The 11th Night
Just hours after French President Jacques Chirac publicly condemned violence and rioting in Paris ... police were fired on by rioters. Ten officers were wounded ... two of them seriously, when police clashed with about 200 youths who were hurling stones and other projectiles ... The incident came only a few hours after Chirac made his first public address since the riots began.
This report from CTV could mean that certain "youths" -- to use the charming nomenclature of the press -- have decided to lead the events of the past eleven days into deeper waters. It may compel the police, firemen and rescue workers to increase their force protection measures, to travel in better protected packages, reducing the area they could cover in a more permissive environment. Although the timing of the police shooting in the immediate aftermath of Chirac's speech may be coincidental, the attacks may also be a conscious defiance, the proverbial cream pie thrown in the French President's face.
On Sunday ... business owners called on Chirac to summon the military ... before arsonists begin to attack buildings as well. ... Police said ... nearly 1,300 vehicles were burned across the country. Some 2,300 police officers were ordered into the Paris region ... on Saturday night.
What isn't known, what the public can only guess at, are the preparations the French government have made to carry out Chirac's pledge to restore order. "The law must have the last word," Chirac said, and vowed those sowing "violence or fear" will be "arrested, judged and punished." The French government must demonstrate that it can deliver, for nothing incites contempt so much as to be all hat and no cattle; to bluster and to bluster impotently.
It will be a tough challenge to shut down riots, which are not so much assemblies of unruly crowds, but small groups of operators burning property in hit-and-run attacks. My own guess is that these guerilla groups can be easily neutralized in neighborhoods where their ethnicity stands out. Once on their own turf it will be a different story. But the price of using racial profiling, whatever words are used to disguise the fact, is that profiling is a blunt instrument, prone to identify as many of the innocent as it does the guilty.
Richard Zeckhauser is one of the few applied mathematicians of the first rank to examine the economics of racial profiling. Reading his paper I was struck by his observation that if a person could somehow capture the results of being cleared after having been profiled that clearance would have some value. ("See, I've already been cleared!") But if that information could not be captured by a profiling system -- a system that was memoryless -- then it would take on the character of harassment, because the profiling would be repeated whatever the result. What that suggested to me in plain words was that the French crackdown on the banlieus, if it is to have any significance, must be part of a larger program to take them back from the organized criminals, Islamist extremists and assorted hooligans; it has to be part of an intelligence-gathering operation to make these enclaves transparent to larger society and worthwhile places to live in.
What I am afraid will happen is that the French authorities will apply the worst possible combination: a short-term crackdown based on profiling together with an agreement to cede the governance of these ghettos to some kind of Islamic councils. That will make the banlieus more opaque while at the same time making them more alien. Yet the attraction of this policy mix is obvious. It throws a bone to the extreme right and left wings of French policy and may quell the disturbances for a moment. It kicks the can down the road into a minefield. It's a soothing gargle of antiseptic mouthwash prior to flossing with a razor blade.
It's getting real interesting. CNN is reporting that churches, schools and police stations are going up in smoke.
"In the northern city of Rouen, a police barricade was set afire and a burning car was pushed into the police station; and in Strasbourg, near the German border, a school was torched. A church was set ablaze in the southern fishing town of Sete and another in nearby Lens, Pas de Calais; two schools in the southeastern town of Saint-Etienne and a police station in the central France town of Clermont-Ferrand were torched, as was a social center in Seine-Saint-Denis, near the border with Switzerland."
Here's a Google Earth map of the French towns affected so far compiled from the Europe-based blog No Pasaran!