The Paris Horror: Real and Explicable

There is a film clip of Charles Trenet singing the song he wrote, “La Romance de Paris” in Jean Boyer’s film of the same name, with smiling people gathered round as the accordionist accompanies the swaggering “fou chanteur” with his broad grin and popping eyes. It is charmingly nostalgic until you realize that it is 1941, Paris is occupied, and there probably are Wehrmacht guards behind the cameraman.

There are those whose affections and alliances are such that, while an attack on any city is abhorrent, an offense against Paris defaces the essence of lovely life lived well. That is not just the conceit of the untethered Francophile. It was evident in the international shock when the Islamic terrorists struck. Everyone knows the old documentary footage of weeping people along the Champs-Élysées as the Nazis marched by the Arc de Triomphe banging their drums. Play in the background “The Last Time I Saw Paris” and it can be unbearable. If London is a man and Rome a matron, Paris is the paradoxical ageless youth of the self; and while patricide is vile and matricide is worse, to attack Paris is suicide.

The chorus of shock after the recent attacks became a cliché: the scenes were “unreal and inexplicable.” Yet they were not without precedent. When the Nazis tramped along the leafy boulevards in 1940, there was shock, but there was also an air of inevitability about it.  After all, there had been warnings and threats, and the defenses had not been what they should have been. True, Hitler was a madman, but—and I can attest after many years as a chaplain in a mental institution—one can be both insane and intelligent. Thus the Chestertonian line about madness being the loss of everything except reason.  So the madmen who attacked Paris this year were not wild, but were agents of a careful calculus scripted in the arabesques of the Qu’ran nearly fourteen hundred years ago, when the jihadists rode throughout the Middle East from Palestine to Pakistan. Four of the first five caliphs had already been murdered in internecine struggles hardly more violent than the feud between Mohammed’s daughter Fatima and his favorite wife Aisha, all this in contradistinction to the serenity of the Virgin Mary, and the fact that the martyred Apostles did not martyr each other.

Onward went the sanguineous cavalcade of Tariq, for whom the Pillars of Hercules were renamed Jabal Ṭāriq, or Gibraltar, and exactly one century after it all began in the eastern sands, the Crescent met the Cross in central France, stopped for a while by Charles Martel, grandfather of Charlemagne. While Europe seemed quiet, the Balkans and Eastern Europe felt the scimitar, and there was never a generation that was not unsettled by specters on the ramparts and clashes on the seas. The retreat of the West began when the United States pulled the rug out from under Britain, France, and Israel at Suez, with the arch callousness that left Hungary alone that same year.  Then, like a burning fuse came Mogadishu, the 1993 attack on New York, the Kohbar Towers, our African embassies in 1998, the USS Cole, and then 9/11. The acrid dust had not settled before attacks in Madrid, the Sunni Triangle three years later, and then London, with Nigeria and the Philippines regularly rattled, followed by the tortures of Benghazi—attributed by our government-in-denial to the indiscretion of an amateur filmmaker. What Pope Francis himself calls the genocide of Christians is now taking place, but is semantically avoided by our Department of State.

Only those hiding under their beds would call the latest slaughters in Paris unreal and inexplicable. Clueless commentators will not acknowledge that invaders motivated by perverse religiosity are among the refugees entering Europe. Their Trojan horse is not a pony, and their persistence has centuries behind it. As Hilaire Belloc predicted: “The final fruit of this tenacity, the second period of Islamic power, may be delayed; but I doubt whether it can be permanently postponed.” It certainly cannot be delayed by the camouflage of euphemism, shrinking away from calling radical Islamic terrorists radical Islamic terrorists. It cannot be defeated by national leaders ushering in foes intent on making those naïve leaders cuckolds of their culture.  If the dupes of the West do not understand this, the nobler Muslims do.  King Abdullah II of Jordan has said: “Groups such as Daesh (the Islamic State group) expose themselves daily as savage outlaws of religion, devoid of humanity, respecting no laws and no boundaries. We are facing a third world war against humanity.”

If beclouded politicians do not recognize this stratagem of the fanatic, and pretend that ideological massacres are “workplace violence,” an architect of the European Union, Robert Schuman, knew the peril of denying moral facts. He wrote in words ironic in light of the reluctance of the EU to acknowledge Christianity in its official elephantine Charter:  “Europe will not live and will not be saved except to the degree in which it has awareness of itself and of its responsibilities, when it returns to the Christian principles of solidarity and fraternity.”

