Europe suffered from international terrorist organizations in the 1960ís and 1970ís. French terrorists got into the game early, with several diverse groups trying to assassinate Charles de Gaulle through his long political career. Iím probably hopelessly biased, but I think the main reason why those groups were dismantled and the major players either caught or killed was due to aggressive and professional law enforcement.
But, of course, times change. A pair of Franceís most notorious and dangerous criminal bosses were freed from prison a few years ago by their henchmen. One of the prison breaks, that of Italian mobster Antonio Ferrara, closely resembled a military operation, with machine gun fire being used to suppress the guards while RPGís were reportedly used to blow open the gates of the facility. What is troubling is that this all took place at Fresnes Prison right outside of Paris, arguably the most secure in the entire country.
This news item reports that gangs of youths have been rioting after dark for the past two days in Clichy-sous-Bois, which is yet another suburb of Paris. The spark that caused this urban unrest was the deaths of two youths who reportedly climbed the fence of an electric substation and were electrocuted. They did this while fleeing the scene of a suspected burglary after the police showed up.
Things are understandably confused, with spokesmen from rival police trade unions either calling for help from the military and claiming that a civil war is taking place, or downplaying the situation as serious but hardly dire. (Acting on my own experience, Iíd say that the calls for calling out the Army are rather premature at best.) What I find telling about all of this is summed up in a quote by the mayor of the suburb where the rioting is taking place.
“Thanks to you, France will now respect us more than this morning, before this silent march,” said Claude Dilain, mayor of Clichy-Sous-Bois, a suburb of high-rise social housing.
So the youths that are rioting are, in the main, descended from unassimilated Islamic immigrants. This is hardly surprising, since this is a problem that all of Europe is struggling to address. Some pundits have predicted that a civil war (a real one) could break out between them and the legitimate governments that offer shelter and protection. I personally think that this is unlikely, but I also have to admit that it is a possibility if a solution isnít found.
Franceís Minister of the Interior is named Nicolas Sarkozy, a man with far reaching political ambitions. He is positioning himself to make a run for Chiracís job in 2007 on a law-and-order platform. This might work as long as he can claim that his efforts kept the peace and lowered the crime rate. His strategy for this is based on aggressive patrolling by the police, a method that will probably succeed since itís exactly the same thing that has contributed to dramatically falling crime rates here in the United States.
If Sarkozy is elected as President of France, it will be ironic that the main achievement of his stint in the Interior Ministry will be the reduction of French crime by using methods tested for more than a decade here in the United States. But I wouldnít expect him to admit that.