November 6, 2005
The Fire in France

By David Warren

Readers of my previous columns, especially those written since 9/11/01, have sometimes assumed that I don't like France. This would be an over-simplification. Like many Frenchmen, I should think, I am aware of more than one France, and tend to prefer one to another. To my Western, Christian, Catholic mind, a Europe without France is like a bicycle without a chain -- France has contributed so much to the velocity of our civilization. (Now, a Europe without Italy, on this analogy, would be like a chain without the bicycle.)

There have been, for lo these last dozen or so generations, however, at least two Frances. One is the France of the Enlightenment and the Revolution, which seems to have triumphed to every outward effect, in its rebellion against God and his clerics. The other is the France of Charles Martel, and the greatest Gothic cathedrals, still pulsing in some leonine rural hearts, or even in the remembered wheeze of the odd sick, symbolist poet. I despise Revolutionary France, which reinvents itself in every generation, most recently as the final paradise of sophisticated consumerism. I despised the cheap romanticism that subverted the poet's symbols. But the old Catholic France is the apple of my eye.

As readers of the North American papers are beginning to learn, at least 20 urban districts in France (mostly around Paris) have gone up in flames. In Ottawa, we noticed that the French prime minister, Dominique de Villepin, cancelled his visit to deal with the crisis. And it is so large a crisis, that our media have, after just one week of it, begun to break the bonds of political correctness that prevented them from reporting what was going on.

As well as we can now reconstruct, it began in Clichy-sous-Bois, a suburban, North African ghetto, which has been a police no-go area for several years (like many other Muslim ghettoes in Europe), and where young, declaredly Islamist, thugs rule the streets by day and night. (Their war cry, while hurling missiles and setting fires, is "Allahou Akbar!" -- "God is great!" There is no possible doubt about their orientation.)

The police were nevertheless called to deal with some youths who were stripping parked cars with more than the usual ostentation. Two kids who were probably not participating in this crime, and were anyway not being chased by the police, decided to hide behind the fence around an electrical pylon.

That was the Bastille event. They were electrocuted. They died. As this news spread, the entire district erupted in violence. Over the last nine nights, the violence has spread from one Muslim ghetto to another. (There are similar fires now smouldering in Belgium, Denmark, and Sweden, but these began independently.)

The French authorities are beginning to realize that this French Intifada is not entirely spontaneous, that e.g. weapons had been laid in for just such an uprising. Radical Islamists have been preaching strict separation between Muslim and French society; the French have themselves defeated their own project of assimilation by allowing large-scale immigration to congregate in nasty, Stalinesque public housing estates.

The rule of these districts is now effectively in the hands of radical Islamists, whose central demand is that French authorities stay out of the little emirates they have declared. The very secular French government, under Jacques Chirac, offers two contradictory responses. One is that of the prime minister, de Villepin, who keeps muttering about "tolerance" and "understanding". The other is that of the interior minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, whose approach is to call the youth "scum" and "rabble" and send the gendarmes in waves. Neither of these gentleman has a clew.

Both give at least lip-service to the ludicrous idea that increased spending on social programmes for these "underprivileged" districts will finally win the day. Even while the kids on the streets are purposefully destroying every physical manifestation of French state generosity (such as it is). Both speak as if they were dealing with some Marxist revolt of the proletariat against their capitalist oppressors. Instead, what they have is an Islamist revolt against French society.

The solution of the old Catholic France was, over the centuries, that of Charles Martel: victor at Tours in 732 A.D., where the advance of Islam on Western Europe was stopped. It consisted in a frank realization that two civilizations were clashing, where only one could prevail. The choice was relatively simple: victory over the invaders, or death and servitude.

The modern, enlightened alternative is "negotiation". Good luck with it.

Copyright 2005 Ottawa Citizen

David Warren

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