France Day 14: quieting

After two weeks of nightly riots the violence in France seems to be ratcheting down:

PARIS (AP) – Violence in France fell sharply overnight, the police chief said Thursday, one day after the government toughened its stance by imposing emergency measures and ordering deportations of foreigners involved in riots that have raged for two weeks.

In the past two nights, there was a notable decline in the number of car burnings – a barometer of the intensity of the country’s worst civil unrest in nearly four decades.

National Police Chief Michel Gaudin said there was a “very sharp drop” in violence overnight. While youths have been battling riot police with rocks and firebombs, “there were practically no clashes with police,” he said.

The government ordered a 12-day state of emergency that went into effect on Wednesday in an effort to quell the rioting. And Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy said local authorities had been told to deport foreigners convicted so far for their roles.

Here’s the reckoning for Wednesday night:

Pour cette quatorzième nuit consécutive de violences, 482 véhicules incendiés et 203 interpellations ont été enregistrés, selon un de la direction générale de la police nationale (DGPN). La veille, ces chiffres s’établissaient respectivement à 617 et 280. Aucun policier n’a été blessé au cours de la nuit, selon la même source.

482 vehicles burned; 203 arrests; no more shots fired at police; violence down sharply from the previous night. I’ll repeat what I said yesterday: it’s unclear whether the curfew is having an effect, the increased police presence has deterred the rioters, there were fewer targets of opportunity, or rioting has just lost its novelty. Or, as someone here suggested, they were just regrouping. All we can do it hope for the best.

The rioting continues to be shrouded in mystery. We know that the rioters were young; we know that many of the rioters came from parts of town where Muslims live; we know that those parts of town are poor; we know that unemployment is high there. We don’t know that the rioters were of Arabic descent (many appeared to be of sub-Saharan ancestry); we don’t know that they were Muslims (you can’t necessarily tell by looking at someone if they’re practicing Muslims especially if they’re of sub-Saharan descent). And most especially we don’t know that the rioters had religious motivations for rioting or that they were radical Islamists or that they were being organized or abetted by radical Islamists. We can’t draw those conclusions from the actual evidence at hand.

There have been lots of reports of disquieting things: that churches and synagogues were specifically targeted, that cars with African or Muslim trappings or insignia were left alone. As Cathy Young of The Y Files noted:

In the fog of rioting, the facts are extremely difficult to sort out. One website (linked by Andrew Sullivan) purports to gather evidence, with links, that the riots are indeed driven by radical Islam. Yet as some of the commenters point out, the “proof” in some of those links is dubious: for instance, unconfirmed “eyewitness reports” that the rioters have been sparing cars with Islamic stickers; the fact that Molotov cocktails have been thrown at two synagogues (along with many other targets) and that churches have been reportedly torched in two towns (again, along with secular targets such as buses, schools, and day care centers); the fact that some jihadist websites have hailed the rioters.

On the other hand, check out this report, in which an 18-year-old rioter named Ahmed says, pointing to his friends: “You wear these clothes, with this color skin and you’re automatically a target for police.” Is he talking about traditional Muslim garb? No — “Izod polo shirts, Nike sneakers and San Antonio Spurs T-shirts.” (Hat tip: a commenter at Outside the Beltway.)

I’ve said that before here, as well.

Unless there are dramatic new developments this will be my last post on this story.

UPDATE: I hadn’t intended to do a link round-up today but blog-friend Marc Schulman of American Future’s post is too good to pass by. In the post he looks into the economic and racial factors in the riot, comparing the American experience in the 1960’s to the French experience today. Good stuff. The one thing I might add to his analysis is that the civil rights movement in the United States had an enormous Christian (and Jewish) religious component. The protesters did not have much but they had values. I don’t think that the rioting youth in France have values other than the values of a materialist society. I doubt that you can dredge a decent civil rights movement out of hip hop society’s values.

2 comments… add one
  • First, just to say a big “thank you” for the great coverage.

    Second, although we certainly can’t tell how much political/religious motivation has been underlyng some of the violence, or how “organized” some of it has been, I think we can agree that there’s a whole adolescent group dynamics going on that’s been severely undercovered in the US media. Just browsing through some of the French blogs, I find repeated references to les momes. And to a competition for a sort of “baddest cite” among kids from different cites over who can burn the most cars in any given night. Don’t know whether you saw this Le Monde interview with some girls from Cligny-sur-Bois. “Our brothers are chameleons: nice at home, terrors outside.” A “girl-on-the-street” confirmation of the argument made by Olivier Roy in yesterday’s NYTs.

    Given the momes factor, the curfew may make a dent in the number of incidents without stirring up a huge counter-reaction from the rest of the residents of the no-go zones. There’s a whole chunk of the affected population who are not only sick of having their property destroyed but who as “what are these kids doing out at that hour of the night anyway?”

  • Thanks.

    I agree completetly, Nadezhda. I think that the kids who are rioting in France have a lot more in common with the kids in South Central than they do with the terrorists in Fallujah. And, as I wrote in the update to this post, I doubt that a decent civil rights movement can be dredged out of the hip hop culture.

    And, as I wrote somewhere-or-other in this series, I also think that there’s a “shame culture” aspect to this thing. That seems to be prevalent in street culture everywhere.

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