Day 13: violence in France slows but does not stop

The curfew and additional law enforcement put in place by the French government may be having an effect:

PARIS (AP) – France’s storm of rioting lost strength Wednesday, with car burnings falling nearly by half, police said. But looters and vandals still defied a state of emergency with attacks on superstores, a newspaper warehouse and a subway station.

The extraordinary 12-day state of emergency, which went into effect Tuesday at midnight, covered Paris, its suburbs and more than 30 other French cities from the Mediterranean to the border with Germany and to Rouen in the north – an indication of how widespread arson, riots and other unrest have become in nearly two weeks of violence.

The emergency decree invoked a 50-year-old security law that dates to France’s colonial war in Algeria. It empowers officials to put troublemakers under house arrest, ban or limit the movement of people and vehicles, confiscate weapons and close public spaces where gangs gather. It also paved the way for curfews in areas where officials feel they are needed.

Le Monde gives a more detailed reckoning of the violence last night:

Le bilan de la treizième nuit de violences est en décrue par rapport aux nuits précédentes. 617 véhicules ont été brûlés en France dans la nuit de mardi à mercredi, environ deux fois moins que la nuit précédente, a annoncé Claude Guéant, directeur de cabinet du ministre de l’intérieur, sur Europe 1. Selon M. Guéant, “autour de 1 800 personnes” ont été interpellées depuis le début des violences dans les banlieues, le 27 octobre.

Le nombre de personnes interpellées est, en revanche, en augmentation : 204 à 4 h 30 contre 151 la veille à la même heure, pour l’ensemble de la France. Aucun policier n’a été blessé. Ces chiffres “marquent la poursuite de la baisse enregistrée la veille en Ile-de-France”, et “une forte diminution en province”, selon la direction de la police nationale.

617 vehicles burned (half the number of the previous night; 204 arrests (30% more than the previous night); 1,800 arrests since the beginning of the violence; police were not fired on; the violence has continued a marked fall in the environs of Paris and a strong decrease elsewhere.

But the violence is far from over. The Guardian notes:

But the 13th night of unrest still saw the looting and arson of two furniture superstores in the town of Arras, close to Lille, and the torching of the Nice-Matin newspaper’s office in the southeastern town of Grasse.

A firebomb attack on the subway in France’s second city Lyon closed the entire system down late last night, while in the mountainous eastern Jura region, nine buses were set on fire. Another bus exploded when it was firebombed in Bassens, close to Bordeaux.

In Toulouse, rioters and police exchanged Molotov cocktails and tear gas canisters during a visit by the interior minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, whose attitude towards the violence has been blamed for inflaming tensions.

OxBlog blogger Patrick Belton, blogging from Paris where he’s been to the scene of the rioting, has a take that is close to my own:

Policing is an interesting drama to observe here, and fits this reading of the banlieu riots as the handiwork of determined criminal gangs rather than a spontaneous, Francophone uprising of the oppressed to gladden the hearts of Trotskyists. (So does incidentally the pattern of violence – it dances about from banlieu to banlieu, staying one step ahead of increased policing in a cat-and-mouse strategic tango.)

Is the violence in France winding down? The trend would certainly look that way. The curfew; increased police presence and arrests; fewer targets of opportunity; waning novelty. I suspect that all of these factors are working together to explain the reduction in violence. Has it stopped? We’ll need to wait and see.

UPDATE: A Step At A Time quotes in toto an article by George Friedman of StratFor. Get it while it’s hot. In the article Mr. Friedman has a good commentary on the conundrums of immigration and national identity, taking the riots in France as a jumping-off point. Here’s a characteristic snippet:

Europe’s definition of a nation was less than crisply clear. In general, it assumed a geographic and cultural base. It was a group of people living in a fairly defined area, sharing a language, a history, a set of values and, in the end, a self-concept: A Frenchman knew himself to be a Frenchman and was known by other Frenchmen to be French. If this appears to be a little circular, it is — and it demonstrates the limits of logic, for this definition of nationhood worked well in practice. It also could wander off into the near-mysticism of romantic nationalism and, at times, into vicious xenophobia.

The European definition of the nation poses an obvious challenge. Europe has celebrated national self-determination among all principles, and adhered to a theory of the nation that was forged in the battle with dynastic empires. At the heart of its theory of nationalism is the concept that the nation — national identity — is something to which one is born. Ideally, every person should be a part of one nation, and his citizenship should coincide with that.

But this is, of course, not always the case. What does one do with the foreigner who comes to your country and wants to be a citizen, for example? Take it a step further: What happens when a foreigner comes to your country and wants not only to be a citizen, but to become part of your nation? It is, of course, difficult to change identity. Citizenship can be granted. National identity is another matter.

