Saturday, November 05, 2005

The fog of riots

I'm still trying to get a bead on what's happening in France. This post by Clive Davis seems to be an attempt to do the same. It contains this interesting quote:

As of this evening, AFP is quoting police commanders as saying there's "nothing to support the existence of an organisation behind the riots... speculation of "a radical Islamic influence is baseless."

So, are these police statements merely the equivalent of a politically correct "move along now, nothing to see here"? An effort to avoid adding more fuel to the fire by calling attention to what is really happening? Or are they the truth?

In the same AFP article, (that's "Agence France-Presse," by the way), you have this:

The leader of one police union, Bruno Beschizza, described the riots as "urban terrorism", led by a radicalized minority of criminals and "Islamic radicals".

There is no doubt that a certain "fog of war"--or rather, "fog of riots" has descended for the moment. My guess is that, as usual, there's a mixture here--and that, as I said before, a host of factors are coming together to create these riots: cultural, generational, economic, and yes, Islamic. I'd be foolish if I said I knew what relative weight to give all those factors.

I am surprised, however, that police chiefs have denied any organizing factor at all in the riots. This seems to contradict the bulk of the coverage. For example, see this from Reuters, not known for its right-wing bias:

While fewer clashes with youths were reported, judicial officials said the unrest was being organized via the Internet and mobile phones..."Without question what is taking place bears all the hallmarks of being coordinated," Yves Bot, the Paris public prosecutor, told Europe 1 radio.

So, I feel I'm on fairly safe ground saying the riots are being organized. But by whom? My current theory: not one group alone, and not for one reason alone. All of the above.

26 Comments:

At 2:13 PM, November 05, 2005, Anonymous colagirl said...

Yeah, I agree with you, neoneocon, on trying to get a handle on exactly what is happening. Remembering the lessons of the Katrina coverage, I'm not sure how much of what is being reported (either by MSM, or tossed around the Internet) is fact, how much is speculation dressed up as fact, and how much is just wild exaggeration. It seems like Islam has to be involved some way, somehow, but it's hard to tell just how much, and in what ways and what variety. Nevertheless I do find this quite worrying all the same; many people have been predicting something like this for years (your linking to Dalrymple's article was quite illuminating). Your suggestion that the riots are (to some extent at least) being organized is one that I find plausible, and if true, also of grave concern.

I also wonder what the long-term effects on French society (if any) are going to be, and if this will spur a change in the ways they deal with immigrant populations.

 
At 2:58 PM, November 05, 2005, Blogger xenmate said...

Hi. I'm liviong in Cardiff, Wales. I studies for one year in Lyon, France. I've spoken to the French friends I made there and they do not think the riots are organised in the way you imply they may be.

When police commanders say

"nothing to support the existence of an organisation behind the riots... speculation of "a radical Islamic influence is baseless."

they mean to say tht they are not organised by an Al-Qaeda type organisation or a religion organisation or anything else.

When elsewhere, AFP claims that there is some type of organisation, what they mean is that people are coordinating their movements through mobile phones, text messages, etc. In that sense, and that sense alone, are the riots organised.

To suggest that Islam has anything to do with it is pretty ridiculous. Just as the Los Angeles riots had to do with police repression, the French riots are more political that religious. Most rioters are muslims, but not practicants. For starters.

I've been looking around American blogs for a while now to see if my suspicions were right. Certain Americans would take this oportunity to

a. insult the French

b. insult the muslims

And guess what?

I was right on both counts.

xenmate

 
At 5:04 PM, November 05, 2005, Blogger Goesh said...

xenmate - sharp observation there. The French are reaping what they have sown and it will probably get worse. I'm not into insulting violent muslims, but I am into blowing off large hunks of their heads.

 
At 5:38 PM, November 05, 2005, Blogger neo-neocon said...

Xenmate: Whatever your friends in France think, the truth is that no one knows. That's exactly my point. Even many of the people rioting don't necessarily know what is motivating all the other rioters around them.

