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Bernard-Henri Lévy Headshot

On the Violence at the Trocadero

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To begin with, one mustn't fall into the trap of football as a generator, in and of itself, of violence and destruction, of murderous hooliganism and of bullheadedly vulgar, stupid and chauvinistic behavior. God knows it's not a religion I follow, and I have always been indifferent to these affairs of the festival of the round ball, of France the winner, of the fraternity of and by the stadium.

But, like everyone else, I saw the images of these vandals at the Trocadero. On television, I heard them repeatedly say they didn't give a damn about football, that they were there to smash and only to smash and that, if another occasion for a mass gathering presented itself elsewhere, if they heard of another celebration to disrupt, anywhere and for whatever reason, another party to perturb, another community bash they could crash and spoil, well, that's where they would go.

Better still, I look at what football is becoming. I watch these mixed race teams that speak a Babel of languages, whose bond with the national, the local, the parochial spirit hangs by a thread -- the best one, that of the name. I compare it with football as it was twenty years ago. I remember the days when the ultranationalist and future criminal against humanity Arkan was the head of the supporters of the biggest club in Serbia, and his exact equivalent existed on the Croatian side. And it seems to me that, from this point of view, things are evolving in a rather positive way: the slow extinction of the ethnic mirage; a reduction of chauvinism and things related; perhaps even an abeyance of one of the undercurrents, everywhere else, of the crassest populism -- are there that many places besides the stadium where, as the saying goes, 22 millionaires can perform and are neither lynched nor insulted, but rather adulated?

Nor should we be taken in by the temptation, prevalent among mediocre politicians and those who disingenuously seek phony squabbles, to see these urban guerrilla scenes as unique and unheard of, thunderbolts out of the blue, convulsions of civilization, historical turning points, unprecedented clashes.

Urban violence of the 60s in America was infinitely more brutal. Whether instigated by the Black Panthers, the Diggers, the Weather Underground or others, its participants were motivated to march on the Capitol or the Pentagon, or to demand the liberation of Timothy Leary, high priest of the acid revolution, from this or that state prison.

The dark decade that followed, known in Europe as the leaden years, witnessed infinitely more bloody events, with harassment by the members of Autonomia, then by the Red Brigades, the Baader-Meinhof gang, or Action Directe. The response was the institution of exceptional provisions that saw entire cities living in a state of siege. Need one mention that the suburban riots of 2005 and the anti-CPE demonstrations of 2006 in France were no less spectacular. Nor were those, much earlier, of the misnamed Belle Epoque, when what was termed the "social war" took forms that, fortunately, have apparently been rejected today: in confrontations with the road workers of Draveil or the strikers of Fourmies, troops that opened fire and killed; and, on the other side, criminal policies that sanctioned Léon Léauthier's stabbing of a client, chosen by chance, in a restaurant, or allowed Emile Henry to go scot free after blowing up the Café Terminus. Clearly the furor of today, compared to actions without license of yesterday and yesteryear, seems to be the latest illustration of the adage that says that History incessantly repeats in a minor key the tragic melody it has already played.

No. If there is anything new about the events of last week that will, without a doubt, recur, if there is something to learn from the attitude of these gangs who, now that they know that the emperor is nude (that is to say, the police are helpless) are snowballing, becoming a mass, it is that one must really be wary of underestimation. Pure vandalism. Barbarity with a barbarous face. The will to break, to smash, for its own sake, without a shadow of a political reason, or even a political folly. Social ties reduced to nothing or, if that is not already the case, the object of methodical annihilation.

In the past, terrorists were against the "bourgeois" and the order they supposedly embodied. The assassins of the Baader-Meinhof gang had a political project -- an abject one, but nonetheless a plan. Today's vandals, who might, God forbid, become tomorrow's terrorists, have no program whatsoever. They resemble the public hoodlums Nietzsche spoke of as the rising force in the great modern democratic cities, filling the lull with the simple rage to break the bonds among men. I don't know if one is more fatal than the other. Nor if a loathing based on neither grievance nor purpose is more, or less, difficult to allay than vehemence for an articulated cause.

The only thing I am certain of is that nothing is more fragile than social ties. The bonds hold together only by magic, Paul Valéry declared, citing La Boétie and his reflections on voluntary servitude. Given that, on this point, what is true for the group is also true for its components, more than one path leads to the decline of those links. The slightest thing can dissolve them, melt them, break them to fragments, set them on fire. Has it come to that?