I’m just back from France, where my direct experience of riots and looting was non-existent, although I had walked past a Montpellier branch of Swarkowski the day before it ceased to be. My indirect experience was quite extensive though, since I watched the talking heads on French TV project their instant analysis onto the unfolding anarchy. Naturally, they discovered that all their existing prejudices were entirely confirmed by events. The act that caused the wave of protests and then wider disorder was the police killing of Nahel Merzouk, 17, one of a succession of such acts of police violence against minorites. Another Arab kid from a poor area. French police kill about three times as many people as the British ones do, though Americans can look away now.

One of the things that makes it difficult for me to write blogs these days is the my growing disgust at the professional opinion-writers who churn out thought about topics they barely understand, coupled with the knowledge that the democratization of that practice, about twenty years ago, merely meant there were more people doing the same. And so it is with opinion writers and micro-bloggers about France, a ritual performance of pre-formed clichés and positions, informed by some half-remembered French history and its literary and filmic representations (Les Misérables, La Haine), and, depending on the flavour you want, some some Huntingtonian clashing or some revolting against structural injustice. Francophone and Anglophone commentators alike, trapped in Herderian fantasies about the nation, see these events as a manifestation of essential Frenchness that tells us something about that Frenchness and where it is heading to next. Rarely, we’ll get a take that makes some comparison to BLM and George Floyd.
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