FRANCE’S LATEST BOUT OF JIHAD JITTERS came in September when two small homemade bombs were thrown into a crowded Jewish grocery store in suburban Paris. The attack was largely symbolic—windows were broken, a few patrons injured—but it was yet another wake-up call to a country still in denial about the extent of the Islamist threat. Police tracked the bomb-thrower to Strasbourg, where he welcomed them to his apartment with fire from a .357 Magnum before being shot. Raids in Paris, Nice, and Cannes netted 11 others ready to kill for love of Allah, one of them arrested as he returned home from his local mosque carrying a loaded rifle. Along with a list of targets and jihadist literature preaching war against France, the police found a small arsenal for that purpose: an assault rifle, a 12-gauge shotgun with 800 cartridges, and materials for making time bombs. An investigator said it all amounted to “an operational unit that was much more dangerous than we had thought.”
The authorities’ surprise at the extent of Islamist determination to take down France is itself surprising. Only a few months before, Mohamed Merah, a 23-year-old Frenchman of Algerian descent, had shot three French soldiers in the south of France, then slaughtered a teacher, the man’s two young sons, and an 8-year-old girl at a Jewish school in Toulouse before gendarmes satisfied his desire for a martyr’s death. Despite his declared goal of “bringing France to its knees,” his proclaimed affiliation with al Qaeda, and his training trips to Afghanistan, Egypt, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan, the government preferred to describe him as a lone fanatic. “For heaven’s sake,” it said in effect, “don’t blame terrorism on France’s peace-loving Muslim community.” The dozen jihadists arrested in the raids knew better: They praised Mohamed Merah as their role model.
Like him, they typify the new French jihadist, who no longer arrives on strike missions from the Middle East but is home grown. (And there are plenty of potential recruits. If America’s Muslim population were proportionate to France’s, it would number nearly 40 million.) Most come from the festering public housing projects surrounding all major cities, the banlieues that have been turned into zones de non-droit, lawless neighborhoods where police dare not venture for fear of provoking violent, stone-throwing, car-burning riots. Far from the glittering Champs Élysées and trendy Saint-Germain-des-Près, these areas are seen by neither tourists nor the French bourgeoisie. The conservative British writer Theodore Dalrymple aptly calls them “threatening cities of darkness” surrounding the City of Light. They come, too, from France’s overloaded prisons. Impressionable young convicts, disproportionately Muslim, are easily radicalized by self-appointed imams.
But if bomb-throwing jihadists are the cutting edge of militant Islam’s campaign to conquer France, cowing the population and instilling a climate of fear, a more insidious danger is the temptation to self-censorship and appeasement. Running scared, French authorities are trying to avoid anything that might possibly offend Muslims.
The recent flap over caricatures of Muhammad published in a French satirical weekly, Charlie Hebdo, revealed the government’s pusillanimity in all its glory. The cartoons, showing The Prophet in, shall we say, compromising positions in the buff, were the paper’s way of mocking the overwrought Muslim reaction to the amateurish online video “Innocence of Muslims.” The authorities had pleaded with the paper’s editors not to publish the cartoons for fear of offending the Arab population; when they went ahead in the name of press freedom, the government cravenly rebuked them for lacking “good judgment.” In his rejoinder, the paper’s editor, Stéphane Charbonnier, neatly summed up the poisonous double standard in today’s France: “It’s officially okay for us to attack conservative Catholics, but we can’t poke fun at Islamist fundamentalists,” he said. “It shows the climate here. Everyone is driven by fear, which is exactly what this handful of extremists wants.” Significantly, only 51 percent of French citizens supported the paper’s position.
THIS IS DHIMMITUDE. Coined by the writer Bat Ye’or from the Arabic noun dhimmi, meaning a non-Muslim citizen of an Islamic state, dhimmitude describes the submissive condition of second-class citizens subject to special taxes and other humiliations. What they say and do must be approved by Islamic authorities. In her prescient book Eurabia, Ye’or predicted that some European nations would adopt “a strict political correctness that brooks no criticism of Arab governments or Muslim immigrants, and that, in deference to Arab prejudices, promotes anti-American, anti-Semitic, and anti-Israel attitudes.” That’s a pretty fair description of France today.
In the case of Charlie Hebdo, Sunni Islam’s highest authority, Ahmed Muhammad Ahmed el-Tayeb, grand imam of Al-Azhar and president of al-Azhar University in Cairo, quickly slapped down the French upstart. Said el-Tayeb (who just happens to hold a PhD in Islamic philosophy from none other than the Sorbonne) in a communiqué, “Al-Azhar expresses its and all Muslims’ utmost rejection of a French publication’s printing caricatures offensive to Islam and its Prophet, the prophet of humanity.” A cyber attack from Pakistan soon blocked the paper’s website “because of its blasphemous contents.” In some communities, men appeared at newspaper stands early on the morning of the issue’s publication and bought up all copies—a form of de facto censorship.
