Tuesday, March 21. It’s 11 p.m., the Place de la République in Paris is surrounded by CRS buses, their lights flashing everywhere, it looks like a show. From a distance, groups of masked young people repeating slogans against pension reform, the head of state, capitalism, police violence, the government. I advance, the cars cannot circulate, which facilitates displacements on foot. A rare advantage: you can walk on this square without waiting at red lights. The scooter drivers, present day and night, are replaced by demonstrators. They are not so many, a few hundred people. Boys are screaming, throwing Molotov cocktails, throwing stones at the police blocking the Rue du Faubourgs du Temple, the latter then advancing towards us. The smell of gas is overwhelming.
I don’t know why I’m not running from the police. Maybe because I’m sure they won’t kill me or call me out. These civil servants have nothing to do with those of my native Syria, where, without any reason, one can be assassinated in the middle of the street just because one is present, by chance, in a demonstration. The police return again where the street joins the square. A young man, beer in hand, gives them the middle finger, then approaches them: “Rise up against the fachos who treat us like shit.” Some of his comrades make videos while waiting for the police to react, but they do not move. The demonstrators are disappointed. Others repeat several times: “It’s war.”
This sentence, I had heard it many times in Syria. There, during a demonstration, you had to, first of all, close your pages on social networks: if you were arrested, the first thing the police asked in the prison was to open them. And then, you had to say goodbye to your house, to your mother, before leaving: you might end up being killed on the spot. In a country where the intelligence services respect nothing, protesting is real suicide. Despite this, the organization of these demonstrations was remarkable. There was a specific place to get out of, a time to disperse before the attack by the police who used real ammunition. These movements have also been a source of inspiration for different types of art, especially graffiti. In Homs, poetic phrases like “tomorrows have always been the most beautiful in history” were written on the walls. The walls, symbol of the barriers opposed to freedom, had become paintings of artistic creation. But the most important thing was the total prohibition of any type of violence in order to avoid plunging the country into a civil war.
The regime accused the rebels of being barbarians, so the latter insisted on showing their pacifism despite the atrocious violence coming from the police. On April 18, 2011, residents occupied the Place de l’Horloge in downtown Homs. Tens of thousands of civilians. Activists holding hands formed a human chain around the protesters. They searched everyone who arrived to make sure no one was bringing weapons. The crowd expressed its joy: “Freedom, freedom, Muslims and Christians.” They shared food and water bottles. A child came on stage and started singing. A few hours later, the forces of repression opened fire. After the crowd dispersed, the bodies were bulldozed and loaded into large trucks. Some went to the military hospital in Homs, others to unknown destinations. Members of the security forces cleaned up the blood spilled on the ground with fire engines.
Faced with this fascist regime, the street had total legitimacy. In a country without parliament, without elections, without any democracy, this regime, little by little, forced the people to take up arms to defend themselves in the absence of international intervention. It’s like that. We fell in the war. But is France really in a war opposing the street to the State?
Justification for extremists
That the hashtag “C’est la guerre” on Twitter finds an echo among hundreds of citizens – some of them even calling for taking up arms – above all proves that France is suffering from the class struggle, and from an absurd violent “resistance” legitimized by a populist discourse on the part of certain unions following the street instead of guiding it. Philippe Martinez is a good example: he finds it normal to cut off the electricity of an elected representative in Parliament the day before the vote. This behavior encourages young people who want to struggle to struggle, without knowing what struggle it is. They want to oppose the system only to oppose, without really wanting to participate or be interested in politics, or understanding the decisions made by the government. They have no political experience, the majority of them abstained during the presidential election.
Groups of boys and girls overturn trash cans, break shop windows, bus stops, to obtain the withdrawal of the pension reform law. But we know that this law is only a pretext for violence that we also saw in Sainte-Soline, in a demonstration where thousands of people converged. The thugs wanted to protect the planet’s water resources there, by burning cars and using slingshots against the police, the latter reacting with encirclements and tear gas. The demonstration turned into a battle scene. Result: two people between life and death, and dozens of injured among the demonstrators as well as within the police.
Today, we observe violent movements without solid structuring, without militants trying to organize the street. This is one of the consequences of the weakness of National Education, the erasure of the left in government, the loss of the sense of citizenship, and the radicalization of discourse: we must fight against capitalism, the patriarchal society or the presidential majority. On the other hand, when the president sees the crowd as having no legitimacy, treats the protesters as ignorant, it can only lead to more violence. Like oil thrown on the fire, Emmanuel Macron increases the gap between the legitimacy of the assembly and that of the street.
There is now a lot of talk of police violence, which is certainly true in some demonstrations. But, for a Frenchman from Syria like me, this violence is not a general case. Viewing France as a country at war is just a justification for extremists to increase disorder. You just have to look at what is happening elsewhere, in foreign countries, to be right. And oppose effectively and realistically laws that do not suit us.
*Writer and poet born in Damascus, Omar Youssef Souleiman took part in the demonstrations against the regime of Bashar el-Assad, but, hunted down by the secret services, had to flee Syria in 2012. A refugee in France, he published with Flammarion “Le little terrorist”, “The Last Syrian” and “A Room in Exile”.