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By Theodore Dalrymple

The New Vichy Syndrome: Why European Intellectuals Surrender to Barbarism.

Eye on the News

Theodore Dalrymple
The Two Frances
One a bourgeois paradise; the other, an urban fear zone
April 7, 2009

To live as God in France: both the Germans and the Dutch use this expression of longing for a life of ease and beauty, for a terrestrial paradise. It’s easy to see why. Dutch friends came to stay in my house in France and found everything enchanting—from the landscape and the weather to the politeness of the butcher and the quality of the meat he sold. The bread alone seemed worth the trip, to say nothing of the charcuterie, and France seemed a smiling land quite without problems.

Opening Le Figaro for March 16, however, one discovers another France: far away, it is true, both socially and geographically, but nonetheless existent and not without its importance. An article with the headline THE POLICE ARE MORE AND MORE THE TARGET OF AMBUSHES AND GUNSHOTS recounted how the police and other emergency services had been ambushed in the banlieues of Paris the night before, and ten policemen were injured by shots from hunting weapons.

A pattern seems to be emerging. The services get called out to a banlieue—in the latest case, to attend to a power outage, deliberately caused by youthful residents—and then groups of these youths, often no older than 15, confident that they remain virtually untouchable by the law, confront them with a hail of stones. A gun is then discharged on the police from somewhere or other. In the latest incident, 24 policemen were fired at, though “only” ten were injured.

Incidents like this are now so common that they hardly make the headlines. They are more like confrontations in a grumbling, low-intensity civil war than “normal” criminal activity with an acquisitive aim. The secretary-general of the police union said that the police were “very worried by the rise of organized and armed violence.”

So which is the real France, that of the bourgeois, rural tranquility in which I live, or that of the suburban ambush of the police? Both, of course: the reality of modern societies is always complex, and all aspects of their reality are equally real. The question is, however, whether the tensions in the banlieues will become so great that they destroy the tranquility of the whole country, or whether the “forces of order,” as they are still called, can contain and ameliorate the problem.

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