Quelle surprise! As we noted in September, France was an easy target for terror. So, ten days on from the Paris attacks, how’s the reaction unfolding?
Canadian blogger Vlad Tepes sums up the polarisation:
“The most important thing you can do when people you don’t know are murdered by Muslims in an act designed to promote the primacy of Islam, is show your moral superiority to people who would like to take meaningful action by demonstrating grief… People tripping over themselves in self-sacrifice, trying to tell the people who want them dead or enslaved how there will be no ‘backlash’ instead of at the very very least going en masse to the mosques and screaming: ‘stop the hate’.”
Eloi turning on the Morlocks then? But would that help or not?
And when the candles and the flowers and the teddy bears have been cleared away, what will remain?
There’s little serious anger that carries through. From a position of strength, that would be good news. From a position of weakness, it only underlines that weakness. The silence is nervous. It’s well-known that the ISIS strategy is to destabilise Europe, to make normal life unpredictable, to create the conditions in which submission to the gangsters’ will seems the safest option. Part of that strategy is placing Europe’s leaders apart from the led. They won’t be targeted. They’re too useful as they are: mostly perceived as bumbling, incompetent, and lacking any will to defend their people. Get rid of them and you only invite the more determined to replace them.
François Hollande ramps up the rhetoric but results will be another matter. Pending anything better, la gloire is back. France is bombing Raqqa, because France is now at war. France was bombing Raqqa anyway, because that was just fooling around? The tricolour has been much in evidence across the globe. It’s forgotten, for now, that its history is no more glorious than the swastika’s. Remember the Vendée, the génocide franco-français. France’s politicians, gathering last week at Versailles, belted out their national anthem, as we’re all now encouraged to do. ‘Do you hear, in the countryside, the roar of those ferocious soldiers? Let’s march, let’s march! Let an impure blood water our furrows!’ Yes, they still get away with that, but it’s not our Europe: it’s a gory theatre of the absurd, founded upon a lie (that France in 1792 was not the aggressor).
Hollande insists that he will defend the Republic. Not so much France. Not so much the French. La République, a hate cult of hypocrisy, historic enemy of European regionalism, the proto-fascist State over which Hollande presides, one that despite his best efforts still cannot bring itself to legalise any indigenous language on its territory besides French. (To quote Musa Anter, a Kurdish writer assassinated in 1992, “If my mother tongue is shaking the foundations of your state, it probably means that you built your state on my land.”) Republican values are the new Falklands factor – the art of war turned to domestic political advantage. A false flag operation? We’ve no evidence, but the motive is clear enough.
France likes to think it has a special relationship with the Mahometan world, one strangely informed by a millennium of conflict with it, real or imagined. Charles Martel at Tours. Roland at Roncevaux. St Louis on Crusade. Napoleon in Egypt. Charles X seizing Algiers. Charles de Gaulle letting it go. It’s not actually the most promising basis for peaceful co-existence.
Nor is Britain’s record. A century ago the UK made promises to the Arabs and the Jews. It would be simplistic to say that the promises to the Jews were kept and those to the Arabs were not. Neither got everything they expected. But the Arabs, and the Kurds, got a lot more than they bargained for. Promises of self-government if the Ottoman yoke were thrown off became the reality of a new colonial yoke.
In 1920 an insurgency broke out in Iraq against the British occupation. RAFbombing of the area continued throughout the decade. The Air Ministry considered it useful practice for other territories where “armed forces are required to give effect to British policy and uphold British prestige”. Not least because it was so much cheaper than deploying ground troops. Squadron Leader Arthur Harris reported after several such punitive raids that: “The Arab and Kurd now know what real bombing means in casualties and damage. Within 45 minutes a full-sized village can be practically wiped out, and a third of its inhabitants killed or injured, by four or five machines which offer them no real target, no opportunity for glory as warriors, no effective means of escape.” At the time of the Arab revolt in Palestine in the late 1930s, Air Commodore Harris, as he then was, declared that “the only thing the Arab understands is the heavy hand, and sooner or later it will have to be applied”. Ancient history this may now be, but the lands cursed with oil have a particular way of keeping the past in mind as they navigate the present. The wonder is not that Europe suffers from terrorist atrocities. It’s that patience proved so long-lasting.
