Along with journalists and writers everywhere, I mourn our murdered colleagues at Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical weekly that had the courage to poke fun at Islam, and paid a horrendous price. This is a new and terrible step on the part of the terrorists: they have threatened individual journalists for years and forced a few into hiding or witness protection. But the assault on the premises of a news organization and the massacre of its staff is an entirely new thing. We have never seen anything like this before in the sorry history of terrorism.
How will France respond?
France now faces an existential dilemma. By most independent estimates France now has a Muslim population of 6 million, or almost 10% of its 65 million people. If we assume that just 1% of this population are radicalized to the point of engaging in or providing support for terrorist activities, that is a pool of 60,000 individuals. We are not speaking of 60,000 potential bombers or shooters, but a support network that will allow a much smaller number of terrorists to blend into the broader population. In the “no-go” zones of France now effectively ruled by Muslim gangs, moreover, the terrorists can intimidate the Muslim population. France already has lost the capacity to police part of its territory, which means that it cannot conduct effective counter-terror operations.
To put that number in context, the whole prison population of France is less than 70,000, of whom 60% are Muslims. It only takes a few dozen trained terrorists with an effective support network to bring ordinary life to a stop in a major city. France has had the toughest enforcement policy against radical Islam among the major European nations, as Daniel Pipes observes. But French security clearly has been overwhelmed. The use of assault rifles and (reportedly) a rocket launcher by highly-skilled gunmen in the center of Paris is a statement of contempt towards the authorities on the part of the terrorists.
The means by which France could defeat the terrorists are obvious: To compel the majority of French Muslims to turn against the terrorists, the French authorities would have to make them fear the French state more than they fear the terrorists. That is a nasty business involving large numbers of deportations, revocation of French citizenship, and other threats that inevitably would affect many individuals with no direct connection to terrorism. In the short term it would lead to more radicalization. The whole project of integration as an antidote to radicalism would go down the drain. The effort would be costly, but ultimately it would succeed: most French Muslims simply want to stay in France and earn a living.
There is no good outcome here, but the worst outcome would be the degeneration of France into a hostage state.