Contrast this with the United States, Canada or Australia — three examples where alternative theories of nationhood have been pursued. If being French or German is rooted in birth, being an American, Canadian or Australian is rooted in choice. The nation can choose who it wants as a citizen, and the immigrant can choose to become a citizen. Citizenship connotes nationality. More important, all of these countries, which were founded on immigration, have created powerful engines designed to assimilate the immigrants over generations. It would not be unreasonable to say that these countries created their theory of nationhood around the practice of migration and assimilation. It is not that the process is not painful on all sides, but there is no theoretical bar to the idea of anyone becoming, for example, an American — whereas there is a theoretical hurdle to the idea of elective nationalism in Europe.

One thing that I think that Friedman misses is something that has become apparent from the American experience is that not only does each new immigrant become an American but he or she becomes a part of what it means to be an American. There is an interplay between the citizenry and national identity and it’s not a one-way straight.

This is what I believe that France and the other ethnic states of Europe are finding hard to swallow. Try as you might you cannot simultaenously allow immigration and fix the meaning of national identity. Each new ingredient in the melting-pot or soup-kettle (insert your metaphor here) changes the product.

This transformation is a two-way process: the immigrant must be open to change as well.

Frequent commenter Lounsbury has directed me to David Ignatius’s excellent column in today’s Washington Post:

The sin of slavery will never be fully redeemed, but America today is a far different place than where I grew up. African Americans now play prominent and powerful roles in every area of American life — as chief executives of huge companies, on television and in the movies, in top positions in government and politics. Like a recovering addict, we’re still solving the issue of race one day at a time, but we’ve come a long way.

France has scarcely begun that journey. But the events of the past two weeks suggest that the day of reckoning Baldwin foresaw may finally have arrived. Over the past two weeks, more than 5,000 cars have been set ablaze. More than 70 police and 30 firefighters have been injured in the violence. The angry kids haven’t been intimidated by hard-line Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who said he wanted to cleanse the “scum” in the suburbs with a water gun. And they haven’t been soothed, either, by the calls for reconciliation by French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin. In fact, the catfight between these two rival politicians has made the crisis worse — devaluing both carrots and sticks.

America’s lesson for the French is that they have a long, hard road ahead. The starting point is to break the French state of denial. The average (white) French person believes fiercely in the country’s revolutionary traditions of liberty, equality and fraternity — to the point of pretending that these virtues exist for everyone when they clearly don’t. France’s prized educational meritocracy — a gulag of tests and exams that prepare the way for the best and brightest to enter elite national schools — is in fact gamed by the existing elite. They know which lyces are the fastest entry ramp for their kids, which test-prep programs will produce the best results on the feared baccalaureate exams. Right now, France has what amounts to a reverse affirmation action — a system of supposed equality that guarantees unequal results.

Jim Dunnigan of Strategy Page does not think what’s being seen in France is jihad:

Thus, the street violence is partly a lark, because the kids know the cops are not going to use lethal force, and anyone who gets caught will, at worst, do maybe a year in the slammer (for burning cars looting stores). The drug gangs encourage the violence as a way to intimidate the cops. When the violence dies down, the gang bosses can threaten the local cops with a revival, if the cops do not back off (when it comes to the drug trade).

There are some Islamic radicals running around in all this, but they are a minority. The Moslem kids like to talk about respect and payback, but very few see this as a religious war. It’s become a sport, with various groups competing to cause the most destruction. Text messaging, Internet bulletin boards and email made it possible for the rioters to stay in touch and compare notes. The media coverage also encouraged the violence, giving the kids some positive (for them) feedback.

Juan Cole of Informed Comment has a lengthy post on the riots in France most of which is a fisking of a Mark Steyn article. He concludes:

On the other hand, would it be possible for the French Muslim youth to be pushed toward religious extremism if the French government does not address the underlying problems. Sure. That was what I was alluding to in my posting last week.

The solution? Recognizing that “Frenchness” is not monochrome, that France is a tapestry of cultures and always has been, and that sometimes some threads of the tapestry need some extra attention if it is not to fray and come apart.

Yes, that is a good part of the problem. The view of “Frenchness” that has prevailed since the Revolution refuses to recognize the true diversity of France. Completely French minorities like those in Brittany, the French Basque country, and Provence have been and, to some extent, continue to be suppressed.

Gallows humor from Iowahawk.

3 comments… add one
  • Jack Ford Link

    Yes you are probably correct that the rioters are merely going back to the planning stages, perfecting methods, devising strategies for the next phase. This is clearly only the beginning.

    This bit of “acting out” by muslim youths will no doubt activate an “antibody response” within the immune system of Europe. Europe has expelled muslim troublemakers in the past, on more than one occasion. She will do so again if need be.

  • Heinrich Link

    Perhaps true. France must now need time to reflect on how this was caused. Man cannot ignore the social component here. This culture conflict may be a growing one as the demographics of Europe will change. There is much need for preparation to not be caught unaware again.

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