If members of our diverse nation do not share an unqualified revulsion at Islamist crimes and outrages then we have nothing in common. The lights of Western society — justice, equality, truth — are being extinguished one by one. We may never see them lit again in our lifetime
On Thursday, Monsieur Hulot’s warning was clear: “Tomorrow, millions of climate refugees”. A photo of ecologist Nicolas Hulot, President Hollande’s special envoy “for the protection of the planet”, was featured on the front cover of the fashionable French Left weekly magazine L’Obs (formerly Le Nouvel Observateur). Tomorrow came and that Friday night there were not millions of climate refugees in Paris but 130 dead and 683 wounded in Islamic terror attacks across the capital.
L’Obs is the magazine which many of the dead and injured would have read before the attacks. The pre-massacre edition had articles on the traffic of Kalashnikovs in the suburbs, Muslim voting trends, and immigration: “Xenophobia, A French Tradition”. This last article discussed waves of hatred towards immigrants, in the 1890s and 1930s, while noting that despite resemblances with the past, “France has become more tolerant”—no doubt due to the exalted attitudes of superior L’Obs writers. The author’s conclusion was like a bite into an elitist artisan baguette filled with PC platitudes which ignored the events of January 2015: “historical studies have shown that in no country in the world has a community of immigrants endangered the state which welcomed them”.
In Quadrant (December 2015) Douglas Murray wrote of the refusal to admit the failure of multiculturalism by a powerful and influential intellectual class who reproduce a “wilfully optimistic version of events” in the face of realities which completely “damn the majority beliefs of a whole generation”. The killers, drawn from the “community of immigrants”, had only just been silenced at the Bataclan when a shocked and traumatised young woman spoke into a radio microphone: “Why us? Why us?”
Le Figaro Magazine was published the morning of the attacks. The cover illustration was a decorative page of Arabic text promoting two articles—“The Koran: what it truly says [and] Boualem Sansal’s Cry of Alarm”. L’Obs had claimed Hulot was “sounding the alarm” on climate change, but Sansal’s cry is far more important: it is the testimony of a man who has lived through what he is talking about. It is a discussion of Islam in France, which right-wing commentators have taken more seriously than the Left, but at some point the discussion, in Australia as in France, must turn to counter-terrorism. It should have changed after the Islamic terrorist attacks on Charlie Hebdo and the Hyper Cacher branch when France seemed momentarily united. Assailed by Islamist terrorism, the active response of counter-terrorism is an issue that must be brought forward, and yet it is a defensive measure which could unleash ethnic urban warfare within nations, not only France, that have been invaded and culturally impoverished by aggressive multiculturalism that disdains our history and institutions.
Algerian writer Boualem Sansal was born in 1949 and still lives precariously in his homeland, where he is hated by the government and the Islamists. When he was a child his Kabyle mother was a friend of Albert Camus’s mother in a working-class district of Algiers. He was a successful bureaucrat who late in life turned to writing and representing the extraordinary confusion and suffering of Algeria. In his own life he has experienced the terrorist war waged between the FLN and France (1954 to 1962) which led directly to a “socialist and popular” dictatorship, then the emergence of the killer cults and political parties of Islamism, largely fomented by the Muslim Brotherhood, and finally civil war (1991 to 2002). After an unknown death toll in the 1990s, loosely estimated to be as high as 200,000, the uneasy Algerian present holds a “moderate Islamism” known on the streets, says Sansal, as “radical Islam in suit and tie” or “Jekyll and Hyde”. His most recent book, 2084: The End of the World, describes the closed religious nation of Abistan, a frightening one-cult state as fierce as Orwell’s vision. At the beginning of the book a brief note on what is to come concludes with what seems like a voice already whispering in our ears: “Sleep quietly, good people, everything is perfectly false and the rest is under control.”
In his novels and non-fiction Sansal is a verbal pleasure-seeker who pampers himself and his readers with the French language while describing often most unpleasant occurrences. It is extraordinary that in Algeria there are writers producing fine and sometimes remarkable books even as their own lives are lived under terrifying and threatening pressures. Perhaps Richard Flanagan would learn to write if we sent him to live in Algeria.
Sansal draws attention to the loving marriage of Arabic and Islam. In 2084 the created religion which dominates the stark world of his novel is based on an invented religious language which prevents its members fashioning thoughts outside the approved limits set by the religion. The language of Islam suggests a connection between his futurist dystopia and our present reality: “The scansion in Arabic creates states of quasi trance which one senses as much in chants of the muezzins as in the recitations.” One early morning in Melbourne my scary uncommunicative taxi driver was listening to a broadcast speech with the intensity, I imagine, of a 1930s brownshirt. He seemed spellbound by what he heard.
Sansal points to the great similarity between what has happened in France and what occurred earlier in Algeria when the socialist dictatorship was white-anted by an underground of religious indoctrination by foreign religious zealots supported by Middle Eastern countries: “imams of circumstance, ignorants only capable of repeating ‘Allah Akbar’”—but also capable of teaching intolerance, victimisation and jihad.
