News & Politics

What's the Deal With All This Unrest in Paris?

A demonstrator watches a burning car near the Champs-Elysees avenue during a demonstration Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018 in Paris. (AP Photo/Kamil Zihnioglu)

It’s getting hard to keep track of the rioting in Paris these days. The City of Lights has just experienced its fifth weekend of protests by the gilets jaunes, or yellow vests. On the one hand, several news media reported that the rage seemed to be dying down. On the other hand, no less a source than Vogue confided, in an article posted Saturday evening, that the rioters, who have already been photographed bringing chaos to the Champs-Élysées and vandalizing the Arc de Triomphe, are making life awfully difficult for high-end Christmas shoppers.

“The screens of the ATMs on the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré were shattered next to a Missoni store,” wrote the style rag’s Lynn Jaeger. “A section of the Tuileries fence had been pulled down; the windows of the Chanel shop on Rue Cambon and Zadig & Voltaire on the Rue de Rivoli, both of which were looted last weekend, were discretely boarded up.” The point is made, but hey, let’s have a little more ritzy name-dropping: “On Friday night, you could look out the window of the second floor of Le Castiglione restaurant and see gray mesh screens nailed to Louis Vuitton’s facade. Two guys were unloading a truck full of planks and methodically covering the glass of stores up and down the street. Isabel Marant opted for plain wood; Goyard had cheerful, color-block panels. Walking past Balenciaga, you noticed that not only was the shop boarded up, but the place was also empty — the shelves cleared of every last dad sneaker and striped handbag.”

Even as the gilets jaunes were ruining the holiday season for the French capital’s richest consumers and most deluxe emporia, a whole different set of protesters tried to disrupt the metropolis’s high-culture scene. On Sunday evening, a mob of two to three hundred migrants, asylum seekers, and illegal aliens, mostly of African origin, stormed the Comédie Française, where a performance of Victor Hugo’s play Lucrezia Borgia was underway. Their goal was reportedly to compel, or convince, the deputy manager of the legendary theater to arrange an appointment for them with Minister of the Interior Christophe Castaner, and thereby help them to secure residency documents. An odd approach, to say the least, but maybe this sort of thing makes more sense in France, where high culture, after all, rules. In any event, the mob was successfully repelled, first by the theater guards, then by a large cohort of gendarmes who arrived on the scene with a celerity that one does not immediately associate with French cops. But of course the police in every country have their own priorities: while British bobbies, for example, are quicker to check out reports of online Islamophobia than of Muslim gang rape, it would only make sense for their Gallic counterparts to be more concerned about productions of Victor Hugo dramas in the first arrondisement than about honor killings outside the Périphérique.

In a statement explaining their decision to focus on the Comédie Française, of all places, the two immigrant-aid organizations that plotted the action said that theaters are “privileged settings” in which actors frequently make extravagant speeches about “hospitality”; by storming that particular venue, the rioters were essentially challenging the theater people to take concrete action to back up their lofty rhetoric.

(Not a bad idea, really. I mean, take somebody like Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator and star of the Broadway musical Hamilton, tickets to which are currently selling for upwards of $235 apiece. Last June, at a demo, Miranda sang a lullaby dedicated “to kids whose parents were taken from them at the border.” Wouldn’t it be cool if a couple of hundred illegal immigrants — and their kids — invaded the Richard Rodgers Theater during a performance of Hamilton and camped out there indefinitely? Or if a few dozen of the Guatemalans who’ve made it to Tijuana hiked the extra 150 miles to Barbra Streisand’s Malibu spread and pitched tents on her lawn, their boomboxes blaring the songs on her new pro-open borders album, Walls?)

I began this article by suggesting that it’s getting hard to keep track of these demonstrations in France. In fact, when you come right down to it, the whole thing is really pretty simple. On one side you’ve got these mobs of immigrants, most of whom have no business being in France in the first place, but who, instead of keeping a low profile and showing some gratitude for what the French state has already given them, have a breathtaking sense of entitlement that makes them feel free to charge the very temples of French culture and issue arrogant demands. On the other side, you have humble French workers, most of them from the provinces, who have seen their wages stagnate, in large part because of the mass influx of competitive immigrant labor, and seen their taxes soar, in large part because of the government’s need to fund ballooning social-welfare benefits for immigrants who choose not to work.

During the last couple of years, more and more commentators have suggested that America is splitting into two countries — one composed of immigrants and favored identity groups and their politically correct cultural-elite allies and the other of disgruntled red-state patriots who feel used, neglected, betrayed, and fed up — and that the country is inevitably headed for civil war. That may or may not be an exaggeration. But one thing is clear: a very similar split has long been taking shape — and is even more pronounced — in Western Europe, where the immigrant tide is higher and its impact on the daily lives of ordinary natives even more severe. It’s scarcely a surprise that mass demos motivated by these concerns are making their debut in France, where public protest is the national pastime, but no one should be surprised if large-scale revolts by both the invaders and the invaded begin to be weekly fare in other Western European countries, too. After all, the pressure is mounting all around, and eventually something’s got to give.