I think I got culture shook last night. A couple Americans and I stumbled upon a protest to the Israeli attacks on Gaza. At first we saw a pillar of fire and a crowd of people. Someone said something about a car being on fire. Surely not, I thought. You hear about people lighting cars on fire, but come on, does that really happen in this civilized city?
Turns out that I know very little about violence. After we watched the fire fighters douse the first burning car, we wandered down the street. It was complete mayhem. More burning cars, even more flipped over. Store and restaurant windows, phone booths, bus stops were shattered. People were pillaging a cell phone store. Pieces of mannequins scattered amongst signs reading "Israel Assassin."
It was very clear that what started out a protest became a game of smash and burn. In a safe area of Paris, a place where you might go shopping or grab a coffee. Transformed into havoc, while bystanders like me wandered around, snapping photos with their camera phones.
I don't think I've digested it yet. I don't understand how destroying someone's car or enterprise makes a point. I don't understand why they weren't stopped. Hundreds of police stood on the perimeter. And stood and stood and stood. I can't get over that.
I constantly force myself not to compare this country to America. But I couldn't help it last night, thinking to myself "this would never happen in America, things would never get this far, these people would have been stopped before they destroyed so much." But I guess there's nothing to say it couldn't happen. The real point is that I've never witnessed it at home.