French Politicians Deny Reality in Wake of Nice Terror

In war, the inability or refusal to recognize the enemy’s intentions and capabilities has disastrous consequences. America experienced this on December 7, 1941. But as 9/11 and subsequent events have demonstrated, it is a lesson soon forgotten and often reviewed in sorrow and bitterness. Sadly, there is little reason to think that the leaders of France have understood this following the horrific July 14 massacre in Nice.

Despite repeated attacks on French soil committed by French citizens and foreigners of Arab and Muslim identity, a very Arab-looking Tunisian (still residing in France despite a criminal history) was able to con his way past a police security check point and drive an enormous truck at high speed through a pedestrian thoroughfare crowded with tens of thousands of defenseless people. If anyone had bothered to inspect the truck of Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, they would have discovered it was loaded with firearms, ammunition, and hand grenades. His deception was excruciatingly simple and revealing: He claimed to be delivering ice cream. He must have understood that the French would rather enjoy pyrotechnic amusements and a sweet dessert than face the reality of the war that engulfs them.

As if to confirm what Bouhlel perceived of the French failure to grasp reality, French President François Hollande issued a carefully worded statement the day after the slaughter of eighty-four fellow citizens. Hollande’s understanding of the attack is dizzying: “Why Nice? Because Nice is one of the most beautiful cities on the planet. Why the 14 of July? Because it is a celebration of liberty, and to harm France, this is why this individual committed this terrorist attack.”

Got that? This slaughter was the work of a disgruntled “individual,” not an implacable host bent on the destruction of Western Civilization. And the “misfit”—whose ethnicity was never acknowledged by Hollande—was motivated by his disdain for “beautiful cities,” and festive occasions, sort of like a Bastille Day Grinch, stealing attention from the public fireworks by his own explosive violence. Deeply regrettable that there should be such an unhappy sociopath in lovely France, but nothing ultimately of deep concern.

(In fairness, on the night of the attack, in a speech of more than six minutes, Hollande had let slip the word “islamiste” on a single occasion, but without attaching it specifically to this latest act of terrorism. But even this mention was later scrubbed from his official statement that reverted to the word “individu” no less than three times, while using the word “terroriste” only twice!)

In his own prepared remarks about the slaughter, Prime Minister Manuel Valls went even further into the land of denial: “France is a great country and a great democracy and we will not allow ourselves to be destabilized by violence.” Although Valls did occasionally mention “terroristes,” he made comments throughout the next day that made it sound as if the French themselves were involved in some sort of spontaneous outbreak of violence, like a counter-revolution threatening the Republic from within. He further outraged the French blogosphere by intimating that “Times have changed, and France is going to have to live with terrorism, and we must face this together and show our collective sang-froid.” So… let’s just hang together and demonstrate our cool-headedness, while we enjoy some ice cream and learn to live with massacres.

The French people, so benumbed by the political correctness of their leaders, might be excused for hoping that progress has been made when those leaders finally start to use terms like “terrorist” and “ISIS” in condemning violence such as the Nice massacre. However, this impression is largely illusory. Increasingly throughout the West, the very use of the acronym “ISIS” (or President Obama’s preference for the even more obscure “ISIL”) is itself a way of avoiding reality by not mentioning the word “Islam” or any derivative thereof. In the same way, repeating the word “terrorism” is also a manner of avoiding reality, because “terror” is not the enemy facing France and the West. Terror is merely the preferred weapon of that enemy. To limit the discussion to terror, generically labeling those who practice it as “terrorists,” we are still in complete denial about the true nature of our enemy.

Imagine, if you will, Hollande and Valls leading France in the summer of 1940, as the Nazi blitzkrieg tears across the country’s eastern frontier. Their conférences de presse would have produced marvels of diplomatic discretion:

We must retain our collective sang-froid in the face of these panzerists who are disrupting the calm of the Ardennes. Nor will our Republic allow itself to be destabilized by the Stuka enthusiasts buzzing our cities. Why France? It is only because our tree-lined boulevards are so beautiful, and because we have the most cinemas in Europe that these blitzkrieging individuals envy our way of life.

(Better to not mention the Nazis, or their “prophet,” Hitler, or the contents of their “holy book,” Mein Kampf —if indeed anyone has bothered to read it.)

This past weekend, some of my traumatized French friends on Facebook were posting pictures of people hugging panda bears, and children of different races all holding hands at school, and spontaneous acts of “peaceful meditation” taking place on the sidewalks of Paris. I have congratulated them on their “sang-froid” in the face of absolute evil, but I have also suggested to them that such images would not have stopped the Nazis, and will certainly have no impact on the Muslim fanatics who live freely among them.

France and the West are at war with an ideology of hate, and that ideology is called Islam. With a Muslim population of about ten percent, it may be politically expedient and wisely diplomatic for the French to nuance the designation of their problem with the term “radical Islamism.” But the fact is that this ideology of hate and its campaign against the West are neither new nor foreign to the spirit of authentic, “mainstream” Islam. You cannot get more mainstream than the founder of Islam, and we all know what his biography implies. Despite the existence in France and elsewhere of varieties of more or less secularized, tolerant Muslims, the “prophet” of Islam would have been perfectly comfortable with a strategy of deception that facilitated the slaughter of eighty-four innocent “infidels.” In combatting this evil, I confess to a great deal of uncertainty about what strategy to adopt. But I am certain that having an ice cream and a meditation session will not help us develop one.

Timothy J. Williams

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Timothy J. Williams is Professor of French and Faculty Associate with the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at the Franciscan University of Steubenville. He graduated cum laude from the University of Kansas with a doctorate in French and holds Master’s degrees in French and Music Theory. He is the author of Desire and Persecution in Thérèse Desqueyroux and Other Selected Novels of François Mauriac (2007). In 2010, Dr. Williams retired from the Ohio National Guard with the rank of Major.

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