Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. – Voltaire
When I think of human rights, democratic governance, Enlightenment values, and the idea that reason and scientific method are superior to superstition, I think of France. The Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen of 1789, written by Emmanuel-Joseph Sieyès, the Marquis de Lafayette, and Honoré Mirabeau, in consultation with Thomas Jefferson, is referenced in the very first sentence of the Constitution of the Fifth Republic of France.
And in recent days, when I think of the struggle to maintain those concepts in the face of an exceptionally vicious assault by the forces of darkness, I also think of France.
Islam has always been the enemy of human rights. Apostasy and blasphemy, which should not be crimes at all, are punishable in Islam by death. Islam denies the basic idea of natural rights, dictating that Muslims are superior to non-Muslims, who have fewer rights in law and in everyday life. And infidels that nevertheless have the chutzpah to see themselves as equals invite horrific violence.
We know this very well in Israel. The martyrs of Hamas that explode in our buses and pizzerias and Passover seders do so in the name of Islam, because Jewish sovereignty is anathema to it. They can’t be stopped by persuasion, negotiation, or – except temporarily – by paying ransom. Only by force.
The Muslim population of France is generally agreed to be the largest in Europe, but precise numbers are difficult to obtain because, thanks to the French commitment to non-discrimination, the state does not collect statistics by religion. But it seems that 7-9% of the population is Muslim.
Few countries with a large Muslim population seem to be able to avoid conflict between Muslims and other groups. The relatively good relationship between Jewish and Muslim citizens in Israel, where one out of five citizens is Arab, is remarkable (of course there are the Arabs of the Palestinian Authority and Gaza to provide an ample supply of terrorists).
The distinction is often drawn between radical Muslims or “Islamists,” and other Muslims. But there aren’t “orthodox” and “reform” Islams. The basic principles of Islam, including the idea that blasphemy is a crime deserving of death, do not change. There are just Muslims that are prepared to act on those of their beliefs that call for violent action, and those that are not.
France has seen its share of horrendous Islamic terrorism, including the Charlie Hebdo and Bataclan Theatre massacres, and several vicious attacks on Jews, both individually and in groups. But in the last few weeks, there has been a series of bloody murders, including two beheadings. The first one, in which teacher Samuel Paty was slaughtered for the “crime” of insulting Islam by showing his class the Mohammad cartoons (the spark for the Charlie Hebdo massacre), prompted a reaction by French President Macron that apparently triggered a worldwide fury by Muslims (encouraged by Turkey’s arsonist President), a call to boycott French goods, and additional murders. Here is what Macron said, in part:
Samuel Paty was the victim of a fatal conspiracy of folly, lies, conflation, hatred of the other, hatred of what we are deep down, existentially.
On Friday, Samuel Paty became the face of the Republic, of our determination to disrupt terrorists, to curtail Islamists, to live as a community of free citizens in our country; he became the face of our determination to understand, to learn, to continue to teach, to be free, because we will continue to do so, sir.
We will defend the freedom that you taught so well, and we will strongly proclaim the concept of laïcité [secularism]. We will not disavow the cartoons, the drawings, even if others recoil. We will provide all the opportunities that the Republic owes all its young people, without any discrimination.
Macron thus threw down the gauntlet: We will not disavow the cartoons. It doesn’t matter if Muslims are offended. The values of the Republic will prevail. Although he later said that he could “understand” that Muslims might be offended by the cartoons, he added that “I will always defend in my country the freedom to speak, to write, to think, to draw.”
I wish him luck. Muslims throughout the world have gotten used to Western institutions ideologically buckling in the face of atrocious violence. For example, a few days after 9/11, President Bush obsequiously insisted that “Islam is peace,” and even after continued acts of Islamic terror in Europe, in 2008 the UK government – in a remarkable example of Orwellian Newspeak – announced that Islamic terrorism was actually “anti-Islamic activity.” In the US, the Obama Administration banished the expression “Islamic terrorism” and others deemed insulting to Muslims from training manuals for law enforcement agencies. Last week, Canadian PM Justin Trudeau remarked that the terrorists responsible for the atrocities in France “did not represent Islam,” and later compared displaying the Mohammad cartoons to “shouting ‘fire’ in a crowded theater.”
Islam was in direct conflict with the then-Christian West for several hundred years, until the 17th century when the Turks were repelled from Vienna for the last time. Western military technology held Islamic expansionism at bay until recently, when Europe was successfully invaded by waves of migrants, a demographic assault that has been far more successful than Kara Mustafa Pasha’s military one in 1683. Except perhaps in the case of Israel, the forces of Islam have for now replaced direct military attacks against the West with a combination of terrorism, subversion, and demographic and cultural conquest. But anyone who thinks there is no conflict under way is blind.
Macron has called for concrete steps to fight terror as well as taking a clear-cut ideological stance for traditional (at least since 1789) French values. I expect that he will have his hands full as Muslim extremists within and outside the country fight back. There will be more violence, as well as considerable pressure to submit to their demands to back down from his commitment to free expression. The conflict is not yet over, by far.