I am indeed implying that it is possible there is some Islamicist organization behind this, or at least portions of this. It is also possible there is not. But anyone who rejects the possibility out of hand is living in a dream world.

Why are you ignoring the fact that at least one police chief said the rioters were, "led by a radicalized minority of criminals and 'Islamic radicals?'" And why are you ignoring the fact that there are many popular strains of Islam that very aggressive towards the west, and quite capable of organizing and/or inspiring such things as a riot? And why are you ignoring the possible influence of inflammatory clerics on the whole situation?

Is it an "insult" to try to look at things clearly and tell the truth? I don't think so. If you read my blog, you'll find I try to be quite polite. But I try to tell the truth as I see it. However, this is not a tea party in which the rules are "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say it." I'm sure you would agree with that.

 
At 7:22 PM, November 05, 2005, Anonymous igorilla said...

he-he-he, it's all legitimate grievances over Israel brutal opression of Palestinians

 
At 8:41 PM, November 05, 2005, Blogger maryatexitzero said...

Yahoo: Paris seeks "hidden hands" in riots

AULNAY-SOUS-BOIS, France (Reuters) - With every night that France's rundown suburbs burn, officials grow increasingly convinced that drug traffickers and Islamist militants are using frustrated youths to challenge law and order here...

"Everybody is fed up seeing our town and our district trampled over daily by these organized gangs," declared Gerard Gaudron, conservative mayor of the northeastern Paris suburb of Aulnay-sous-Bois after an hour-long march against violence..

..Ahmed Hamidi, a white-bearded Moroccan electrician long resident in France, had no patience with politicians in Paris, which lies hardly an hour away but seems like another planet.

"All the politicians care about are laws for homosexuals and all those immoral things," he fumed. "They are against headscarves, against beards and against the mosques...

...It's only on the fringes of the march, out of earshot of the multi-cultural crowd of concerned residents, that anybody tries to reconcile the opposing explanations.

"I'm sure there are drug dealers and Islamic radicals at work," said a middle-aged woman who requested anonymity. "Drugs are everywhere. They've arrested Islamic radicals nearby here."

A social worker who also withheld his name said some rioters seemed linked to the drug trade because they "drive nice cars and use mobile telephones I couldn't afford to buy.

"When the government is determined to fight this underground economy, there's bound to be resistance," he said. "There is no headquarters organizing this, but they seem to be coordinating their activities among themselves by phone."

The charge that Islamist radicals were trying to exploit the unrest was a difficult one for local Muslims to handle, he said, because many were working to prevent unrest and admitting there were radicals in the crowds would discredit their community.

"They can't say that, so they don't say anything," he added.

:::

So it's Islamic radicals and/or drug sellers. They're often part of the same group. The radicals in Chechnya and the Islamists in Afghanistan have been involved in gang warfare and drug dealing in the name of Sharia and Allah for a long time - why wouldn't they be doing the same thing in France?

 
At 9:07 PM, November 05, 2005, Blogger Harry Mallory said...

And speaking of insults and name calling, I seem to remember the French press and government officials, as well as those from other western Euro countries talking a great deal of smack about how hurricane Katrina was evidence about how out of hand society had gotten in America.

Well, well, well.

 
At 9:45 PM, November 05, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Looking for a root cause for these riots? I blame the failed socialist welfare state in France. Why aren't Muslims in the US rioting if it is so inherent to their nature? Because they are too busy working to achieve the American Dream. It's simple... happy people don't start riots.

Welfare is a scourge on society. I know what I an talking about; I grew up in poverty in America, a child of immigrants. Welfare didn't get me out of poverty. Studying my ass off in school, getting a scholarship to a private college, and a well paying job did.

All those socialist-welfare states in Europe, with their dying economies, are on the same path to violence.

 
At 9:52 PM, November 05, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let me correct myself:

Happy people don't start riots... unless the Red Sox win the World Series. ;)

 
At 11:29 PM, November 05, 2005, Anonymous erasmus said...

