Tuesday, November 08, 2005

A Timid Response

After almost two weeks of rioting and unrest that has spread across his country, French President Jacques Chirac has hit upon a solution--curfews! According to the AP, Chirac has finally declared a national State of Emergency, paving the way for local officials to implement curfews in affected areas for the next 12 days.

Experience shows that curfews work only when the government is willing to enforce them, usually with an overwhelming show of force by police and/or troops, and zero tolerance for anyone caught violating the directive. Based on early indications, I'd say that the French curfews will likely fail. They go into effect at midnight tonight, and there are no signs of a massive police or paramilitary deployment to back up the curfews.

Yes, I know late start time is reflects the European tradition of a late supper and an evening on the town, but if you're trying to keep rioters off the street, you don't give them a chance to use late-night pedestrian traffic to cover their movements. Starting the curfew at 9:00 or 10:00 p.m. would be a much more effective deterent, but it appears that Chirac is afraid to take on his cafe and shop owners, let alone the rioters.

Additionally, the security response to the rioting and unrest has been equally unimpressive. So far, the French have activated an additional 1,500 police reservists to deal with a situation that is now affecting at least 300 cities and towns across France. That translates to five additional police officers for each affected municipality. Some show of force.

The French are also promising to increase social spending in affected areas. Joel Kotkin, writing in today's Opinion Journal, explains why that approach won't work--and why Muslim immigrants in American aren't rioting.

Timid responses only invite more rioting and unrest and that is what France will see in the coming days. As the violence spreads outside Muslim and North African neighborhoods, it will be interesting to see how long the French public will tolerate such half-hearted measures.

One final thought: would the unrest have lasted this long if French citizens were armed?

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