That’s how one French police chief described the gangs – not mobs, gangs – his men are facing in the now-nightly riots raging around France and spreading, apparently, to Belgium and Germany. (The AFP report from which that quote is taken is worth a look if only for the stressed and sour looks on Chirac and De Villepin’s faces. Our poet-pal DeV knows his chances of succeeding Chirac diminish with each night’s violence).
The most important — and most ignored – aspect of the riots is the slow escalation of them which shows a recognition of power, not an organization of riots (yet). This is not, so far, a second French revolution. Because the rioters are gangs and mobs, not soldiers, the gradual escalation from town to town, from Molotov cocktails to shotguns, means the crowds are calibrating their actions themselves, from the prior night’s results. Any effort to send undisciplined mobs out with finely-tuned orders to limit violence could not succeed. But if these mobs continue their violence unchecked, and find a unifying leader, they could force the government into some negotiation that would give them real power.
It’s very hard to make a French government fall (Chirac isn’t going to quit) but ceding power to local councils made up of riot leaders could result, and would diminish democracy in France for the forseeable futute. Trading freedom for short-term peace is a long-honored tradition in France.