So far, most of the responses have been in the area of tightening security. Sarkozy and his minions were out and about yesterday with an agreed set of talking points: isolate radical prisoners to prevent proselytizing in prisons (but what about the streets?); strengthen passport checks beyond Schengen levels; prevent French jihadis from returning home (but even Guéant recognizes that only those with dual nationality can be stripped of citizenship; barring native-born French citizens from returning would require a change in the law); extend electronic surveillance (but not as far as the US Patriot Act, which even the French right finds objectionable) and above all the capability to analyze the data collected (since the authorities had plenty of information on the Kouachis and Coulibaly but failed to detect the passage à l'acte). Surprisingly, the Socialists who were talking yesterday made many similar suggestions. So there will be action on the security front forthwith, as one would expect. But it won't be enough, even if one Socialist, Malek Boutih, suggests that the state take over crime-ridden radical breeding grounds like Grigny and "cleanse" them, whatever that means:
The real problem, of course, is that there is all too much fertile ground for terror recruitment, and there are all too many military weapons on the black market, so low-tech, inexpensive kamikaze assaults are likely to be limited only by the number of suicidal youths on offer. The most alarming reports from France, therefore, are those of young students in some suburban schools--kids as young as 10--who refused to observe the moment of silence on the grounds that the dead had profaned the prophet. This is upsetting news, but in the nature of things the problem is not going to be solved by assigning a team of security agents to keep tabs on these kids for the next 20 years. Something has to change at the base. Daniel Cohn-Bendit suggests hiring more sports educators--a suggestion that seems a trifle short of the goal from a man who usually aims well beyond the feasible. There is also talk of "licensing" imams to ensure that only the "right" Islam is preached--as if such a thing were possible.
Alas, what the disaffected future radicals need most of all is hope--hope of a future other than the bleak one that a foundering France with high unemployment concentrated in minority communities can offer them. But that, too, is an oversimplification. Coulibaly had been employed by Coca Cola, of all things, and even went to the Elysée in a program intended to dispense presidential attaboys to kids from the suburbs who had somehow scrabbled their way into jobs. The former leader of the Buttes-Chaumont network, who had enlisted the Kouachis for jihadi service, was in a nurse training program at the Salpêtrière run by former Sarkozy minister Martin Hirsch. He might have been on duty treating victims of the Vincennes shootings if his past had not been belatedly recognized, leading to his removal from the duty roster and the training program. So was the problem a failure of integration or a failure of successful economic integration to induce cultural and geopolitical identification with France? Solving this problem will be much more difficult than tightening security, and much more fraught with deep disagreement and ugly emotion.