I live in Paris. Before starting the year abroad that is a compulsory component of my degree, my university asked me to fill out a risk assessment form. I must admit I sneered a bit – a risk assessment form? For Paris? As far as I was concerned, so long as I wasn’t knocked out by a Frenchman’s body odour (I can confirm that this stereotype is untrue – the average Frog is as fragrant as your average Rosbif), my year abroad would be fairly devoid of peril.
I’m not sneering any more, and my university has got quite twitchy as last Saturday Paris was a genuinely frightening place to be. I was under strict instructions not to venture outdoors, so I remained in the sanctuary of my 29th storey apartment listening to my 80-year-old Jewish landlady’s concerns about the antisemitic streak to the ‘gilets jaunes’ movement.
If I looked out my window, I could see plumes of smoke rising to the east, near Place d’Italie, to the north at Bastille and to the west at the Arc de Triomphe. A friend texted me saying that they had been caught up in a cloud of tear gas.
Fear was palpable. For the majority of Paris’ residents, this was a grim, grim day. Incarcerated in their homes as innocent people’s cars were torched, independent shops were ransacked without rhyme or reason and the police were attacked for simply doing their job.
It is in this context that the response of some parts of the British commentariat to the ‘gilets jaunes’ rioters has appalled me. Owen Jones, the pound shop radical, was jubilant: “those who say that protest doesn’t work have been proved wrong – and that should encourage us all to take to the streets”.
At the other end of the spectrum (the Horseshoe Theory is alive and well), James Delingpole’s admiration was cloying. He said that “the good news is that [the ‘Gilets Jaunes’’ manifesto] contains an awful lot of sense”, and then bemoaned the “antidemocratic” French political system for the fact it wouldn’t be implemented. Elsewhere, the British press tacitly tolerated this illegal protest by referring to the mob as “protestors” rather than “rioters”. Peaceful protest is enshrined and respected in the French constitution. Random violence is not.
It is a troubling time to be a democrat when you see meaningless destruction mistaken for legitimate protest in your closest neighbour, and commentators back home call for the destruction to be replicated in your own country.
The President has rescinded the policy that originally provoked the protest, but still the movement rumbles on, with ‘Acte V’ threatened this coming weekend. This is thuggery in its plainest form – the angry mob will not be satisfied until the President who was elected by huge majority a mere 18 months ago on the very globalist, environmentalist agenda that the rioters now claim to despise has been disposed of. “Macron démission” (“Macron resign”) is very much the trend on social media.
Democracy is now so uncherished that approximately 100,000 protestors, particularly the few thousand vandals among them, stand to overthrow an elected government.
And yet for the likes of Jones and Delingpole, this is something to be egged on rather than condemned. In the case of Jones, I suspect it is merely a case of unthinking stupidity – he immediately adores anything that has even the faintest whiff of radicalism about it, so the ‘gilets jaunes’ with their claim to the legacy of May ’68 are the stuff of his raunchiest dreams.
Delingpole’s support, elocuted in Breitbart, is more sinister. Two and a half years on from Jo Cox’s murder, threats of political violence are on the rise in the UK in the face of the mooted People’s Vote. Prominent Remain campaigners will be “swinging from lampposts” according to Twitter’s darker corners, and “London will burn”
This cannot be tolerated, yet still prominent political figures incite violence – Nigel Farage warned Dominic Grieve to “not underestimate the anger out there”, in one of his less-veiled threats to date.
Parliamentary democracy is the bedrock of everything we hold dear. Yet somehow, when we see it being thrown to the wolves across the Channel, there are parts of commentariat that relish its demise. Meanwhile, most Parisians live in fear of Saturday, and the horrors of ‘Acte V’.