Paris — Turn on the television in France and you will finally hear a few voices questioning Jacques Chirac’s bombastic ploy to sabotage the U.S. war. A few French conservatives acknowledge that the French power-play has backfired, alienating France from the world’s superpower and rendering it the dim man of Europe.
Chirac now looks like a man trotting after a train several miles down the track. With even German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder saying “it’s always good for mankind when a dictator is removed,” Chirac had no choice but to suck up to George Bush on Tuesday. Everyone noted that his phone conversation with Bush was on his dime, and that he had dropped his outlandish demand that the United Nations run Iraq, pledging to “act pragmatically” in postwar Iraq.
French businessmen aren’t amused by his diplomatic blundering. Ernest-Antoine Seilliere, the head of the French employers group Medef, told Reuters that some “French companies are now suffering as a result of states’ differing views on the Iraq issue.” Chirac blew it, Seilliere basically admitted: “This is all the more regrettable since it appears that the economic aspect and the interests of our companies did not have any role in the way our country’s diplomacy was conducted over recent months.”
Some French companies are “suffering in the American market,” he added, which could “be an indication of future problems there.” He said French companies are losing contracts, having trouble recruiting American workers, and may lose work in Iraq.
The French people, meanwhile, seem blissfully unaware of their country’s diplomatic disaster. I have asked a number of Parisians if their view of the war has changed. Most are blasé about the war’s outcome, clinging to their view of Bush as “dumb,” a “marionette of the oil lobby,” and the United States as an invader. The children of Voltaire show an amazing uniformity of thought and surprisingly little joy at the liberation of slaves.
That millions of Iraqis are free because of the U.S. hasn’t registered with them. They are still in a pestering mode. What about the looting? they say. What about North Korea? What about the weapons of mass destruction the U.S. said it would find? The French negativity is comic. It is like attacking a surgeon, who has just saved a patient’s life, for wasting blood.
Unwilling to fight Islamic radicalism abroad, France also not surprisingly casts a blind eye toward it at home. The Muslim presence in France is striking. A visit to certain neighborhoods on the outskirts of Paris feels like a visit to North Africa. In the land of Charles Martel, 5 million Muslims live, practicing their faith far more fervently than their Christian counterparts. The mosques are full, the churches empty. An estimated 5% of French Catholics are churchgoing.
The French solution to the problem of radical Islam is to try and liberalize it. But this isn’t so easy. France’s national council of Muslims — the state’s attempt to bring Islam in line with “French values” — is becoming a vehicle for radical Islam. Radical Muslim sheiks recently won a number of seats on the council. France’s interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy called for the council to take Islam out of the “cellars and garages.” And it has: now instead of operating out of cellars radical Islam can operate out of France’s government council. The Union of Islamic Organizations, linked to extremist groups which preach jihad, picked up 14 of 41 seats on the council in recent weeks, according to the International Herald Tribune.
Secular France has finally found religion — Islam. Perhaps all the Iraqi Muslims who miss Saddam Hussein will now move to France.