Special Report

The Vichy Solution

Will France surrender its cherished secularism to mollify Muslims?

By 11.8.05

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Even as the French authorities downplay the role of Islam in the riots, they tacitly acknowledge it by calling on Imams to issue fatwas against the rioters. But the rioters -- recognizing that these government-approved Imams are secularized stooges in hock to French pols -- aren't very concerned. "Fatwa! Don't make me laugh," a rioter said to the press after the Union of Islamic Organizations ordered them to stop. "We don't feel represented by those people. We didn't vote for them. They're just filling their pockets."

The reliance of the French authorities on a stable of feckless Muslim mediators is an acknowledgment of the Other France -- a population of seething Muslims who now refer to themselves as living in "occupied territory." Jacques Chirac speaks grandly of "the Republic," but it is fast eroding if it exists at all, as evident in the fact that he has to address members of his own population through Muslim negotiators.

France's self-congratulatory campaign to reconcile differences between Islam and the West, undertaken in recent years to avoid "a clash of civilizations," has accelerated one. An obtuse and vain assumption had launched the campaign, namely, that the only possible clash of civilizations would be Christianity versus Islam. It didn't occur to the French secularists that another clash of civilizations was possible: their own secularism versus Islam.

The French secularists patted themselves on the back for avoiding the first one by discarding their historic Christianity. Jacques Chirac, for example, wouldn't permit a single mention of Europe's Christian roots in the European Union's Constitution. Will it now dawn on them that to avoid the second one requires surrendering their cherished secularism? French politicians are making all the right PC noises about the riots being the result of "discrimination." But they are very vague about the source of the discrimination, and for good reason: the source is French secularism itself. French Muslims say that they can't rise in a state in which secularists alone hold the privileged positions.

So will the pols chastising France's Interior Secretary Nicolas Sarkozy for calling the rioters "scum" -- Chirac said that's no way to speak to a "dialogue" partner -- promise to scrap their own secularism in the name of reducing tensions? Will they say, "Fine, wear your Muslim headscarves"? Are they ready for Burka-wearing broadcasters on their government channels? How about a Muslim president? Or a new Constitution reflecting that the de facto majority religion in France is Islam? (Ironically, France's proudly modern and secularized Constitution looks anachronistic, a relic of an expired era.)

French habits of appeasement and its commitment to secularism now cut against each other: the Vichy-style, power-sharing solution to which French pols are drawn will cost them their secularist state but could perhaps give them just enough peace to pursue their secularist pleasures. French politicians had arrogantly assumed they could delay this choice by secularizing Islam. Hence their desperate project to form and spread "French Islam." But the hopelessness of the project is obvious; instead of soothing tensions, it inflamed them, clear in the contempt Muslim rioters feel for the Imams Chirac has been trotting out as peacekeepers.

French secularism is not substantial enough to win the clash of civilizations it couldn't even recognize. And were it to try and win the clash, it would have to suspend the very tolerance that led them into it. The misapprehensions of reality built into French liberalism make it an ideology that devours itself, unleashing chaos that necessitates departing from it. This explains why dictatorships have followed its liberal revolutions. Reality-defying assertions about "liberty, fraternity, and equality" produce enough irrationality to justify a Napoleon to stop it.

France has been rewarding those who ignored the inevitable collision of Islam and its culture while punishing dissenters who merely noticed it. It fined for "hate crimes" French authors who warned that the assimilation of Muslims would prove impossible and elected preening liberals who waved the problem away. The former were "heartless" and the latter "humane," yet whose position now tempts France to draconian measures? Whose position has placed France in an insoluble crisis?

Earlier this year a French minister asked if Europe's riverbed could accommodate the "river of Islam." The question was a generation too late. French secularists made a great show of opening the floodgate, and the river of Islam gushed through the country, gradually washing away the secularism that had released it.

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About the Author
George Neumayr, a contributing editor to The American Spectator, is co-author, with Phyllis Schlafly, of the new book, No Higher Power: Obama's War on Religious Freedom.