Just before Christmas, as I was walking along the streets of Paris, I happened to see the disgraceful cover of the latest edition of Charlie Hebdo, a failing satirical magazine well known for its insults against religion and general vulgarity. It showed the Blessed Virgin Mary in an outrageous, almost pornographic position.
Such crudeness was not a first for Charlie Hebdo. Although the cover angered me, the spirit of Christmas overrode any hateful thoughts. Two weeks later, on January 7, the Kouachi brothers (of Algerian origin) shot the men behind the irreverent magazine, along with two policemen and a hapless maintenance worker. And a day later, Amedy Coulibaly (of Malian origin) murdered a policewoman and four Jews after taking hostages in a kosher supermarket.
The three gunmen who killed 17 French victims were of French nationality. They had been born in France, raised in France, educated in France, and fed by the French welfare state—before taking an all-too-common and desperate path: crime, prison, Islamism, delinquency, and commitment to global jihad. Along with their henchmen, they were engaged in a war against France, from within and without. Make no mistake: This is a civil war—although one camp is unarmed.
Are we Charlie?
The Charlie Hebdo killings compel us to look frankly at reality—without the hollow rhetoric of our political classes or the complacence of the media. In fact, for a while, a few days after the killings, it seemed like French people were beginning to wake up. When, on Sunday, the 11th of January, Paris and several other French cities witnessed the largest demonstration in the history of France, it seemed that there was a new realization of the threat now within our borders. A “Republican march” of around 4 million people (according to official sources)—more than during the funeral of Victor Hugo in 1885—with thousands of anonymous people following behind almost the entire political class, from France and abroad (including 44 foreign heads of state) seemed to suggest that people were ready to say, “enough is enough”.
The watchword of this moment of national unity was, of course, “je suis Charlie”. But are we really Charlie? The truth is that the men behind Charlie Hebdo were anarchist cartoonists who did not respect anything: neither God nor Satan, nor the Pope, nor their country, nor civil or religious institutions, nor laws. They were part of a nihilistic drift in France, which we inherited from the revolutions of May 1968 and which has spawned a generation of spoiled and immature individuals, doomed to follow the idolatries of the age.
The “Charlie spirit” which they represented and which their followers today celebrate does nothing but drag society down with its derision, vulgarity, and heresies, and offend the rest of us with the violence of its anti-clericalism and its ideological bias. There is no beauty there. It is devoid of subtlety, decency, delicacy, spirituality, and civility.
No, we are definitely not Charlie.
The “spirit of 11 janvier”?
The 11th of January was undoubtedly a solemn day.
The bells of Notre Dame de Paris, which have accompanied the sorrows and joys of the capital for eight centuries, sounded a death knell. The French flags were flown at half-mast. The majority of French people displayed dignity and a spirit of unity. That’s why many news commentators rhapsodized about the “spirit of 11 janvier” as moment of national cohesion and unity in the defense of freedom.
However, if one looked closely, one would have noticed the strange nature of the march itself. Leading the procession were an eclectic mix of dignitaries, not all of them necessarily “democratic”. There were Hamas supporters, former followers of Che Guevara and Yasser Arafat, accomplices of jihadism like the Turkish Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, and fundamentalist supporters like officials from Qatar.
Any observer could see the hypocrisy of the march. It was nothing more than the exploitation of a sincere, popular emotion by a corrupt political class seeking gains in the polls. And it will count for little in the hearts of French youths who need worthy role models—not hackneyed phrases.
It is worth noting that in the demonstrations that embodied the “spirit of 11 janvier”, there were also numerous anti-clerical activists whose general hostility to Islam conceals their radical secularism and a deeper, more hostile hatred of Catholicism. There were also columnists for whom ‘freedom of speech’ is not a constant obsession and is applied selectively. Many of them, in the past, have wanted to ban so-called “reactionary” writers whose sole crime has been to oppose the thinking of the majority.
One such example is journalist Eric Zemmour, whose 2014 bestseller, Le Suicide français (The French Suicide), describes the last decades of a vanishing France. There is also writer Renaud Camus whose concept of a “great replacement” describes the wholesale replacement of native-born populations by waves of immigration. And there is the infamous novelist Michel Houellebecq whose futuristic 2015 novel, Soumission (Submission), chronicles the takeover of France by a Muslim political party in 2022. Finally, there is philosopher Alain Finkielkraut, who was criticized for writing about his concerns about the lost identity of France in his 2014 book, L’Identité malheureuse (The Unhappy Identity).
