Mark Steel: Why the French blame riots on polygamy

The whole point of Paris is that it's a place to riot. There ought to be live rioting on their sports channels
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The Independent Online

One of the difficulties of being a French politician is how you deal with the aftermath of a riot. Some try the normal condemnations, but it doesn't really work to yell: "What an insult to the founders of our great nation, who we commemorate every year on Bastille Day, to turn Paris into a riot zone."

Surely the whole point of Paris is that it's a place to riot. There ought to be live rioting on their sports television channels, with a French version of Geoffrey Boycott going: "They've got a right-arm rioter lobbing a new petrol bomb and he's chucking against the wind - that's crackers, that is."

So they have to come out with more imaginative theories, such as the statement by their employment minister, who blamed "large polygamous families leading to anti-social behaviour". That's so French. British politicians would have blamed a lack of respect and liberal teachers, but they're much more creative and go for polygamy.

Maybe there's a French police chief that blamed: "An iridescent degustation of counter-illuminated pubescence." And a Home Secretary on The Parisian Late Review who said: "The kaleidoscope of aurora, offering us the urgent orange of a flaming Renault Twingo contrasted with the vulnerable but stoic brown of the boarded up supermarket leaves us shocked, yet reluctantly attracted."

Or maybe they do blame "polygamy". The riots were the result of an anthropological state in which each man has several wives. I'd only heard the term used before to describe Neolithic tribes. Which may explain why it took them thousands of years to progress. Every time they invented a new sort of pot or fishing net that could double output, the polygamy would cause their teenagers to go berserk and torch the place.

And weren't Chinese Emperors polygamous? Maybe that's why archaeologists never find a Ming vase that isn't broken, the rulers couldn't help but indulge in polygamy-fuelled sessions of pottery-chucking.

But the polygamy theory isn't just from one source. Another minister claimed polygamy has led to "an inability to provide an education as it is needed in an organised society". He must mean it's impossible to organise parents' evenings as there's never enough room.

The riots leave commentators in this country even more perplexed, especially these types who've spent years explaining how, in the modern world, we're all middle class. Dinner parties must be full of people whingeing "Whenever I'm stressed and on the verge of torching a police van, I draw a couple of breaths and reward myself with a spot of well-earned 'me' time. So why don't they pop down to the Rue de Rivoli for a noisette of crocodile or a genuine fur bidet?"

An alternative is the familiar theme of blaming Islam. Several columnists have categorised the riots as part of a global Jihad, although one typical witness of the riots in Aulnay said: "They were made up of Muslims, blacks, Portuguese, Vietnamese and French."

One French journalist described the kids involved as "looking like their idols from American hip-hop", which is possibly as far from Islam as you could get. But, for some, Islam now covers anything they don't like. This week there'll be an article somewhere on "The curse of Islamic binge-drinking. Every weekend law-abiding residents are threatened by teenage Muslim drunks lining the streets kneeling and fundamentalist vomiting".

Others refer to the rioters as criminals and hooligans, or complain that if they want to make a difference, they need to get involved in formal politics. And it's true that, for all their drama, riots don't appear to change anything. But in a sense they do.

One rioter was quoted as saying: "Every day the police come into our area and call us pigs." The footballer Lilian Thuram described how, when he lived in the suburbs, "we were always referred to as 'scum'". So for a few days the participants feel a sense of relief, a release from years of petty niggling, which they might not get from attending the meeting of the housing committee at the local council.

And they can only be encouraged by the daily reports that detailed how many cars were burned each night, including describing one night's figure as "a new record". If only one of the McWhirters was still around to verify this. The rioters could have set off from the Record Breakers studio and raced across the city, with an adjudicator just behind them screaming: "Hurry hurry, it's 40 minutes to sunrise and you need 13 more for the official record."

Or, to really bring the disaffected youth into the mainstream of society, they could be commissioned to make a "riot special" version of Top Gear, with the presenter exclaiming: "Or for a real treat, what about this? The Vauxhall Astra GX 2000, with a highly flammable convertible hood, for that al fresco barbecue sensation that'll really make your night's riot go with a bang."