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Barbarians at the Gates of Civilization

Over a dozen years ago, English social critic Theodore Dalrymple penned a memorable essay titled “The Barbarians at the Gates of Paris” (City Journal, Autumn 2002). This was back during the years of rioting in the French capital, when disaffected young male immigrants wreaked havoc with an abandon that suggested they had nothing left to lose. Most of the rioters, who set ablaze the concrete suburbs of Paris, were Muslims from northern Africa — mainly Algeria and Morocco. They had descended into barbaric lawlessness out of a sense of despair driven by a perceived lack of vocational opportunity, a warped sense of injustice, and an attitude of entitlement.

A curious aspect of lawlessness is the desire to destroy — to smash and burn, to crush and pulverize, to do evil by sheer force. Make no mistake: Rioters are evildoers. They are anti-society and anti-civilization, destroyers of cultures and the worst kind of terrorists, primarily because they terrorize their own neighborhoods, and destroy their own homes and shops and parks.

Rioting is often misunderstood as a legitimate form of social protest. But in the U.S., which has lately seen its fair share in places like St. Louis and Baltimore, rioting is nothing more than barbarism, the work of opportunists looking for an excuse — any excuse — to inflict mayhem on their communities and create a state of general disorder and lawlessness. Has anyone stopped to ask who has benefited from all this mayhem, from all the smashed windows, burnt cars, looted shops, and maimed cops? Has this violent approach brought justice to the streets of Baltimore and St. Louis? Has it benefited those who live and work in the neighborhoods in which the rioters ran amok? Has it improved anyone’s lot?

Though few would argue that anyone has benefited from wanton destruction, it’s not popular to suggest that the rioters running through American streets are barbarians bent on inflicting harm on their own communities. Yet it is certainly appropriate. After all, rioters in places like France, England, and the U.S. share much with internationally recognized terrorist groups whose goals include causing civil disorder, fostering fear, and creating panic through wanton destruction and lawlessness.

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