The media censors only denounce made-up or imaginary enemies—such as “Islamophobia”, the “far right”, and so-called “reactionary thought”. But they do not see the real enemy: the gradual Islamization of France.
The Islamization of France
Far from the “spirit of 11 janvier” being something that was permanent and lasting, thousands of small fissures have since begun appearing in the ‘wall of national cohesion’. Multiple manifestations of hatred have been expressed on social networks and in classrooms across the country.
Meanwhile, far from the cameras, many Muslims, already disconnected from the French elites and resistant to any form of compromise with Western civilization, have openly applauded or justified the attacks that bloodied France. Their attitude conjures up the image of a hybrid Muslim— dressed in Nike sneakers and djellabahs [a long hooded garment with sleeves worn in Muslim countries], all the while looking ominously at the French people around him.
Of course, not all Muslims in France—there are at least seven million according to official sources—have given in to fundamentalism. But how can we ignore the fact that numerous pupils have refused to join in paying tribute to the Charlie Hebdo victims in French schools? How can we ignore the results of the survey conducted last year by the British Institute ICM Research, which found that 16% of all French people said they had a favourable opinion of the Islamic State? (By comparison, only 2% of Germans expressed a favourable opinion.)
Field surveys show that a “vigorous re-Islamization movement”, in the words of the mainstream political analyst, Pascal Perrineau, is engaged in working to change public opinion, and has targeted young people in particular—not just the children of immigrants but native French as well, as evidenced by the recent conversions of French-born teenagers. Their grasp of French identity, and their identification with the country of their parents, is tenuous at best and their attitude is increasingly hostile.
The failure of assimilation
In 1989, the French Republic celebrated the bicentennial of the French Revolution. That same year, the first controversy erupted between the French Republic and Islam: the case of the Islamic headscarves in a high school in Creil, located in the Paris suburbs, where three girls were expelled from school because they refused to remove their chador [a large cloth that is wrapped around the upper body and head exposing only the face].
Opponents called the efforts to ban headscarves a threat to diversity and multiculturalism. These activists, led by liberal French groups, joined with Muslims groups to defend the latter group’s use of headscarves. In response, a ‘neo-Republican’ front arose against the threat of this kind of ‘cultural separatism’. The controversy pitted the ‘partisans of tolerance and cultural relativism’ against the advocates of a secular France.
At the time, philosopher Alain Finkielkraut (a former soixante-huitard ideologue) rose up against the pro-headscarf coalition that had formed between the Muslim “soldiers of God” and the French “apostles of cultural identity”. This group, Finkielkraut said, was confusing “human rights” with “the rights of the tribe”, and were using the idea of “human rights” against France’s secular culture. In his view, Republican France was fading away and was slowly but steadily being replaced by a “tribal France”.
Observers at that time had predicted that Islam was going to submit to the laws of the French Republic as Christianity had done before it. However, enough time has passed to refute this view and to demonstrate that Islam does not submit to any secular authority anywhere. Demographer Michèle Tribalat examined this phenomenon in her last book, Assimilation: la fin du modèle français (Assimilation: The End of the French Model). She says the strength of Islam is not “the product of the social misery” they experience, even in the most disadvantaged neighborhoods; rather, it is due to endogamy—Muslims almost invariably marry within their community—and education—parents are so keen on conveying their religion to their children that they dread the effects of secularization.
The de-Christianization of French society, about which “Muslims are very conscious”, partly explains the cohesiveness of their identity. “[I]if some accommodations are possible with Christians and Jews, there is none with people who have no religion. Islamic doctrine itself reinforces the hostility that Muslims may feel toward French society, [which they see as both] secular and heathen”, Tribalat explains. The adoption of gay marriage and the diffusion of gender theory in schools have only increased their distrust of the Republic and strengthened their identity.
