Sunday, November 06, 2005

Too close to the text

One thing about the Internet is that it's very easy to overfocus on points of language that would rarely disturb you otherwise. Take the French police trade union chap who used the word "guerrilla" with regard to rioting recently. Everyone you'd expect to latched onto this as proof, proof! that the decadent Yurpeans were doomed to collapse into a Taliban society (you can probably fill the rest in by now), and John Robb's comment threads immediately lit up with earnest discussion of how the Global Guerrillas model might apply to the evident decline of the French state.

Nobody seems to have questioned what, concretely, "guerrilla" meant in this connection. After all, throwing rocks at policemen and running away is always closer to guerrilla activity tactically than industrial warfare. This is, I think, both obvious and trivial. In fact, "guerrilla" here was a message from a very right-wing interest group to a supposed patron, Sarkozy, and could have been better read as "scary brown people, send money and more police powers". Equally, very right-wing French politicians like to talk about "intifadas" as a way of provoking themselves and (they hope) aligning with George Bush.

Rioting is at least as much a French tradition as croissants, in fact more so, as jacqueries occurred long before the pastry was introduced from Austria in the 1700s. My point? All this is serving certain people's purposes. M. Sarkozy made his pitch for the racist vote and more budget, the police trade unionist made profile with his members in the provinces and at Sarko's office, the rioters are venting, and the "Eurabia" types are convincing themselves further. But, this requires more context than you get with one word, usually quoted at third hand. Pah.

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