The fog of riots in the riot of frogs.
Probably already a headline in one of the Brit tabloids.

 
At 12:04 AM, November 06, 2005, Blogger Goesh said...

ya' got some real wags here, Neo

 
At 12:07 AM, November 06, 2005, Anonymous M.Vitruvius said...

What I find almost as disturbing as the riots is the dearth of news coverage surrounding them, at least here in the States.

As I write, the riots are in either their 9th or 10th day, taking into account the time zones between here and there-- I forget. But for the first 5 or 6 days, the riots were getting very little coverage here, except for odd small stories. This is true largely of the vaunted blogosphere (perhaps I read the wrong corners of it) and even of the various specialty foreign policy new services I pay for.

(And let me add that I'm seeing the meme, in various places, that the "Muslim angle" is being intentionally downplayed in the media. Let me state in contrast that even on the first day or two I saw news reports making the nature of the riots very clear. I don't know what everyone else is reading.)

Even now, the coverage is surprisingly low, compared to what I'd expect. I suspect-- and suspect only-- that it's predominantly a lack of local reporting on the subject, which leaves both the international media and the blogging community with little to feed on.

Regardless the reason, I find it nearly as dismaying as the disturbances themselves. Perhaps it's nothing more nefarious than a greater Gallic tolerance for civil disturbance around Paris, but it's disturbing nevertheless.

As to the organization or lack of it thus far, I doubt there is a simple answer. These last five years, I've worked fairly hard to educate myself in the finer points of practical foreign affairs. Rarely are "demonstrations" in any way spontaneous... but rarely are true riots planned. This seems to be something of both, and I suspect-- and again, suspect only-- that the initial night or nights of riotting were spontaneous and unplanned, but that in subsequent nights, cooler and more synical heads decided to keep them burning to extract more and more concessions from a demonstrably concilliatory French government.

And that's a very sobering thought indeed. No, I don't for a minute think that the French government will be brought down. But for the French government to blink now would be a powerful strategic victory for any hypothetical Islamist organizers or coordinators.

 
At 8:35 AM, November 06, 2005, Anonymous Clive D said...

Neo,
Enjoyed your post (as usual!)

As you say, until we know more about what's going on, we shouldn't leap to conclusions. I'm really disturbed by some of the coverage I've seen on other blogs. People seem determined to make everything fit into some neat ideological box, regardless of the few facts available so far. As for some of the anti-Muslim comments that have been posted (not here, but elsewhere) well, they're frankly racist, and stupid. "Deport them..." seems to be one common response. Where to? The rioters are French citizens. OK, the French can't complain if Americans want to indulge in a certain amount of Schadenfreude, especially after all the gloating coverage of Katrina. But let's stay grown-up about this. France has an underclass problem, America has an underclass problem. So does Britain. Religion complicates things enormously in Europe, yes, but we're not yet in a clash of civilisations. I don't want to sound Pollyanna-ish. At the same time, there's no point being apocalyptic either, even if it does give us a nice, warm glow inside.

I say this as someone who loves France as much as America. (As I'm usually mistaken for a North African when I'm travelling in Paris and, especially, the provinces, I don't have any illusions about all that "egalité, fraternité" stuff.) There's no question there's a structural crisis in France, but the idea that we have nothing at all to learn from their system is just silly.

 
At 8:47 AM, November 06, 2005, Anonymous Clive D said...

PS Now I'm going to get hate-mail from French pedants for leaving the accent off "égalité"...!!!

 
At 11:16 AM, November 06, 2005, Anonymous Sunny said...

Ahhh, finally some sense on the subject, and I fully concur with Clive Davis on this too.

The fact that these kids are Muslims may have had some impact to the extent that they don't feel part of the country.

But trying to make this into a thing about Al-Qaeda, or a "Muslim culture" issue is disingenuious, and smacks of people trying to fit events into their own ideological agendas.