In France discussions of Islam and the state throw up the topic of laicism. The French have some pride in their tradition of separating religious and state matters. Sansal points out that this republican concept is seen as a threat by Muslims, “a neo-colonial plot”, and suggests that the simple expression “living together” should replace it. Before doing that, he might like to watch a new film, Patries (Homelands), that explores the idea of “living together” in the Paris outer suburbs. Through the relationship of a white boy and his black friend the film exposes the concept as a failure, and controversially explores a reality to which the anointed Left is blind—anti-white racism. Scriptwriter and film-maker Cheyenne Carron previously made The Apostle, the story of a young Muslim convert to Christianity. After the January killings, screenings in Nantes and Neuilly were cancelled on the advice of French authorities because of the possibility they “would be seen as a provocation by the Muslim community”. Living apart, not living together, is the basic law of practical multiculturalism.
Islamism, says Sansal, “knows how to play skilfully with the scarecrow of Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism”. He also points to the utter fools we are making of ourselves in the eyes of Islamists and other Muslims:
The intellectuals, like useful idiots, march in this system of victimisation of Islam and emigrants and don’t recognise the evil they are doing, and to the Muslims whether practising or not it is clear that the Islamists who have invented Islamophobia from scratch are manipulating them.
Politicians, in France and Australia, believe that Islam can be domesticated. Australian Treasurer Scott Morrison seemed to be filling a vacant speech bubble with the thoughts of a young and inexperienced political minder: “Over a period of time religions become more indigenised in this country … and that is true of Christianity, as it is true of the Jewish faith as it is of the Muslim faith.”
Sansal is painfully realistic. On the future of Islam on French territory he suggests the conflict is between ideas of an “Islam of France” and an “Islam in France”. The first is a happy fantasy that Islam will become friendly and manageable, a single unified Islam, probably with a recognised and acceptable leader, which would respect and teach respect for state institutions. Morrison’s unachievable student essay represents the future of Islam in Australia as the Church of England in a burka. The other Islam, the Islamic Nation or ummah, is the real one that belongs within the worldwide religious community of believers even as it is broken into different currents, supported and propagandised by different states: “If it is Islam in France which wins, as seems likely, it will be in conflict with everyone, the Muslims who do not recognise it and the French institutions.”
The conversation Sansal is so eloquently taking part in is one which sets out to explain Islam and the Muslims who live amongst us. There is another conversation we must have about protecting ourselves and defeating Islamic terrorism.
Bataclan stopped the music. This is suddenly real—it’s French Psycho on the streets of Marseille, it’s The Plague in Paris. Candles, prayers, piano concerts and pious assurances that “Islam means Peace” are no protection from Kalashnikovs and suicide belts. For perhaps the first time, when a Paris radio station was interviewing their usual ring-me-after-the-massacre Imam he started replaying his familiar “Islam is Peace” track, until he was politely brought to a stop by the announcer who said, “We have heard all that before.” The conversation never really recovered. For once, the platitudes were recognised as unacceptable shrouds over the Islamists’ victims.
The beginning and end of 2015 in France were marked by terrorist attacks and the publication of two remarkable books—Michel Houellebecq’s Soumission at the beginning, and Sansal’s 2084 at the end. It almost seems that each book is fixed to a specific terrorist incident which occurred soon after it was published. The literary magazine Lire gave its Best Book of the Year award to Sansal, and published an interview with him which had been recorded just before November 13. However, after the killings the book Parisians turned to, based on reported sales in Paris bookshops, was the French edition of Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast—about expatriate life in Paris in the 1920s, when the exchange rate was great. Nostalgia is a dumb antidote to terror. Another old book it may be worth blowing the dust off is Albert Camus’s Les Justes—a discussion of terrorist ethics. Or perhaps it’s time to reread the histories of the Algerian War. The questions of violence and responses to violence raised then are with us again: that agonising past has become our present.
Unfortunately, the doctrinaire Left version of Algeria as a decolonising struggle waged by a vicious and torturing France, and the newer doctrines of racism, sexism and Islamophobia, prevent the French nation from either seeing clearly or acting decisively. President Hollande is probably not only a weak man in character but also one constrained by a pernicious view of France’s colonial history, and the cultural platitudes of his social and political milieu. In the weekly issue of Le Point magazine published the day before the terror attacks, Patrick Besson (who has written a seductive two-volume exploration of sex during the German occupation) commented accurately on the Algerian War: “The Army lost, the [Left] intellectuals won.” This time, whose side will the Left intellectuals be on?
After the terrorist attack a French priest, father Hervé Benoît, wrote that they, the killers and their victims, were “Siamese brothers”. He discussed the song being sung when the firing began: “You summon the devil for a joke? He will take you seriously.” He was firm in his opinions: “It isn’t a return to the Middle Ages, contrary to what the cretins say, it’s postmodernism in all its absurdity.” A Left website organised a petition calling for him to be reprimanded. In several days it collected over 40,000 signatures. Who knew there were so many Catholics in France? The priest was admonished and dismissed by his bishop. Meanwhile, the major bookselling chain FNAC is continuing to sell books calling for jihad against France and the West. The company has refused to remove the books in the interests of free speech.