France, like so many other countries in the West, seems tired of defending its own identity or traditions and thus seems increasingly founded on ‘emptiness’. Philosopher Chantal Delsol thus describes the “great fatigue of the West”: fatigue of the vacuum, which encourages people to run towards anything that offers completion or ‘wholeness’ (even though it may be very bitter and destructive of freedom); fatigue of atheism, which encourages people to embrace the first religion that appears on their horizon; and fatigue of the chaos, which encourages people to seek order—even if is tyrannical in nature. Thus, when killers appear to strike against nihilism in the name of something higher, it is no wonder young people find themselves attracted.
The “lone wolves” hunt in packs
The attacks by the Kouachi brothers and Amedy Coulibaly clearly revealed that France is the target of an organized terrorist network that seeks to find new recruits. For ten years, they had been formed, trained, and prepared for jihad before taking action. The trio was able to develop their diabolical plan with complete anonymity, while circulating in the most extremist circles of Islam.
Theirs is the story of the failure of the French intelligence services, as well as the inability of the French justice system to punish them for previous crimes. It demonstrates how far they are from the typical image of the solitary, self-radicalized jihadist, acting on a whim like a madman, with nothing to indicate the actions that he will take. That is the “lone wolf” theory that has been peddled by some officials; it is a fable that some have tried to convince the French public of—in order to mask the failure of the intelligence services and minimize the threat of the cancer that continues to grow in France.
Islamist networks in France and across Europe are increasingly organized and well-armed. But it is France that is essentially sitting on a powder keg. The supply of Islamist weapons sent up from the Levant and the extent of the terrorist cells in the country warrant serious attention and concern. And according to some reports, some members of these networks already have ultra-sophisticated weaponry that they have obtained from the battlefields of the Middle East. The massacre of January 7 could just be the beginning of an unprecedented step in the war that radical Islam has already declared on the West.
The lack of a political response
In the tragic days following the Charlie Hebdo killings, we must sadly recognize that the attitude of France’s ruling elites towards Islamization has not fundamentally changed. It’s almost as if no lesson was to be drawn from what happened—as if the refusal of many Muslim communities to join in the national mourning did not pose any significant threat to the country’s cohesion.
In their comments to the nation, neither President François Hollande nor Prime Minister Manuel Valls mentioned Islam—perhaps to prevent the stigmatization of Muslim communities in France. The only measures announced by Hollande during an annual political convention were limited to strengthening the legislation against racism and anti-Semitism.
On the parliamentary right, the events similarly failed to open people’s eyes to the threat the country faces; politicians only called for ‘national unity’. Nicolas Sarkozy himself warned against the so-called temptation of ‘demonizing the other’.
Only the National Front highlighted the dangers of Islamism. Not surprisingly, most politicians gravely explained that the National Front had no place in the country’s national mourning and they criticized the Front’s attempts to dramatize the outpouring of compassion—because it was not in keeping with France’s “Republican” tradition.
If Marine Le Pen’s party is not really “Republican”, if it truly does not comply with the institutional criteria defining “Republican orthodoxy”, then it should be banned. Yet this evidence simply cannot be produced. There is nothing about the Front’s statements or platform that makes it unworthy of the “Republican” label. (In fact, it appears to be the only party in France that truly upholds and defends French republicanism, despite the posturing of other parties.) Thus, calling for a ‘quarantine’ of the most popular party in France (in terms of the number of votes they received during the last election) simply makes a mockery of democracy and disrespects millions of French voters.
In times of crisis and struggle, political leadership is needed. With the possible exception of the National Front, France has seen very little leadership in recent months and years. But now really is the time for something to change, for the threat is real and the struggle is graver. It would be a moral outrage if more deaths on French soil were needed in order for something to change.
Then again, perhaps we should recall what Blaise Pascal said, as quoted in the first edition of the French Resistance magazine, Défense de la France, in 1941: “I only believe the stories in which witnesses are slaughtered”. The 17 French citizens killed in Paris in January—as well as the two Danes murdered in Copenhagen in February and the 21 Coptic martyrs brutally beheaded on a Libyan beach—are all the first witnesses of a story: the story of an offensive attack of the new barbarians.
Editor’s note: This essay originally appeared in slightly different form in the Winter 2015 issue of The European Conservative (with the title “Francis: Symptoms of a Civil War?”) and is reprinted here with kind permission of the author and The European Conservative.