There is no evidence, only paranoia. BTW, I will say I don't support the riots, I think there are issues around the French govt ignoring their ethnic minority citizens, but there are better ways to get your voice heard.

 
At 12:12 PM, November 06, 2005, Blogger maryatexitzero said...

It doesn't sound like al Qaeda, but as you know, any good Marxist would know to ask Cui bono? Who benefits from the riots?

According to the post below, 'peaceful' Islamist organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood would benefit.

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.

In related news, the supposedly 'peaceful' Muslim supremacist group Hizb ut Tahrir distributed flyers at an Australian festival, demanding that Muslims work together to overthrow Western Governments.

AN inflammatory pamphlet urging Muslims to oppose Western governments was handed out at a major Islamic festival in Melbourne yesterday.

The flyer, distributed at a family carnival to mark the end of the holy month of Ramadan in Preston, bore the name of the fundamentalist group Hizb ut-Tahrir - which is banned in Britain and Germany.

It claimed new terror laws were part of a conspiracy to eradicate Islam in Western countries.

And it said Muslims had "enormously rejected their evil and corrupt rulers that the West have appointed over them, and they are looking forward to consigning them to the dustbins of history".

The pamphlet said Muslims overseas had "heroically resisted" invasion and "inflicted the most humiliating lesson on supposed superpowers".

If similar flyers had been handed out in France's cites, I'd guess that the local police would have no way of knowing about it, since they rarely go into these places.

The U.S. Army War College has a fairly prescient essay written about the riots: Street Gangs: The New Urban Insurgency (pdf)

 
At 3:58 PM, November 06, 2005, Blogger pst314 said...

"To suggest that Islam has anything to do with it is pretty ridiculous."

Muslims have been using violence and intimidation to drive "immoral" businesses out of "their" neighborhoods.

Although I would consider it rediculous to deny that poverty is a factor, it seems clear that Islam itself is an important factor.

 
At 4:01 PM, November 06, 2005, Blogger pst314 said...

"I seem to remember the French press and government officials...talking a great deal of smack about how hurricane Katrina was evidence about how out of hand society had gotten in America."

In fact, they've been talking down to us, and insulting us, for decades.

Well, well, well indeed.

 
At 4:35 PM, November 06, 2005, Anonymous strcpy said...

It wouldn't be the first riot in history that is started and guided by extrmist but carried out by "non-practitionors". In fact, if it wasn't it would be one of the few. It doesn't take much, post analysis of the Kent State riots in the 60's show a very very small militant crowd started and pushed them, most riots are done that way.

Considering that several muslim terrorist organisations have explicitly stated this type of thing as part of thier strategy I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss it, though you can still dismiss me as being disengenous and fitting things to my political idealology - hell as Germany was sweeping Europe that type of discussion was *still* going on and it should have been obvious by then. The things goes both ways.

If it was simply poor migrants it would seem to me that much more than simply the muslims would be revolting, nor would part of thier demands that we know of so far contain sharia law. Obviously Islam plays some part in the riots. Not to mention the recent past issues France specifically has been having with *Muslim* specific unrest.

As to what extent? Who knows? I would say it's silly to think that radical islamist have nothing to do with it, just as it's silly to think they are in complete control. Most likely a small group of them took advantage of civil unrest stemming from non-islam issues and are trying to bring more to bare. It's difficult for riots to sustain themselfs like this in any other way.

While they wouldn't have those issues if France didn't have it's other problems the riots wouldn't be going in the direction they are if the militants were not fanning the rage.

Feel free to dismiss me as a radical right-wing kill all Muslim disengenous freak if you wish if it makes you sleep better at night. Though in the longer run we will end up like France if we do.

 
At 7:05 PM, November 06, 2005, Blogger David Thomson said...

I risk sounding like a vulgar Marxist. Nonetheless, sometimes James Carville is right and it is indeed the economy, Stupid. France’s economic cannot be turned around. The country cannot offer any realistic hope to its marginalized underclass. It’s as simple as that. There is no hope for the French. They have made their bed and now must sleep in it.

