A Handmaiden Account

Sunday, November 06, 2005

I’d like to think when major stories happen in your town, you’d feel connected. You’d feel linked to some general concern, that the story would seem to loom large over you. I imagine that if you stood in the way of a hurricane the experience would leave a resonance.

I feel tonight so far away from the France reported on television and newspapers. I keep reading reports that there have been riots outside of Paris, and in other major cities around France. But, it doesn't seem to be closely connected to the world I live in.

I feel like one of Marie Antoinette’s handmaidens.

There’s riots tonight in other places other than Paris. Places like Strasbourg, Rouen, Dijon and Nantes have also reported rioting. Every New Year's Eve in Strasbourg, I hear reports of hundreds of cars being burnt there. It seems to be a kind of tradition.

International newspapers, such as The Herald Tribune, have reported that the rioting is due racial discrimination. They say that the rioting is happening because of unemployment. I remember in Roubaix, a suburb in the North where I used to live, it was a mainly Arab community, desperately poor and I think that there was a high level of unemployment. I looked it up and it's quiet over there. Relieved.

Maybe this isn't only about race. Maybe it’s actually a generational gap announcing its entrance. The rioters seem to be very young. Obviously poor, but not poor enough to afford cellphones, scooters and cars. Why do they run like wolves in the night?

There's something that, well, I'm not sure what it means to think this but there's something that has me stymied. I just have this distinct impression that these youth gangs are acting out of joy in power. A power that reaps the benefits of local notoriety, almost as if the riots are a social event for them. A bit like the droogs in Clockwork Orange. Or like the Gangs of New York. Or the Warriors…. I think they take pleasure in rioting, in the act itself. The act is driven out of anarchy rather than political intent.

I mean, I know you have to have a certain social climate to brew that kind of disrespect for order. Maybe poverty, maybe lack of upward mobility, stagnation, apathy.... but the reason for the rioting is not going to be useful for coming up with an immediate solution to the continuing violence. Even with police surveillance, the rioters have no distinct targets.

I imagine this sounds rather inflammatory. I sound unbalanced. I wonder about what I'm saying myself. It's just got me feeling a little destabilized, flummoxed and a kind of lonely sad.