What strikes westerners as not-quite-cricket is the worldwide extra-territorial jurisdiction that religious regimes claim, in defiance of international norms. Killing cartoonists is the ever sharper expression of an idea that began in the Ayatollah Khomeini’s Iran and which the civilised world failed to challenge effectively. In the UK we may tend to remember the fatwa against Salman Rushdie. In France it’s more likely to be the murder in Paris of Shapour Bakhtiar, a remarkable man who was secular Iran’s last hope. But all such incursions into European sovereignty pale into insignificance set against the western assumption that eastern regimes exist to be changed at will, whatever the locals think. However tempting it is to bomb Syria without UN authority, the result will be more anti-western feeling, coupled with more European guilt for the collateral damage (damage that’s onlyterrorism by another name). Or if nothing is done, an equal and opposite guilt for inaction. If Europeans are to defend themselves, they must first question on what terms they think it proper to decide the fate of others.
Europe’s defence is bound to become more inward-looking because Europe is forming a smaller and smaller proportion of the world’s population. (Its share is expected to halve between now and 2050.) The ultimate triumph of universal human rights is no longer assured, because the expanding populations of the world may have no use for them. They may view them with indifference, or with hostility. Either way, Europeans need to be more watchful of what happens to their own rights and make that task their first priority, because it may be that no-one else will. Europe is busy renouncing its enlightenment heritage because others find it offensive. Since only those with something to hide are offended by the truth, it would be better not to retreat from the enlightenment but to shine the torch deeper, into our own society and into others’. But that’s not what will happen. On the contrary, we’ll continue to allow victims to be created by allowing others to use the value system of the victims’ own society against them. Nice work for lawyers.
As terror attacks escalate, so the paradigm by which Europe’s rulers rule crumbles. It survives only so long as it offers satisfying explanations of why the world is as it is. European unity has been shaken by the migrant crisis, with one of its most unambiguous achievements – the borderless Schengen area – now in tatters. Counter-terrorism demands closer co-operation across borders, better sharing of intelligence, perhaps a Europe where unity is enjoyed by the rulers even as it ceases to exist for the ruled. It’s not a Europe that necessarily requires the EU, democratic or otherwise, which may be one reason why the EU is under political challenge.
Predictions of Mahometan conquest are far-fetched but only because they’re wrongly framed in military terms: a formal State structure can survive long after the internal reality of which active minority wields power in society has been utterly transformed. One only has to look at Tower Hamlets under Mayor Lutfur Rahman to see how easily the corruption of Bangladesh can be reproduced wholesale in a London borough if standards are not upheld. Given the London party consensus that elected mayors are better than open government, we can only expect to see more of this. But even Europe, tolerant, self-loathing Europe, ever apologetic, ever happy to accept that two wrongs make a right, has a tipping point, a point of calling to account.
Expect far Right, anti-EU parties to fill at least part of the vacuum left by the collapsing paradigm of the politically correct. Expect xenophobia to make no distinction between guilty and innocent: a presumption of innocence is essential for justice, but not for security. It’s not impossible to imagine some countries taking things as far as mass expulsion of religious minorities deemed too troublesome to remain, especially once those countries are outside the EU. It’s what happened in Spain in the 17th century, a move obviously considered worth it despite the economic damage it wrought. Many of Spain’s moriscosended up in north Africa, swelling the ranks of the Barbary pirates who took their revenge on Europe’s coastal communities, including those in Wessex. Terrorism is nothing new and neither is the suite of possible responses. About the only ‘self-evident truth’ is that the less Mahometanism there is in Europe, and in the world, the less terrorism there can be. That calculation, that suspicion of the murky middle ground, that condemnation even of the fiercest fighters against the likes of ISIS, is the real tragedy. Europeans aware of their history and confronted once again by an ideology that demands the death penalty for thought-crime may rather be safe than sorry. It doesn’t lessen the tragedy.
If far Right parties fill part of the vacuum it’s also true that they can’t fill it all. There are equal opportunities for other visions of Europe: most vitally a Europe of small nations and historic regions, decentralised, democratic, inclusive (of those willing to be included), yet passionately protective of traditional rights and committed to international justice rather than to the addictions of repression and war. It’s a strong possibility in the longer term, but getting there could be a close-run thing.