 
At 7:06 PM, November 06, 2005, Anonymous Robin Burk said...

It's useful to separate factors that play in the general ghettoization (both imposed and self-chosen) of north African muslims in France, OTOH, and the impetus for the current violence OTOH.

Sarkozy has been cracking down on drug trafficking and other crimes. That cuts into the 'informal economy' which gives gangs of unemployed young men their money and power - including power over their parents in many cases.

It's simply impossible to know at this point how much of that drug trafficking is linked to or funds Islamacist activities. Islamacist networks have supported themselves for a good while on both arms running and drugs, but they are far from unique in this.

What is important to note at this time, however, is the insight that street gangs are the functional equivalent of urban insurgencies which threaten the stability of the state and of economic and political order if left unchallenged. Manwaring was right on this point and his paper on the subject, while densely written, it dead on - and informed by his experiences in Latin America and elsewhere.

I mention Latin America because one prime example of gangs morphing into urban insurgencies is the Mara Salvatrucha or MS-13 gang, which has among other things targetted US policemen for assasination.

 
At 1:12 AM, November 07, 2005, Blogger troutsky said...

Kent State RIOTS, strcpy?Thats your post analysis? Lets think about what has started recent riots, and here i mean real riots as opposed to anti-war demonstrations. An incident involving someone from the minority community and the police springs to mind.What sustains the riots? Rage. What does rage spring from? here is where we separate the xenophobes.

 
At 8:48 AM, November 07, 2005, Anonymous jack said...

"As of this evening, AFP is quoting police commanders as saying there's "nothing to support the existence of an organisation behind the riots... speculation of "a radical Islamic influence is baseless."

Then should we consider the "fatwa" issued ... as in covering our @ss ... baseless?

There is a base and the base grows daily.

 
At 6:08 PM, November 07, 2005, Blogger jonz said...

Shouldn't that be the The Frogs of Riots?

Haha sorry folks couldn't resist...

 
At 9:16 AM, November 08, 2005, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

And one has to wonder how come the Germans now have the same riots...

As these people psychic or part of some bird migratory pattern, do they just instinctly know when the riot season is in?

And then there is the question of how does the French police know who or what did or did not organize these riots? The French police got caught with their pants down and still have not clamped down on their own freaking country, who the hell are they to tell me what is or is not the truth?

If they knew the truth, they'd be already fore warned, fore armed, and for surrendering.

So if the police statements are the "truth" it can only be a coincidental one out of a million, truth.

To suggest that Islam has anything to do with it is pretty ridiculous. Just as the Los Angeles riots had to do with police repression, the French riots are more political that religious. Most rioters are muslims, but not practicants. For starters.

One has to wonder why the proponents for French rioting rights presents a certain blasme, and false, confidence and pride in how it is "political" and not Islamic.

Perhaps because if it was political, then the French proponents could "sympathize" with the rioteers, while if it was Islamic the French proponents would either be labeled Islamophobes or morons for decrying Islamic fundamentalism (i.e. not multicultural, multicultural heresy).

Stuck between a rock and a hard place, and the only salvation around is not palatable to an anti-American diet.

 
At 6:44 PM, November 14, 2005, Blogger Stephen M. St. Onge said...

Neo-neocon:

        The way you become and stay a police commissioner is by never, ever, saying anything that the politicians would seriously object to.

        Note that when Meir Kahane was murdered, the police instantly assured everyone it was done by a lone nut, so not to worry -- until, three years later, they assured everyone that it was done by a conspiracy headed by Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman, but Rahman and crew had just been arrested, so not to worry.

        What the news reports show is that the rioters frequently shout "Allahu Akbar!" as they set something ablaze.  There's at least some Islamic radical component, and if someone isn't guiding it now, someone will be, soon.

        For more on that last, see my blog.

 

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