How dangerous are riots to the very existence of the French state? Most commentators avoid the question and concentrate on causes. The more whimsical attribute cause to that clichéd French historical reflex of insurrection; the sociologists to poverty and discrimination in the banlieues (suburbs); the far-left to French institutional racism and right-wing policies; conservative politicians to excess immigration, the ghettoization of France and the state’s retreat from enforcing law and order. But a growing chorus now evokes an unmentionable potential consequence: civil war. Of most concern is that those voices include groups with first-hand knowledge of the state of the country: the police, the army, domestic intelligence.
On Friday, following three days of violent nation-wide rioting, arson, looting, attacks on police stations, town halls and even politicians, two of France’s police trade unions that speak for 90 per cent of the 150,000-strong force published a warning to the political class. Their communiqué declared that they ‘can no longer put up with the diktat of these violent minorities’. They called for ‘combat’ against this ‘vermin’. They demanded that ‘all means be put in place to restore immediately the rule of law’ and declared that ‘we are at war’. They went on to warn the government that they will ‘take action’ if ‘concrete measures’ are not taken to legally protect the police officer charged with the manslaughter of the Algerian youth that sparked the turmoil. The left condemned this as ‘a threat of sedition’, the head of the Greens called it ‘a call to civil war’. The interior minister studiously avoided journalists’ questions. He fears two extremes: that the police take matters into their own hands when dealing with rioters; that they collectively stand down, as they contractually have the right to do.
Go back two years to April 2021 and the wake of Islamic terrorism and ‘gilets jaunes’ riots.