France defies the jihadists

The recent excitement in Paris produced an occasion of great surprise to an American observer, certainly to one who witnessed the transformation fear exacted from America’s governing elite by the 9/11 attacks in 2001. In France, the jihad killings last week produced a colossal reaction that was not one of fear at all.

The “cheese-eating surrender monkeys,” of Americans’ past condescension, turned out by the hundreds of thousands Wednesday afternoon in Paris’ Place de la Republique and rendezvous points in dozens of cities and towns across the country to shout their defiance of jihadists, murderers and what should be done to the whole lot of them when caught, and applauding the thousands of policemen who suddenly appeared in the streets, barricading roads and exit/entries to Paris, and poking into the contents of cars, Metros, trains, concierge’s lodges, apartment lobbies, and the parcels, briefcases, and purses of anyone who looked funny.

The demonstrators bore homemade posters declaring “We are all Charlie” — a surprisingly silly tribute to a scurrilous comic paper, relic of the ’60s, which no one except giggling students reads any more, one of whose practices has been to publish obscene caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad (among other dignitaries), in a country with a larger Muslim population than any other member of the European Union.

Last Sunday, a gigantic crowd (more than 3 million in Paris alone) immobilized Paris boulevards, led by the president accompanied by foreign prime ministers, heads of state and eminent representatives of 44 countries (excluding the United States, but including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who used the occasion to urge French Jews to move to Israel).

This was all to celebrate France’s victory in the great war of civilizations, featuring the late Kouachi brothers, Said and Cherif (a pizza deliverer before going to Yemen for weapons training), and their friend Amedy Coulibaly who killed four people at a kosher grocery store at the same time the police raided the refuge of the Charlie Hebdo killers.

The demonstrators in Paris and elsewhere jabbed pencils in the air to show that they support journalists (which is not always the case), and sporadically burst into “La Marseillaise.” It was all very edifying to a citizen of the nation whose embassy had issued a warning to American residents and tourists to stay off the streets.

Today, the French public remains in mourning for the victims and the killed police officers, but in high spirits, excited and proud of the police and themselves. The police, more than 80,000 in Paris alone, have been astonished to be cheered.

The reaction to these demonstrations is open to several interpretations, the favored one being that it proved all people of all colors and beliefs in France are totally committed to Republican solidarity. The unmentionable interpretation is that it initially was a long-repressed and explosive demonstration against the Muslim population of the country, and the supposed ambition of Islamic true believers to convert France and its institutions to Islam.

Curiously enough, such is the theme of a novel, already in the hands of reviewers at the time of the shootings, Michael Houellebecq’s “Submission,” about a Muslim’s election to the French presidency in 2022. Houellebecq is notable for his self-promotion, but this was not such an occasion. He went to the country for the weekend. However, the reviewers and the television panels debated the likelihood that he had foreseen the future — which, it seems fair to say, he has not.

But what rejoicing last week’s events must have produced in Yemen, where al-Qaida is held to make its headquarters. And wherever it is in Mesopotamia or Syria that Abou Bakr Al-Baghdadi, self-proclaimed caliph of the new and allegedly future universal state of Islam, was following events on his Mac! From al-Qaida’s viewpoint this was a triumph of the new jihadism that now has all of Europe in a state of excitement about continent-wide uprisings by the Muslim minorities across Europe, led by the several thousands of young Muslim romantics who have made their way east to save Islam from the infidels, crusaders, and Jews. This is WAR, they cry! The analysts and leaders in Europe and the United States are proclaiming as much, and the political recruiting offices are open — although there would already seem to be an abundance of war.

Indeed there is a war, but who started it, and who will end it? That remains the touchy question Americans have stuffed down the memory hole. U.S. President George H.W. Bush began America’s modern Middle Eastern wars with his support for Saddam Hussein’s attack against America’s enemy Iran, the first Persian Gulf war; followed by the second gulf war, in which Saddam became Washington’s victim because of his invasion of Kuwait. Finally there was the senior George Bush’s insistence that the U.S. keep forces permanently in Saudi Arabia, the Muslim holy land, which is what set al-Qaida on the road to 9/11.

Then came George the Younger, who invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, leaving them in desolation.

Finally the progressive President Barack Obama promised to end those two wars, but now finds himself involved with elements on both sides in Syria, and committed to a third Mesopotamian war against Islamic State.

Obama began with the right idea, though, since it was Western intervention that started it all. Get out of the Middle East and take all American troops with us (allies following, sighing in relief). But political Washington, not to speak of Israel, is determined to block him and whoever succeeds him in the White House from leaving the Arabs to wage their religious wars on their own.

So professor Samuel Huntington was right, except that he thought the Arabs and China would start the war between civilizations, not a moderate Republican gentleman from Connecticut. Huntington didn’t suggest who would end it, either. It now seems it will not be the first American black president.

Paris-based American journalist William Pfaff writes frequently on foreign affairs. © 2014 Tribune Content Agency

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