Do You Hear the People Sing?
Belmont Club commenter Red River makes the interesting conjecture that rioting "youths" in Paris have confined their primary mode of attack to car burning as part of a deliberate brinkmanship. Car burning is spectacular, serious enough to get attention yet -- and this is the vital point -- not serious enough to provoke lethal force. By staying just shy of the threshold, the rioters can maximize their rate of propagation at minimum danger to themselves. Other commenters have noted how small groups of "youths", coordinated by cell phone, can gather to attack and disperse before a response can be mounted. A BBC article describes some of the cut and thrust.
Police reported 1,295 vehicle burnings and made 312 arrests as unrest in African and Arab communities spread to Strasbourg, Toulouse and Nantes. On the 10th consecutive night of riots, four cars were torched on Place de la Republique in central Paris along with others in the central 17th District. ... Police helicopters patrolled the skies over the capital, attempting to pursue and identify those responsible for the attacks.
Using expensive rotary wing assets to chase car arsonists isn't an economical proposition, especially when you can't fire on the arsonists. The ability to torch cars in the Place de la Republique is a good gauge of the limits of police response time. All in all, the tactic of car burning provides definite advantages to the attacker and many disadvantages for the defender. The tactics of the "youths" may have evolved spontaneously, and probably did. Nevertheless, because form follows function, they bear an eerie resemblance to tactics employed by the Chechens against the Russian Army in Grozny, and may have been fertilized by ideas from that source. A Parameters article describes how the Chechens gave the Russians the run-around.
The principal Chechen city defense was ... to remain totally mobile and hard to find. ... Hit-and-run tactics made it difficult for the Russian force to locate pockets of resistance and impossible to bring their overwhelming firepower to bear against an enemy force. Russian firepower was diluted as a result and could be used only piecemeal. Chechen mobile detachments composed of one to several vehicles (usually civilian cars or jeeps) transported supplies, weapons, and personnel easily throughout the city. Chechens deployed in the vicinity of a school or hospital, fired a few rounds, and quickly left. ... they moved in groups as large as 200 at times, showing up in cars with guns blazing. The more typical Chechen combat group was a three- or four-man cell. Five of these cells were usually linked into a 15- to 20-man unit that fought together.
Hit and run tactics against relatively slow responding forces are a good choice. Against faster responding forces they are less effective. (As an aside, insurgents in Iraq believed Grozny-stle tactics could defeat US forces in cities such as Fallujah, but suffered huge casualties due to the overhead surveillance capability of US forces, largely provided by UAVs, and its networked battle force.)
Although it may be coincidental, the remarkable uniformity in the rioter's rules of engagement and the rapid development of their tactics suggests they have a tacit consensus as to their strategic aims: to confine action to inherently political acts in exchange for political concessions. Amir Taheri believes he knows what those will be.
Some are even calling for the areas where Muslims form a majority of the population to be reorganized on the basis of the "millet" system of the Ottoman Empire: Each religious community (millet) would enjoy the right to organize its social, cultural and educational life in accordance with its religious beliefs.
In parts of France, a de facto millet system is already in place. In these areas, all women are obliged to wear the standardized Islamist "hijab" while most men grow their beards to the length prescribed by the sheiks.
The radicals have managed to chase away French shopkeepers selling alcohol and pork products, forced "places of sin," such as dancing halls, cinemas and theaters, to close down, and seized control of much of the local administration.
A reporter who spent last weekend in Clichy and its neighboring towns of Bondy, Aulnay-sous-Bois and Bobigny heard a single overarching message: The French authorities should keep out.
"All we demand is to be left alone," said Mouloud Dahmani, one of the local "emirs" engaged in negotiations to persuade the French to withdraw the police and allow a committee of sheiks, mostly from the Muslim Brotherhood, to negotiate an end to the hostilities.
Update on the Rioters Tactics
From the Australian's correspondent in Paris:
Place de la Republique ... became the latest symbolic stage ... torched four cars in the square. Car burnings ... in the expensive 17th arrondissement.
This is not a conventional urban riot where a large, angry mob confronts a wall of riot-shield wielding police. There are no pitched battles.
... the thousands of police ... frustrated by the guerilla tactics of the firebombers who now rarely attack directly. ... sniper fire at police ... gangs ... move in small bands setting fire to cars, buses, shops and public buildings, then moving on quickly before firefighters or police arrive.