Our World: The Paris fall
The firebombers and marauders in today's riots do not feel any significant commonality with the people they are rioting against. As Theodore Dalrymple explained in his Autumn 2002 City Journal essay, The Barbarians at the Gates of Paris, the Muslim youth rioting today feel nothing but nihilistic or Islamic hatred and alienation from their country and their countrymen. In his words, "They are of France, but not French." Dalrymple explained that the bloated French welfare state houses, clothes, feeds and pays its unassimilated immigrant communities in a manner that enables disaffected youth to "enjoy a far higher standard of living (or consumption) than they would in countries of their parents' or grandparents' origin, even if they labored there 14 hours a day to the maximum of their capacity."
At the same time, he observed that in the ghetto housing projects that ring the major cities of France where these rioting young men live, "The state, while concerning itself with the details of their housing, their education, their medical care, and the payment of subsidies for them to do nothing, abrogates its responsibility completely in the one area in which the state's responsibility is absolutely inalienable: law and order." Today both the absence of law and order and the total alienation of the burgeoning Muslim immigrant population of France have coalesced in a manner and an intensity that has motivated some observers to write of the violence of the past week and a half as "the fall of France." France has fallen, these mordant observers tell us, because the multicultural overlords of the French chattering and governing classes are unable to muster the will to contend with either the problem of violence or with the problem of social alienation.
News reports of the violence quote police commanders who define the insurrection as "a state of war." On Saturday night, as the firebombers and violent mobs spread to Normandy, Philippe Jofres, a deputy fire commissioner from the area, told France 2 television, "Rioters attacked us with baseball bats. We were attacked with pickaxes. It was war." Some fire chiefs and policemen are asking for the army to be brought in to quell the violence. Law enforcement officials and French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy have noted that there is coordination among the militants. People have been seen passing out petrol bombs and other ordnance from their cars to militants on the streets. Instructions are given by cellular telephones and Internet sites. French Prosecutor- General Yves Bot told Europe 1 he could see "organized actions, a strategy" informing the militants in the streets.
For their part, law enforcement commanders seem not to have any strategy to speak of. Their actions to date call to mind the image of feckless cat herders. The militants - at least those who are found - are chased from place to place with uninspiring results. On Saturday night, when some 1,300 cars were torched and businesses, schools and stores were ignited throughout the country, only 200 arrests were made. In light of the constant increase in the scope and volume of attacks, one can assume that those arrested were expendable foot soldiers.
One of the notable aspects of the violence thus far is the absence of murder. The militants have apparently decided to limit their campaign to property damage. No doubt this is because their objective is political, not military. As some Muslim leaders have explained, what they want is autonomy in their ghettos. They seek to receive extraterritorial status from the French government, meaning that they will set their own rules based, one can assume, on Sharia law.
If the militants are able to achieve this goal, even on an informal basis, then those declaring that France has fallen will be proven right. The only way for France to save itself is to prevent such a reality from occurring. If the French government accepts the notion of communal autonomy, France will cease to be a functioning state.