Optimists point out that France should get some credit for banning the Muslim head scarf in schools and other public institutions. But it would have been a more convincing act of independence from Islamic pressure had authorities not enacted a corresponding ban on wearing yarmulkes and large crosses, too, in an attempt to protect themselves from Arab reaction. It didn’t work. As Christopher Caldwell reports in his important Reflections on the Revolution in Europe, the Sunni mufti of Egypt threatened that the anti-veil law would “destroy the social peace of French society.” The Muslim Brotherhood bored in, calling it “interference in the realm of Muslims’ personal and religious liberty.” In a telling display of advanced dhimmitude, Nicolas Sarkozy, then minister of the interior, humbly made a hajj to Egypt’s al-Azhar. To the vast relief of France’s dhimmis, he returned with the good news that the grand imam had authorized France to ban the veil. The government could go ahead with its project, and excuse us for troubling you, sir.
The country’s growing dhimmi status skews its foreign relations. As protests and demonstrations swept the Arab world during the “Innocence” kerfuffle, it was quick to cower. Even though France had nothing to do with the video produced by a nutcase in California, the government found discretion decidedly the better part of valor. Without receiving any known threats, it preemptively closed its embassies, consulates, cultural centers, and schools in 20 countries of the Muslim persuasion. So internalized is the country’s dhimmi attitude, it seemed perfectly normal to close up shop and hunker down to avoid the painful consequences of Arab displeasure.
A month later, President François Hollande made unbidden conciliatory gestures to Algeria over an incident that occurred half a century ago and is now remembered only by Arab fanatics. Referring to the police actions during an October 1961 Paris riot by thousands of Algerians demanding independence from France, Hollande officially recognized the “bloody repression” and paid homage to the “victims.” Whether he was responding to pressure from the Mali-based group al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which has designated France as its main enemy, can only be surmised. As a French diplomat put it recently, “Its threats have become pressing, immediate, and multifarious, a real problem of national security.”
When incipient dhimmitude clashes with traditional French culture, guess which wins. Intellectuals and teachers already live in fear of saying or writing the wrong thing. When a philosophy teacher wrote a newspaper op-ed piece criticizing Muhammad as a “master of hatred,” he received death threats and had to go into hiding under police protection. Guy Millière, a professor of cultural history at the Sorbonne, writes in despair, “France will become a Muslim country. French leaders know it. They will never take a decision that could make young Muslims angry….They have accepted too many things to go back now.”
IN HIS REVEALING 2006 BOOK, While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam Is Destroying the West from Within, Bruce Bawer cites a study by a French ministry of education inspector that was leaked but never officially released. It’s easy to understand why it was kept secret. After investigating 61 schools, he reported that Muslim pupils increasingly refuse to sing, dance, participate in sports, draw a human face, or play a musical instrument. They shun school cafeteria food that isn’t halal, refuse to draw a right angle in math class because it looks like part of a Christian cross, won’t swim in pools to avoid polluted “infidels’ water.” They reject Voltaire and Rousseau (anti-religion), Cyrano de Bergerac (too sexy), Madame Bovary (promotes women’s rights). Other studies note that dhimmified French lycées are often dropping whole areas of their curricula, e.g., in history and geography, for fear of angry reactions by Muslim students or their parents.
Philosopher Alain Finkielkraut says Islamists’ hostility toward schools and other state institutions is due not to the frustration of feeling deprived, but to hatred for symbols of France itself. Out of political correctness—or dhimmitude—“We translate their cries of hatred into cries for help, and their vandalism of schools into demands for education,” he writes. Schoolyard hatred surfaces when Muslim pupils talk about “the French” and “us,” and sneer at their French classmates as les Gaulois. Told by their teachers they are French, they respond, “that’s impossible, we’re Muslim.” Despite symptoms like this, the left-leaning Le Monde tries to put the best face on the situation. “France can make its singularity—the fact of its having, and accepting, the role of the first Muslim country of Europe—a peaceful weapon,” it editorializes, hoping the country can “surpass ideological and religious confrontation.” The only way there will be no confrontation is if it capitulates completely.
Meanwhile, the world’s most famous museum, the Louvre, is doing its dhimmi best to confirm France’s enviable position as Europe’s first Muslim nation. In September it opened its new $130 million wing devoted entirely to a lavish display of Islamic art. Virtually on bended knee, the curators have expressed the timid hope that it will offer a suitably respectful alternative to the grossly unflattering depictions of Muhammad in Western media that have met with such justified Muslim displeasure. Still, one of them acknowledged ruefully that some of Allah’s faithful could possibly be shocked by three discreet images of The Prophet’s exposed face that somehow got included among the 18,000 artifacts on display.
Scimitar-wielding Arabs of the Ummah, take note: The Louvre curators might have made a mistake, but they are good dhimmis at heart and really, really didn’t mean to offend you. So please don’t issue a fatwa and lapidate or behead them.