The Events of November, 2005: Why Paris is Burning

In Paris as we write, the youth of the suburbs are setting cars on fire and running. They have been doing this for a week. Every night, congregating in the ghettoized banlieus of the city and spreading out to torch some more cars. Why?

In an absurd world, only the absurd makes sense.

Guy Debord, at another conflation of space and time that saw “violence” spreading from the ghettos an ocean away, once wrote:

AUGUST 13 – 16, 1965, the blacks of Los Angeles revolted. An incident between traffic police and pedestrians developed into two days of spontaneous riots. Despite increasing reinforcements, the forces of order were unable to regain control of the streets. By the third day the blacks had armed themselves by looting accessible gun stores, enabling them to fire even on police helicopters. It took thousands of police and soldiers, including an entire infantry division supported by tanks, to confine the riot to the Watts area, and several more days of street fighting to finally bring it under control. Stores were massively plundered and many were burned. Official sources listed 32 dead (including 27 blacks), more than 800 wounded and 3000 arrests.

Reactions from all sides were most revealing: a revolutionary event, by bringing existing problems into the open, provokes its opponents into an unhabitual lucidity. Police Chief William Parker, for example, rejected all the major black organizations’ offers of mediation, correctly asserting: “These rioters don’t have any leaders.” Since the blacks no longer had any leaders, it was the moment of truth for both sides. What did one of those unemployed leaders, NAACP general secretary Roy Wilkins, have to say? He declared that the riot “should be put down with all necessary force.” And Los Angeles Cardinal McIntyre, who protested loudly, did not protest against the violence of the repression, which one might have supposed the most tactful policy at a time when the Roman Church is modernizing its image; he denounced “this premeditated revolt against the rights of one’s neighbor and against respect for law and order,” calling on Catholics to oppose the looting and “this violence without any apparent justification.” And all those who went so far as to recognize the “apparent justifications” of the rage of the Los Angeles blacks (but never their real ones), all the ideologists and “spokesmen” of the vacuous international Left, deplored the irresponsibility, the disorder, the looting (especially the fact that arms and alcohol were the first targets) and the 2000 fires with which the blacks lit up their battle and their ball. But who has defended the Los Angeles rioters in the terms they deserve? We will. Let the economists fret over the $27 million lost, and the city planners sigh over one of their most beautiful supermarkets gone up in smoke, and McIntyre blubber over his slain deputy sheriff. Let the sociologists bemoan the absurdity and intoxication of this rebellion. The role of a revolutionary publication is not only to justify the Los Angeles insurgents, but to help elucidate their perspectives, to explain theoretically the truth for which such practical action expresses the search.

Hack journalists such as those found here (Time Magazine) or here (New York Post) (free registration required) will tell you “Paris is Burning” as a reflection of the alienation and discrimination, the joblessness and hopelessness these second- and third-generation French Muslims face.

We at the ALLDERBLOB see it differently. And with M. Debord, we hold: “The role of a velorutionary [sorry–could you check that? –ed.] publication is not only to justify the … insurgents, but to help elucidate their perspectives, to explain theoretically the truth for which such practical action expresses the search.”

Without further ado then, let us assay to explain theoretically the truth:

The truth is, everybody hates cars. The mistake of France’s angry youth is in thinking that by torching cars they will receive notice for their grievances. Instead, people all across the civilized world are cheering them on. They are wishing the hoodlums will inspire a little local mayhem, heralding a fiery end to the neighbour’s “portable furnace” in the driveway or against the curb next door.

People all across the civilized world are checking their insurance policies for coverage in case of acts of violence, and crossing their fingers that their car will be next: who wouldn’t want an inflated sum of cash in place of the stinking rattletrap heap that seems to cost more to run every day?

They’ve done the math. They know it’s cheaper to take transit, walk, or ride a bike. They need exercise, and would love to “ride a bike to the restaurant instead of drive a car to the gym” (as the well-known fortune cookie fortune has it).

Only trouble is, the alienated youth of Paris aren’t trying to do anyone any favours, and it will slowly dawn on them that nobody cares if they torch cars, for god’s sake. Unfortunately, this will mean an escalation to objects folks actually give a damn about: we’ve already seen this with schools and a garment factory being targetted.

So Folks, it’s up to you: if you want your own car torched, you’re going to have to do it yourself.

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