Despite widespread violence including numerous shooting incidents it appears that no one has yet been killed. Why is this? The linked article and others suggest that the rioters are going for maximum damage short of the level that would provoke a decisive response from the French government. Wretchard comments:
Belmont Club commenter Red River makes the interesting conjecture that rioting “youths” in Paris have confined their primary mode of attack to car burning as part of a deliberate brinkmanship. Car burning is spectacular, serious enough to get attention yet — and this is the vital point — not serious enough to provoke lethal force. By staying just shy of the threshold, the rioters can maximize their rate of propagation at minimum danger to themselves.
(The link to Red River is worth following. Go to the linked thread and search on his name. He posted several insightful comments.)
The use of car burning and shotguns fired from a distance are reminiscent of the first Intifada against Israel. Then as now provocateurs used weapons that were extremely dangerous but not consistently lethal. In the Intifada Palestinians’ slings and fire bombs were effective because they did not kill enough Israeli troops for the Israeli leadership to be willing to bear the high domestic and international political cost of responding with overwhelming force. Yet the Israelis couldn’t do nothing in response to constant provocations, and the drumbeat of apparently pointless IDF and civilian casualties, and seemingly no-win nature of the “situation,” eventually demoralized Israeli society and made Palestinian victory possible (until the Israelis developed new tactics and the Palestinians overplayed their hand).
The French government isn’t as constrained as the Israelis were, since a lot of French citizens probably favor a harsh response to the rioters and other countries aren’t likely to interfere. Nonetheless the French rioters, like the Palestinians, appear to be getting the result they want. By keeping their violence to a level just below that which would provoke a real crackdown they have paralyzed the government and made their own victory — which appears to consist, initially, of the formal partition of metropolitan France into Muslim and non-Muslim areas — more likely.
UPDATE: Ralf notes that someone has been killed, but I don’t think that weakens my argument.
UPDATE 2: I hope we’re all wrong about the seriousness of these events, but I doubt it.
Even if the riots began opportunistically, the French govt’s reaction has provided fuel by making clear that substantial political gains for the Muslims are attainable by force. The sky’s the limit now. I didn’t see the WSJ article yet, but concession talk was foreordained by the leftist political culture which knows only to appease in response to attacks. God help them, and us, if they give in and grant the Muslims some kind of formal autonomy within France. It would be like the beach head of an invasion where the nation being invaded didn’t realize that it was at war.
Or maybe enough French realize what’s going on that they will eventually vote for leaders who will do something about it. But in the meantime, to paraphrase Red River, the Muslims are operating within French society’s OODA loop.