One book on Algeria and counter-terrorism may not have walked off the shelves in November. Published in 2001, a memoir by eighty-year-old General Paul Aussaresses created great controversy. Available in English as The Battle of the Casbah, the book deals with torture and killings ordered by Aussaresses in Algeria:
Once you have seen with your own eyes as I did, civilians, men, women, and children quartered, disembowelled and nailed to doors you are changed for life. What feelings can anyone have towards those who perpetrated such barbaric acts and their accomplices?
He offended by being unapologetic: “I don’t think I ever tortured or executed people who were innocent.” His book finished when he observed a new generation of French soldiers: “I had no regrets but I did make a wish that none of these young men would ever have to do some day for my country what I had to do over there, in Algeria.” Algeria may now have come to France.
Aussaresses was criticised, his Legion of Honour was cancelled by President Chirac, he was the target of two bomb attacks, was shot at, disowned by his family, and prosecuted for “apology for torture”. During the Algerian War a generation of the French Left courageously exposed torture committed by the French Army. They covered up the same and arguably far worse actions carried out by their side, the FLN. After the war they covered up the crimes of the new Algerian government. Their grandchildren have inherited the culture of deceit. When a killer and maimer of French citizens was invited to France in 2012 she was honoured and applauded.
Zohra Drif was the guest of a conference held in Marseille marking the fiftieth anniversary of the end of the Algerian War—and the beginning of the dictatorship in which she was a privileged citizen. Over the years the real power in Algeria has depended on the infamous Sécurité militaire—known under the initials SM, and whisperingly as “Sport and Music”. Criminal torture during the Algerian War became institutionalised in the new state. In the audience was Danielle Michel-Chich—one of the children maimed by Drif’s bomb. She was five years old when the device Drif planted in the popular Milk Bar café exploded. Her grandmother was killed beside her and the child lost her left leg. Drif, after being imprisoned far too briefly, was released when independence was granted and has been a lawyer, vice-president of the upper house of the Algerian parliament, and is the widow of a former Algerian president. Having won the war, the victors looted the country—a widely held view inside Algeria. At the French conference she justified killing and maiming French citizens and, sounding like a character reading from a dated Costa-Gavras script, blamed the French government. The French audience applauded. If Aussaresses had been on the side of the FLN he, like Drif, would have been a hero of the French Left.
Zohra Drif believes a just war is waged with terror. General Aussaresses believed terror could only be halted with torture and killing. Boualem Sansal, responding to his Lire interviewer, suggests that approach gives the enemy a moral victory. He suggests the war should be fought with intelligence, “and armies are never intelligent”. The first step should have been to confront the states who have financed jihad—Saudi Arabia, Qatar and others—and make them assume responsibility for what they are doing. Pressure, exerted through petrol politics and diplomacy, should be exerted on the Arab monarchies to “denounce jihadi rhetoric”. Finally, “the West should think of Islam without folklore. If it had been better studied they would have understood the irreducible side of all religion.” He is not asked if this would prevent a bomb exploding in the Paris Metro, or somewhere in Australia, tomorrow.
Counter-terrorism will confront France, and surely Australia, with moral problems and no easy solutions in an atmosphere of social media bullying and opinion-making, conspiracy theories, pacifism, foolish feminism, intolerance of dissenting views, shame-making politicians, debased popular culture, gallery-playing civil rights performers, trivialised high culture, internet ratbags, cultural nihilism, intellectual dishonesty (I’m thinking of the Left), special pleading, Islamic intolerance and fanaticism, a closed media (the ABC, Fairfax), politicised-subsidised-Left arts, religion-spouting drug-sellers and crooks, and terrorist bombs. On internet social networks crucifixions, torture and the slavery of women are selling points used by the Islamic State to attract followers to a let’s-pretend world of Play Station-Islamism—which is actually all too real. Yet a photo of an accidentally drowned little boy was used to accuse Europe of intolerance, heartlessness and racism and successfully directed politicians into disastrous non-decision-making. Counter-terrorism cannot be waged by forces who do not believe in the justness of their cause or, as in our case, no cause. Dying for nihilism has never had much appeal.
The jihadist attacks may bring us together and restore belief in our fragile democracies. There is an unexpressed but deeply felt Western ideal of the worth of humanity that does need protecting and is worth fighting for. When a Jewish teacher was attacked after November 13 in Marseille by three Islam-quoting thugs it was reported internationally that he had received superficial stab wounds. That was a deliberate lie. He appeared in a short video clip. He had been tortured: long slices of a knife up his arms and chest. Killing a man leaving a Parramatta police station is wrong. If members of our diverse nation do not share revulsion at these simple crimes then we have nothing in common. If our society is this divided then the Bataclan lights have gone out and we will not see them lit again in our lifetime. Will they finally get it?
In the December issue Michael Connor wrote about his visit to Paris in October.