As casualty counts mount after the coordinated attacks by Islamic State commandos on several locations in Paris Friday evening, there is every reason to remember the French newspaper headlines on September 12, 2001: Nous sommes tous américains, We are all American.
Muslim terrorists armed with automatic rifles and screaming Allah Akhbar left some 100 dead in the quaint and popular Bataclan café-music hall in east-central Paris; the toll is likely to rise. They reportedly hit two nearby restaurants as well and set off bombs at the Stade de France, the 80,000 capacity football stadium in the close-in northern suburb of Saint-Denis, during a France-Germany exhibition match.
Regardless of differences over strategic and political issues arising between sister-Democracies during the current global war with totalitarian Islam, in these grim moments we are united in knowing why we fight.
We are all French; we are all Israelis; we are all Americans.
There is a reason totalitarian barbarism attacks the West, and most particularly such countries as the U.S., France, Israel — where in the past weeks deadly attacks, often with knives, have been brazenly encouraged by Muslim leaders preaching “let Jewish blood flow.”
The mass murder last January of nine editors of the Parisian satirical paper Charlie-Hebdo, for the crime of making fun of the Prophet Muhammad (they also made fun of Judaism and Christianity and every other faith and institution they knew of), brought out a tremendous show of solidarity and determination to defend the liberal principles of free speech and tolerance, as some four million people participated in “I am Charlie” demonstrations across France. These principles are Western principles. They are not the principles of the barbaric Orient and with all due respect to our President, the killers are not, and know they are not, committing a crime “against all humanity.” They are trying to destroy Western humanity.
France’s follow up to the January attacks has been ambivalent, expressing a broad range of opinion on how to respond to the Islamist threat in France and how to manage the presence on French territory of millions of Muslim immigrants. Naturally, opinions diverge regarding the relationship between the two.
Top French security men warned of impending attacks, indeed they foiled one at the Toulon naval base only days before the Paris onslaught that President François Hollande immediately called an act of war.
But, after January’s shock, the political class tended to prefer to wish the threat away.
Islamic militants view such ambivalence as a weakness to be exploited by terror and war.
President Hollande left the France-Germany football match to preside over an emergency meeting of high officials, following which he declared a state of emergency over the entire territory of France, whose borders, he added, would be closed. This extraordinary legal step (état d’urgence in French), which allows security officials to declare lock-downs and permits warrantless searches, was last applied during the Algerian War in the 1950s, when terrorists, one of whose slogans was “Islam our religion,” took their fight to metropolitan France.
(The state of emergency was applied in less rigorous form to contain the riots that hit France’s immigrant-majority suburban slums in 2005, and it was also applied during violent disturbances in France’s Pacific territory of New Caledonia in the mid-1980s.)
President Barack Obama may be sincere in thinking the attacks are aimed at all humanity; if so, he is also clueless and sentimental. Our enemies do not think in abstractions such as “humanity,” and they feel no allegiance to the supposedly universal values to which the president appeals. Our enemies target the freedoms guaranteed and defended by Western civilization, not by their caliphates and tyrannies.
Islamic terrorists did not attack “humanity” Friday; they attacked people in France.
Yes, the I.S. tyrants and the others like them kill their own people, but so did the Nazis kill Germans and the Communists killed Russians. Kill your own to seize and hold power, then destroy the societies that can marshal the strength and will to bring you down: the conflict of the 20th century, said Sidney Hook, is between freedom and tyranny; it still is in the 21st.
Yesterday it was France’s turn to bear the brunt of barbarism. Our president need say just this, taking a cue from John F. Kennedy: Je suis, nous sommes tous, Français.