Magazine article The Spectator

How the French Riot

Magazine article The Spectator

How the French Riot

Article excerpt

Les Vans, Ardèche

For a patriot like me, it is a great consolation to know that other societies are undergoing precisely the kind of decomposition, if a little more slowly and with slightly more resistance to it, in which we so clearly lead the world. This reassures me that, eventually, nowhere will be better than Britain, and then I will be able once again, like George III, to rejoice in the name of Briton.

In France, for example, it was not many years ago that people with tattoos were infrequently to be seen, but now they are everywhere. The small bourgeois town near my house boasts not one but two tattoo and piercing studios, inscribing indelible kitsch on the skins of the dim and tasteless young.

The latter hope thereby to achieve an individuality of which a total immersion in popular culture deprives them: therefore a scorpion above a nipple or a snake over the deltoid provides them with a unique character that they would otherwise lack.

Though the term 'Anglo-Saxon' is one of reprobation, often but not always rightly, in the French press, the fact is that they -- the French -- follow us in the end, especially in our foolishnesses. They have followed our teaching methods, for example, in the state schools, to the great detriment of the poor and the great advantage of the bureaucratic elite. 'Anglo-Saxon' means modern, and modern means the latest thing; and in a nation of the fashion-conscious the latest thing means the best thing, to be without which is to be . . . well, démodé.

They even have small riots like ours. This proves that they are up to speed on the latest social developments. A few days after the attempted pogrom in Lozells, Birmingham, there was a two-night riot in the charmingly named Clichy-sous-Bois, where you might have imagined that many Britons had bought properties for a song, about whose improvements both in amenities and monetary value they so boringly boasted at dinner parties.

Alas, property in Clichy-sous-Bois is probably quite cheap, but not because the original inhabitants have fled its rural isolation.

It's a suburb of Paris, social housing territory, and social housing, in modern societies at any rate, means antisocial behaviour. Such areas are, in effect, riots waiting to happen.

The cause of the riot, apart from the relatively clement weather for the time of year that is a necessary but not sufficient cause of such rioting, was the death of two youths and the severe burns of another. They apparently formed members of a group of 15 who were peacefully breaking into a workshop when the police arrived and arrested six of them. Unlike the 14-year-old girl in Lozells who was allegedly raped by the friends and associates of the shopkeeper from whose shop she had been peacefully shoplifting, the three youths of Clichysous-Bois were incontestably real.

They fled and took refuge in an electricity transformer by climbing over two walls complete with eloquent notices that millions of volts were bad for you, where two of them were electrocuted to death and one suffered severe burns. The two dead were of Turkish and Malian extraction; perhaps the new methods of teaching had left them unable to read, at least at speed.

The police felt it politic, in order to calm the situation, to issue a statement to the effect that the three were not being chased 'physically' at the time of their sanctuary in the installation of Electricité de France -- but, as the good book says, the guilty fleeth where no man pursueth. …

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