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November 10, 2005
French Riots Abating Or Adopting New Tactics?

The media reports today indicate that the two-week-long French uprising has started to decline in intensity based on the number of cars torched, a strange echo of wartime calculations of casualties. The violence continued in the larger towns and cities, however, and the tactics have changed:

France's worst civil unrest in decades abated a day after the government toughened its stance by imposing emergency measures and ordering deportations of foreigners convicted of taking part in the riots that have raged for two weeks.

Over the past two nights, there was a notable decline in the number of car burnings a barometer of the intensity of the unrest, police said Thursday. ...

Hamon said the rioting, which had spread throughout France, now appeared to be concentrated in certain cities, including Toulouse, Lille, Lyon, Strasbourg and Marseille.

And the AP finally mentions the "M" word:

But the fact that such extraordinary measures were needed has prompted national soul-searching about France's failure to integrate its African and Muslim minorities seen as a key reason behind the rioting.

None of the major American media has much to add to the French riots today, as most of them have shifted their gaze towards Amman and the al-Qaeda bombings in Jordan. The only mention in the Big Three comes from the New York Times, which profiles Chirac as out of touch and possibly seriously ill, as his detached demeanor has caused some pundits to declare him irrelevant:

...[I]n the face of the most serious social crisis of his 10-year presidency, the 72-year-old French leader has become the invisible man. Even his declaration of a nationwide state of emergency on Tuesday was presented not in a sober, televised presidential speech in prime time, but read aloud to journalists by the government spokesman after Tuesday's cabinet meeting. ...

The only public utterance that Mr. Chirac has made about the unrest was a brief statement televised live on Sunday that expressed faith in republican values and a determination to restore order. His distracted demeanor prompted rumors that he might be in ill health (he suffered what is believed to have been a minor stroke in September). On Wednesday, Jerome Bonnafant, Mr. Chirac's spokesman, said in a telephone interview that Mr. Chirac's health was "excellent" and that he was carrying on in an "absolutely normal way," adding, "He has been far from absent; he has been present every day and nothing has been done without his personal input."

Does anyone remember the outcry that occurred when George Bush didn't get on TV in the 24 hours after Hurricane Katrina and make a personal expression of sorrow? That outcry resulted from a natural disaster, not a threat to the authority of the government. Chirac has yet to make any significant speech to his country as head of state in the face of a direct challenge to French sovereignty. It's as if the entire French command structure has forgotten why it exists. Instead of standing for French law and order and defense of French interests -- the natural role of the executive in any form of government -- Chirac has gone into hiding and his staff has prepared a slate of bribes.

They also want to claim success for their much-delayed response, but that may prove difficult to demonstrate. The rioters in these areas have begun targeting the French infrastructure instead of just parked cars. The rioters caused blackouts in Lyon by attacking two power stations. In Toulouse and Belfort, schools went up in flames, one by having its entrance rammed by a flaming car. Two days ago, the Lyon subway system got firebombed, although it apparently did not get damaged badly enough to shut the system down.

No doubt that the curfew had an effect on the riots. The French should wonder why it took the Chirac government twelve days to impose the easy first step in addressing the issue of rioting "youths". It will eliminate the copycat and bandwagon burnings. Adding in a threat of deportation might offer some deterrent for foreigners to join in the overt rioting rather than just the coordination and instigation, but most of the Muslims from the sink estates are French citizens, and most of those natural-born citizens to whom deportation does not apply.

What we have seen in France over the past two days doesn't appear to be the end of a riot, which usually burns itself out in a few days, nor does it appear to be an intensity drop among those still "rioting". It looks more like the wannabes have tired of the fun and games now that the French have actually taken some steps to confront the situation. That clarifies the identity of the enemy that France faces, but it hasn't stopped their violence at all. While the French count cars lost as their metric for success, the rebels count cities controlled through violence and mayhem. So far, with at least five major cities at the mercy of the attackers, it still looks like the momentum belongs to the Muslim uprising.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at November 10, 2005 5:17 AM

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