Barbara Kay: Charlie Hebdo massacre shakes French determination to ignore Islamist threat
National Post - Friday January 9th, 2015
The pen may be mightier than the sword in the long run, but we live in the short run, and in the short run, the sword is often mightier than the pen.
Paris shooters cornered in printing plant with a hostage. Brothers say they ‘want to die as martyrs’
Terrorists linked to each other seized hostages at two locations around Paris on Friday, facing off against hundreds of French security forces as the city shut down a famed Jewish neighbourhood and scrambled to protect residents and tourists from further attacks.
Historically, the Islamist terror attack on Charlie Hebdo – I already think of it as 1/07 – will be seen as more devastating than 9/11. The toppling of America’s Twin Towers was a tragedy in terms of the human lives it extinguished. Certainly the icon of America’s wealth and power brought down to rubble was shocking to Americans, and morale-boosting to the jihadists. But the greatness of a nation is not contained in buildings. Free markets did not falter on that day. Towers can – and have been – rebuilt.
The 1/07 jihadists killed twelve people, not 3,000. But those 12 people represented an institution that cannot be replaced with bricks and mortar. Those twelve iconoclasts were not collateral damage. They were the very spirit of freedom of speech, the pillar of democracy and free peoples everywhere. Spirits are not so easily rebuilt.
Thus, while killers could not stop commerce from going forward, I believe we will not see the satirical likes of Charlie Hebdo again for the foreseeable future – in France, at any rate, possibly in the West. Charlie Hebdo represented a particular kind of free speech: the priceless freedom to offend. Twelve people with the kind of courage it now takes to offend Islamists do not come along every day. Even if 12 equally talented and courageous people could be found who were willing to take such personal risks for themselves, who would jeopardize their families’ safety “merely” to make people laugh at hypocrites and fanatics?
With hindsight, it seems such an attack was inevitable. And yet up until Wednesday mainstream French politicians were desperately trying to pretend there was no jihad in France. Just before Christmas, a shopper was killed and nine others wounded when a van plowed through a busy market in Nantes. The day before, a man shouting “Allahu Akbar” had rammed his car into crowds in Dijon, wounding 13, and a day before that, a man had wounded three police officers with a knife in Joueles-Tours while screaming “God is Great” in Arabic. Yet France’s Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve asked that the public “not draw hasty conclusions since…[the Dijon driver’s] motives have not been established,” and Dijon’s public prosecutor, Marie-Christine Tarrare, claimed that the incident was “not a terrorist act at all.”
In the very same week, there were drive-by shootings in Paris targeting a Paris synagogue, a kosher restaurant and a Jewish-owned publishing house, but the official announcement insisted no link could be found between any of the three events. This refusal to link violent acts of Judeophobia with Islamism is willful blindness of a special order, which isn’t to say it is unique in the West, only that the stakes are presently higher in France. There are five million Muslims in France, the highest number of any European country, disproportionately young, unemployed, unintegrated, seething with inchoate anger and vulnerable to anti-Semitic and jihadist propaganda. All this has long been known.
By a rather mordant coincidence, this week’s Charlie Hebdo featured a new novel by controversial author Michel Houellebecq projecting a future Muslim leader of France, who bends the nation toward Sharia law. Considering that France’s Muslims will in a few years constitute a voting bloc capable of dictating election outcomes, the idea is not wildly far-fetched.
Progressive intellectuals steeped in utopian left-wing visions of a successful “French Islam” accuse opponents of racism.
Even more ironic, France’s best-selling non-fiction book of the last few months is entitled Le Suicide Français. The author is a public intellectual, Eric Zemmour, a straight talker who makes cultural elites very uncomfortable. Zemmour blames Muslim migrants, amongst others (like feminists, corrupt financiers and activist judges) for bringing France to its knees. He cites the mass immigration from Algeria and the anti-discrimination law of 1972 that introduced “the principle of nondiscrimination between French and foreigners” as the stepping stone of good intention that led to today’s Hell.
Progressive intellectuals steeped in utopian left-wing visions of a successful “French Islam” accuse Houellebecq and Zemmour of racism, but given their popularity, ordinary people seem to think they are conduits for their own frustration and fears. From the title of his book, Zemmour seems to be saying France cannot be saved from its compulsion, in the name of political correctness, to sell off the cultural patrimony that made it a great nation. In the light of recent events, and the grave peril into which the freedom to laugh at Islamic symbols has been plunged, it is hard to disagree with this prognosis.