The French are in serious trouble. They have a home-grown insurrection on their hands. In some ways – mainly in the intensity of the violence – the current insurrection recalls the 1968 student rebellion. But there is a major difference between the spring of 1968 and the autumn of 2005. In 1968 the rioting students – at least those who weren't receiving their orders from the Soviets – felt they had a stake in France and its future.
The firebombers and marauders in today's riots do not feel any significant commonality with the people they are rioting against. As Theodore Dalrymple explained in his Autumn 2002 City Journal essay, "The Barbarians at the Gates of Paris," the Muslim youth rioting today feel nothing but nihilistic or Islamic hatred and alienation from their country and their countrymen. In his words, "They are of France, but not French."
Dalrymple explained that the bloated French welfare state houses, clothes, feeds and pays its unassimilated immigrant communities in a manner that enables disaffected youth to "enjoy a far higher standard of living (or consumption) than they would in countries of their parents' or grandparents' origin, even if they labored there 14 hours a day to the maximum of their capacity."
At the same time, he observed that in the ghetto housing projects that ring the major cities of France where these rioting young men live, "The state, while concerning itself with the details of their housing, their education, their medical care, and the payment of subsidies for them to do nothing, abrogates its responsibility completely in the one area in which the state's responsibility is absolutely inalienable: law and order."
Today both the absence of law and order and the total alienation of the burgeoning Muslim immigrant population of France have coalesced in a manner and an intensity that has motivated some observers to write of the violence of the past week and a half as "the fall of France." France has fallen, these mordant observers tell us, because the multicultural overlords of the French chattering and governing classes are unable to muster the will to contend with either the problem of violence or with the problem of social alienation.
News reports of the violence quote police commanders who define the insurrection as "a state of war." On Saturday night, as the firebombers and violent mobs spread to Normandy, Philippe Jofres, a deputy fire commissioner from the area, told France 2 television, "Rioters attacked us with baseball bats. We were attacked with pickaxes. It was war."
Some fire chiefs and policemen are asking for the army to be brought in to quell the violence. Law enforcement officials and French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy have noted that there is coordination among the militants. People have been seen passing out petrol bombs and other ordnance from their cars to militants on the streets. Instructions are given by cellular telephones and Internet sites. French Prosecutor- General Yves Bot told Europe 1 he could see "organized actions, a strategy" informing the militants in the streets.
For their part, law enforcement commanders seem not to have any strategy to speak of. Their actions to date call to mind the image of feckless cat herders. The militants – at least those who are found – are chased from place to place with uninspiring results. On Saturday night, when some 1,300 cars were torched and businesses, schools and stores were ignited throughout the country, only 200 arrests were made. In light of the constant increase in the scope and volume of attacks, one can assume that those arrested were expendable foot soldiers.
It would seem that the French authorities need a two-pronged approach to dealing with their mini civil war. First they need to take control of the violence. In order to do so, they have to stop chasing the rioters and have the rioters come to them. This is necessary in order for them to gain a basic understanding of the command structure of the rival they face. There are people giving orders. There are people deciding where and what to attack. These people need to be arrested and either sent to prison or deported.
Were the police to choose tactically significant locations within the ghettos where these militants live and simply take them over, they would force the militants to confront them in an area they can control. The locations they choose should afford them geographical control over a discrete area – say one square block. As the militants attack them, reinforcements can enter the area from pre-planned routes and easily take control of the area.
In the arrests that will ensue, the police will be able to see, after confiscating the militants' cellular phones, where their orders are coming from, and move swiftly to arrest the lieutenants, who will lead them up the feeding chain. In acting in such a manner, the authorities will induce systemic shock on the militants, who will suddenly be forced to contend with a previously unfamiliar situation – French government control over "their" territory. By thus gaining the initiative, the authorities will be able to eventually achieve control over the violence.
One of the notable aspects of the violence thus far is the absence of murder. The militants have apparently decided to limit their campaign to property damage. No doubt this is because their objective is political, not military. As some Muslim leaders have explained, what they want is autonomy in their ghettos. They seek to receive extraterritorial status from the French government, meaning that they will set their own rules based, one can assume, on Sharia law.
If the militants are able to achieve this goal, even on an informal basis, then those declaring that France has fallen will be proven right. The only way for France to save itself is to prevent such a reality from occurring. If the French government accepts the notion of communal autonomy, France will cease to be a functioning state.
As Francis Fukayama argued in The Wall Street Journal last week, the French government must embrace the American notion of the immigrant "melting pot." As Samuel Huntington, quoting Hector St. John de Crevecoeur explained the term in his book Who are We? The Challenges to America's National Identity, the product of the melting pot leaves behind him "all his ancient prejudices and manners, receives new ones from the mode of life he has embraced, the new government he obeys, and the new rank he holds."
In his previous stint as interior minister, Sarkozy attempted to bring the Muslim immigrants into the mainstream French national culture by forming official French Muslim bodies. Once the violence has been quelled and the leaders of the insurgency imprisoned or deported, the leaders of these official bodies – or alternative leaders – must be vested with the ability to bring French Muslims into French society. These efforts may involve ending the French welfare system as it is presently constituted and shifting subsidies from government handouts to job training. It must certainly involve consistently asserting law and order in the immigrant enclaves.
One could ask why Israel should care what happens in France. Given France's traditional and rather obscene hostility towards Israel, a certain level of good old-fashioned schadenfreude would seem justified. But the fact of the matter is that Israel has two reasons to care about the future of France.
First, five years into this global jihad we see that while Muslim terrorists or militants in Ramallah, Paris, Jakarta, New York, New Dehli, Tikrit, Amsterdam, London, Teheran, Umm el-Fahm and Beslan may not speak to each other directly, they are certainly aware of one another's actions and successes. And were France to fall, all of us would feel the aftershocks.
Secondly, if France begins to assert its authority and responsibility for unassimilated Arabs and Muslims in France, perhaps Israel will be inspired to do the same for our Arab minority in Israel and Judea and Samaria, and thus move our country from a position of policy paralysis and defeatism to one of movement and strength.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.