Once in France
One of the frustrations about covering events in France is the lack of metrics. There are a few which can be used. The numbers of cars burned on a given night. The number of towns affected by disturbances. The numbers of persons arrested. But there is a lot of critical information that can't be captured in these figures. Here are two reports, one from a site in Brussels and another from a Dutchman which have been cool and collected in the past. Here is what they have to say. The titles are the authors and not mine. I have edited only to shorten the excerpts where necessary
The Fall of France
From the desk of Paul Belien on Sat, 2005-11-05 13:41
If Nicolas Sarkozy had been allowed to have his way, he could have saved France. Last Summer the outspoken minister of the Interior was France’s most popular politician with his promise to restore the law of the Republic in the various virtually self-ruling immigrant areas surrounding the major French cities.
These areas, which some compare to the "millet" system of the former Ottoman Empire, where each religious community (millet) conducted its own social and cultural life in its own neighbourhoods, exist not only in France, but also in Muslim neighbourhoods in Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and other countries. ...
The experience of his youth has made Sarkozy ... virtually the only one who understands what second generation immigrants really need if they want to build a future. More important than the so-called “social benefits” – the government alms provided by welfare politicians like Chirac, Villepin and their predecessors – is the provision of law and order. This guarantees that those who create wealth do not lose it to thugs who extort and rob and burn down their properties.
Sarkozy’s decision to send the police back to the suburbs which had been abandoned by previous governments ... would lead to riots was inevitable. Sarkozy knew it, and so did Chirac, Villepin and the others. ...
What happened instead was that Sarkozy's "colleagues" in government used the riots as an excuse .... Bringing down ... Sarkozy ... was told to shut up ... Villepin began a "dialogue" with the rioters. As a result the riots have spilled over from Paris to other French cities. Do not be surprised if this French epidemic soon crosses France’s borders ...
As for Sarkozy, the best thing this immigrant son can do is to resign and make a bid for the 2007 presidential elections ... But this could soon change if he remains a member of a Villepin government which is clearly unwilling to abolish the current "millet" system.
It’s hard to find some good reporting on the Paris riots, one of the newspapers here this morning claimed that the violence had abated somewhat. Well, that’s hardly the case. Below I’ve translated an excerpt from the Dutch public broadcasting organization’s report on night number nine, Friday night ... The term "Paris Riots" has become a complete misnomer. There's war going on in France and that is coming from someone who is not given to hyperbole, but the facts have made that conclusion inescapable. ...
Paul Belien's headline "The Fall of France" will seem hyperbolic to the average reader. I know it shocked me. But in the historical memory of Frenchmen, the painful defeats of May 1940 were principally due to acting too slowly in the face of a threat, which if properly met could have been contained. One of the most regrettable things about the historical Fall of France was that the Republic had more than enough men, armor and artillery to meet the Nazis, but did not act quickly enough to save itself. And it is to this memory of belatedness that Belien principally appeals. (For a fuller discussion of the role timing in the Battle for France see this site.)
Peaktalk is the site of Pajamas Media contributor Pieter Dorsman, an investment banker by trade and who now helps "early-stage technology companies get organized and financed". He is probably not a man given to wild-eyed exaggeration. Yet he says, "There’s war going on in France and that is coming from someone who is not given to hyperbole, but the facts have made that conclusion inescapable."
It's possible that the seriousness of the situation has finally forced the principal French political figures to bury the hatchet. The Telegraph reports the French cabinet has met in emergency session on the ninth day.
The French government is holding crisis talks after a night of rioting which saw nearly 900 vehicles torched and at least 200 people arrested. ... into the second week ... appear to have spread beyond the capital ... other French cities. ... now concerns that the violence is being organised by groups of youths using the internet ... de Villepin, has summoned eight key government ministers to his offices, to try and find a political answer to France's worst rioting in decades.
It was this last piece of news -- that de Villepin was looking for a political formula on the 9th day of the riots -- that most disturbed me, almost as if Gamelin on the 9th day of the Blitzkrieg had only then begun looking for his map. How long will it take to come up with a plan? How long to execute?
Looking back, I think de Villepin thought he could contain the riots using police cordons as bulkheads while principally relying on his Minister of Social Cohesion to get the government's tame imams and community leaders into dampening down the riots. The French government has spent a lot of money creating quasi-governmental Islamic institutions in an attempt (in my view at least) to co-opt the more tractable leadership of the ghettos. It also had an infrastructure of social workers and government funded "community groups" which it probably felt could be relied on to bank the fires. Recent newspaper stories report how imams and community "mothers" have been marching against the violence, only to have themselves stoned and jeered. De Villepin unleashed his ultimate weapon and it turned out to be a rubber sword.
What de Villepin's planning probably missed was that the millet system plus the Internet formed a combination that would go through the 21st century "impassable Ardennes" like s..t through a goose. The millet system meant that potentially hostile foci were were already pre-deployed outside the cordon, often in cities outside Paris. And the Internet of course ensured that command and control could be exercised at a distance by command cells despite any number of deployed riot police. My guess is that by day 6 or 7 the French leadership began to doubt whether their impenetrable defenses would hold. By 9th day, I think, a real panic had begun to set in and they are now scrambling for a Plan B.