a son, grandson and great-grandson of French citizens. He has lived in France for 14 years.
The French desire to protect their culture strikes Javitary as odd. In Martinique, now officially a French "department," Javitary said, "we have already lost all our culture, everything is lost, because we live today like the French. Going to Martinique is like going to France. The same shops. The same products. The same fruits and vegetables.
"We used to have much in common with Africans," he added. "But the French have taken away our own culture. Yes, Martinique now is a little France."
Rather than preventing trouble in France, he said, the police clampdown is creating a deep animosity among dark-skinned French.
"I think there is going to be an explosion," he said, "and it's going to be like dynamite."