After Champs-Elysées Attack: Short Guide to French Election
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Who profits from the terrorism that, once again, claimed a policeman’s life in France? Will the outrage influence Sunday’s presidential election?

If French security authorities confirm that the AK-47-armed gunman who shot up a police squad on the Champs-Elysées Friday was indeed directed, or at least inspired by, an Islamist terror movement, you can score one for the terrorists. They lose one man, shot by police, and demonstrate they can attack a civilized city in one of its most famous and central neighborhoods on the very eve of a democratic exercise.

France’s security apparatus, notwithstanding all the reinforcements of the past several years, appears to be failing. This appearance may be false, in light of arrests and rolled up networks. But such success does not reassure. Will there be another attack becomes, in peoples’ minds, when will the next attack come?

Thus far, the terrorists and their master thinkers are the ones who have gained from keeping France on edge. Moreover, alongside the increased security measures, society’s foundational defenses have weakened. Space has been created for the enemy to establish positions, expand them, and pre-emptively check efforts by the republican state to reclaim them.

Token wins for the secular republic, such as outlawing the hijab in public schools (also the cross and the yarmulka), weigh little next to brazen defiance of laws and ordinances, as when entire blocks are taken over for outdoor prayers in Muslim-majority neighborhoods. And this itself is minor compared to the takeover of children’s minds, when Islamic pressure causes schools to interpret history from the perspective of a triumphalist Islam or to invent reasons to keep girls out of gym class.

As these kinds of “small” conquests are conceded by authorities and a public cowed by accusations of “racism” or “Islamophobia,” the radicals preach to their people that time is on their side, the jihad continues, the battle of Poitiers will be avenged and reversed.

Was yesterday’s attack designed to help or hinder one presidential candidate or another? From the terrorists’ perspective, the question is superficial: their aim is to show that it really makes no difference who wins.

The shock could polarize a race already marked by what appear to be sharp contrasts. On one side, two “right-wing” candidates who, without attacking Islam as such, argue that Islamic immigration is a security issue. On the other side, two “left-wing” candidates and a centrist one are inclined to downplay or even deny the relation between terrorism and immigration from Islamic lands.

But for the terrorists, an aggressive defense of the homeland or various kinds of appeasement represent two aspects of a decadent West. They can adapt their own tactics, which in any case boil down to violence since their aim is domination.

The mainstream conservative candidate, François Fillon, who represents the Républicain party, advocates a strong secular state in the Jacobin tradition, but as an admirer of Margaret Thatcher he wants to promote free enterprise by reducing the weight of the state. Every government of the past twenty years, including the present, socialist one, has attempted some variation of this program without success.

Fillon expected to gain wide support due to his embrace of an old-fashioned France: church-going, with large families, hard-working, well-versed in national history. He appeared on course to victory, until he got tangled up in a series of embarrassing ethical questions (which may turn into serious legal problems) having to do with phony jobs that he obtained for members of his family, gross undervaluation of prize real estate holdings, and brazen tax evasion.

On the mainstream left, the ruling Socialist Party candidate, Benoit Hamon, favors more tax-and-spend and “more Europe,” a euphemism for more administrative rule from the European Union Commission in Brussels. (The incumbent, François Hollande, chose not to run for re-election on an approval rating of about 5 percent.) He has made no traction, which is why Fillon might well have been a shoo-in except for his Tartufferies, gross hypocrisies, if such they really are.

This leaves the “extremes” of right and left, which, while not mirror images of each other, are similar in their contempt for a “system” that they accuse of neglecting whoever feels aggrieved, insecure, or left out of an era of sharp changes in French society, ranging from the widespread abandonment of religion and marriage to the social dislocations brought on by the disappearance of jobs in industry and the shrinking need for labor-intensive agriculture.

The French, in short, do not like the establishment, and they do not recognize the world they live in. And due to deep shifts in the schools’ curricula and the dominant culture, which of course go together, they often do not even know what the world their forebears lived in was like.

Marine Le Pen, the candidate of the National Front, responds to this by saying immigration must be halted, at least in its present form, which means border enforcement, which in turns means making deep changes in the European Union or leaving it altogether.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who broke with the Socialist Party and whose heroes are Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro, argues, to the contrary, that what is needed is much more Europe, socialized to the hilt. Should France lead the way under his presidency, it will institute confiscatory taxation and aim toward the equalization of income, for immigrants no less than natives, even immigrants who really do not care to be French or European, but prefer living in the northern latitudes.

What they have in common is their reliance on political myths: for the social or national revolutions that they propose have unproven sociological foundations. For all their complaining, the French have been adapting, happily or not, to the sort of pan-European multicultural, multiracial world that, along with the myths favored by Le Pen and Mélenchon, is their lot.

To the side of the two firebrands and the conventional candidates of the mainstream parties stands Emmanuel Macron, who seeks purpose in a movement of national unity that would transcend France’s traditional left-right categories. As Hollande’s economics minister, he proposed deep reforms that would incline him toward Fillon’s side, but his preference for the European Union over the nation-states composing it puts him in the camp favored by the moderate left.

In this context, the only safe bet is that Sunday’s vote will not produce a 50-percent-plus-one winner, and the two biggest vote-getters will have to stand in a runoff a fortnight later. This will not impress the terrorists. And, unfortunately, it is unlikely the candidates can agree on a long-term counter-terror program that will.

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