As nature abhors a vacuum, so does the soul. Consider how the National Socialists exploited the vacuous decadence of Weimar Berlin by proposing to replace it with pure altruistic supermen.  The demoralized state of Germany after the Great War had sought solace in sensual obliviousness, with lewd cabarets, cynical drama, deconstructed philosophy, and books with lurid titles: Sittengeschichte Des Geheimen Und Verbotenen (The History of the Secret and the Forbidden); Bilderlexikon der Erotik (Picture Lexicon of Eroticism); Sittengeschichte des Lasters (The History of Perversions); Sittengeschichte des Schamlosigkeit (The History of Shamelessness).  In a sermon attributed to Saint Macarius, a fourth-century recluse in the Egyptian desert—but not naïve for all that, such social dissolution was described: “When a house has no master living in it, it becomes dark, vile and contemptible, choked with filth and disgusting refuse. So too is a soul which has lost its master, who once rejoiced there with his angels. This soul is darkened with sin, its desires are degraded, and it knows nothing but shame.”

Contemporary Paris is not innocent of the cauterized moral tone of Weimar Berlin.  As Hitlerites made good propaganda of it then, so do the Islamicists now. ISIS claimed that they targeted Paris because it is “the lead carrier of the cross in Europe.” Actually, it may be that more Parisians these days resemble “crusaders” only in their taste for croissants. But the press release in which ISIS boasted responsibility for the latest carnage also called Paris  “a capital of prostitution and vice.” Armed with such volatile demagoguery, ISIS has not been “contained” and if it is a “Jayvee” team, then so was the Waffen-SS.

In light of the terrible suffering of those who died and their families, one is hesitant to remark that the worst bloodshedding was in the Bataclan concert hall where the music was not Rameau, Saint-Saëns, Ravel or Poulenc, or not even Piaf or Chevalier.  No, it was the clamor of an imported American band called “Eagles of Death Metal.”  When the bullets began, it was hard for the tragic revelers to distinguish the gunfire from the cacophony of the band.  Seconds before the victims died, on that Friday the 13th, they were raising two of their fingers whimsically gesturing the horns of the Devil as they sang:

Who’ll love the Devil?
Who’ll sing his song?
Who will love the Devil and his song?
I’ll love the Devil
I’ll sing his song
I will love the Devil and his song.

The band fled and survived and days later they issued words of condolence from the warm shores of California. There is scarce evidence of any reporter remarking that so many helpless people died singing guilelessly a hymn to Satan who does his work unblemished. It is like the vision that Saint Martin of Tours had of the Devil: he was dressed in glory like Christ the Victor, except there were no holes in his hands and side and feet. Only thirteen years after Saint Martin’s death, Rome fell to the Goths and their sack of the city as described by Edward Gibbon  sounds a bit like recent days in Paris:  “Whenever the Barbarians were provoked by opposition, they extended the promiscuous massacre to the feeble, the innocent, and the helpless…”

As saints have counseled that the Devil’s chief artfulness is to persuade us that he does not exist, and that his tunes are harmless, there can be no trust in public figures who say that the Devil is not at work in the stratagems of our day.  Saint Peter is more to be trusted, given the One who put him in charge:

As there were false prophets in the past history of our people, so you too will have your false teachers, who will insinuate their own disruptive views and disown the Master who purchased their freedom. They will destroy themselves very quickly; but there will be many who copy their shameful behavior and the Way of Truth will be brought into disrepute on their account. They will eagerly try to buy you for themselves with insidious speeches, but for them the Condemnation, pronounced so long ago, is at its work already. (2 Peter 2:1-3)

These words are not congenial to the offspring of our “therapeutic culture” trained to “feel good” about themselves even if it means denying that barbarians are at the gates. During the Paris horror, coddled and foul-mouthed adolescents on American campuses were indulging psychodramatic claims of hurt feelings and low self-esteem to the bewilderment of the bloated academic bureaucracies. One epicene university president in Missouri resigned, officials at Yale panted platitudes, and a Dartmouth vice-provost said that the spoiled darlings’ use of obscenities was “a beautiful and wonderful thing.” These ludicrous children are not the stuff of which heroes are made, nor is the remnant Woodstock generation that stunted their moral development and now runs the universities. ISIS cares nothing for their hurt feelings, and is not intimidated by their placards and balloons and Teddy Bears. The bodies in Paris had not been carried away before these simpering undergraduates complained that the ISIS attacks had deflected media attention from their sophomoric petulance.

Other eyes gaze upon the softness of the West in patient silence. France has a population of at least 2.1 million declared Muslims (although French law forbids keeping statistics for religious affiliation), and 38 percent live in greater Paris, or the Île-de-France region. Of them, the largest group of Muslims who gathered in Paris to protest against the ISIS attack numbered not quite 300. That is not unreal nor is it inexplicable.

Fr. George W. Rutler

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Fr. George W. Rutler is pastor of St. Michael's church in New York City. He is the author of many books including Principalities and Powers: Spiritual Combat 1942-1943 (South Bend, IN: St. Augustine’s Press) and Hints of Heaven (Sophia Institute Press). His latest books are He Spoke To Us (Ignatius, 2016) and The Stories of Hymns (EWTN Publishing, 2017).

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