For most analysts and politicians, the carnage at Charlie Hebdo and the hostage-taking in Vincennes – the first offensives in the war against France and the Republic – are traumas that nobody could have anticipated. But not for the French Muslim elite, or for the soldiers in the clandestine war against terrorism, or for the few journalists who dare to name the unnameable at the risk of being accused of Islamophobia. Along with enlightened Muslim intellectuals, they knew that this had to happen some day. They know to fear the worst if those in power don’t take this national tragedy as an occasion for a thorough review of their policy on immigration, integration, education, the reform of Islam and relations with some Gulf emirates.
What just happened was not written by the hand of Allah, whose magnificence has been sullied and whose majesty has been debased by the Islamofascists. But it was written by 30 years of negligence, wishful thinking and and inappropriate conformity in Voltaire’s homeland. Written by concessions to adherents of a totalizing and totalitarian Islam, Islam as an identity, in the name of democracy and republican tolerance. What a road we have travelled from the Islamic veil issue through the Redeker affair and Pope Benedict XVI’s Regensburg address to the tragic massacre at Charlie Hebdo – a path of capitulation, in which secularism was compromised and democracy subverted.1 What a retreat by the Enlightenment in the face of obscurantism! How many blows have been struck at the Western model of civilization as it confronts Islamist barbarism! The universalist model that we Muslims of the Middle East and North Africa ended up believing in, and then, summoned by certain political and intellectual voices in the West, woke up one morning to the “Arab spring.” Shari‘a – why not? “Moderate” Islam – no problem!
Our zealots for “moderate” Islam have forgotten that what you celebrate when it’s happening two hours’ flying time from France may have violent repercussions in the heart of Paris. They’ve forgotten that the world has become an interconnected village, that there is no authentic democracy without secularization, and that Islamism is not the religion of Muslims but a secular religion whose spectre stretches from the Muslim Brotherhood to the neo-Taliban that calls itself the Islamic State, who share the same axiom: “Our constitution is the Qur’an, our model is the Prophet, our regime is the caliphate.”
Most of all, they’ve forgotten that the desacralization of the sacred and the sanctification of human freedom represent the quintessence of Western civilization. Among those whom I see mourning the fate of the 12 people who died, I recognize some who were incensed in 2006 when cartoonists attacked the “sacred” by reproducing cartoons of the Prophet – who, by the way, never claimed this supposed sacredness, which is reserved exclusively for God and God alone. I even recognized some Islamic personalities who had brought complaints against Charlie Hebdo, notably the perennial imam of the Grand Mosque of Paris, as well as the Union of Islamic Organizations of France, which is a member of the Conseil français du culte musulman !
Beyond the jeremiads of Islamic professionals and the sincere indignation of the political class, it’s not just a time for national unity, or a time to reject false equivalences, but also a time for self-criticism. Even when we reject false equivalences, we still need to challenge the prevailing dogmatism that cripples thought and paralyzes expression. What is allowed in psychoanalysis should not be forbidden in politics: putting what is wrong into words.
While the Kelkals, Merahs and Kouachis2 and the hundreds of sociopaths in Syria are a minority in relation to the majority of Muslims in France, it cannot be said that the French model of integration has been a success. The management of Islam, which was said to be an opportunity for France – still less so. The Gallicanization of Islam has failed. The same is true in other European countries, notably Denmark, where “diversity” has been expressed in people demonstrating under the black flag of the Islamic State with shouts of “Down with the regime – we want the caliphate!”
To make up for the “failure” of integration, intégrisme – fundamentalism – has captured people’s hearts. Because society has been left open to its enemies, a cultural, educational, political, media and legal microclimate has allowed a microsociety to develop that has gone from quietist Islam to radical Islamism. The sickness is Islamofascist cancer, which has been allowed to metastasize in the banlieues, prisons, mosques, associations, schools and even universities.
Instead of constantly restating the need to reject false equivalences, putting what is wrong into words means acknowledging that the terrorists who committed this abominable crime are Muslims. But their Islam is not my Islam, nor that of five million peaceful French people, nor that of their 1.7 billion coreligionists in the world. Their genetically modified Islam is the Islam of the Taliban, Al Qaeda and the Islamic State.
Can the Muslims of France still say “Allah Akbar” (“God is the greatest”) in their daily prayer without attracting suspicion or even hatred? Will they have to banish this expression, which grounds human freedom in divine transcendence, greatness and unity, from their vocabulary? Now that it’s linked to the nihilism of the barbarians, will they have to keep silent rather than invoke the Eternal in this way?
A double blow has been struck against the Muslims of France, whom everyone claims to represent and whose peaceful character no one embodies. They have been attacked in the midst of their country and at the heart of their faith. They are mourning the murder of their compatriots and the death of God.
This article appeared in French in Figaro Vox, Paris, on January 9, 2015, and was translated for Inroads by Bob Chodos.
1 In 2004 France enacted controversial legislation banning “conspicuous religious symbols” in schools, widely interpreted as being directed at the Islamic veil. Robert Redeker, a French writer and teacher, received death threats after writing a highly critical opinion piece about Islam in Le Figaro in September 2006. Also in September 2006, in an address at the University of Regensburg in Germany, Pope Benedict quoted a negative characterization of Islam by a 14th-century Byzantine emperor, which was taken out of context and led to protests in many Islamic countries.
2 Khaled Kelkal was involved in a series of terrorist attacks in France in 1995 before being shot dead by police. Mohammed Merah carried out a series of shootings in southern France in 2012; he too was killed in an exchange of gunfire with police. The Kouachi brothers carried out the Charlie Hebdo attach in January 2015.