I’ve already written quite a bit about the “French decapitation”, and the Qantara story is a capable summary of where events have got to. If you want more, there’s a good article by John Lichfield, for a long time the Independent’s correspondent in Paris. Lichfield is often a bit PMC-facile, but here he is sober and serious, partly because he knows the college where the killing took place. I’ll just add, for those still interested, a quick note on the unfolding political consequences.
Yesterday, the government took a number of practical measures aimed at Islamist movements, including preparing to expel preachers, searching houses, bringing in people for questioning, and closing various Islamist “cultural associations”, including one, BarakaCity, which has 700,000 Twitter followers (Marine Le Pen has 20,000). A number of prosecutions are on the cards. Darmanin the Interior Minister (himself the son of immigrants) has acted intelligently by taking advantage of the situation to do things that parts, at least, of the government have wanted to do for years, but never had the courage. The change in French politics since Friday is quite remarkable, and now politicians are competing with each other to defend secularism and republican values, and the dreaded word “Islamist” is being pronounced everywhere. It helps that a number of Rectors of mosques in big cities have come out firmly in favour of the government – unsurprisingly really, when the Islamists consider them traitors and apostates deserving of death. Le Monde, as good a weather vane as any, published a signed editorial yesterday saying all the right things. (Unfortunately, as a number of readers pointed out, until a week ago they were saying the complete opposite). The smell of burning rubber in the French political system is extraordinary. Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who almost qualified for the second round of the 2017 Presidential elections, and who marched side by side with the Islamists a year ago, is a sudden convert to the Islamist threat – he was proposing the explosion of all Chechens from France, but now seems to have rowed back a bit. (The family of the killer was originally denied asylum by the government because of their terrorist links, but were overruled by a Court – another story to be continued).
It’s hard to believe Mélenchon and his party will survive this. Elsewhere on the Left, the small parties have gone into hiding and said nothing. The Left as a whole is beginning to realise the catastrophic nature of its error, and one of the unlooked-for results of this ghastly event is the opening it now creates for the revival of a secular, republican Left with working-class support, replacing the current IdPol dating society. Until a few days ago, I wouldn’t have given much for the chances of the Left doing well in 2022, but now, if they have any sense, there is an open goal to kick into. Otherwise, of course, the Right will make off with the ball. By championing republicanism and secularism, as well as populist economic policies, Le Pen has already occupied much of this ground and, whilst she has said little, her relative silence is a way of saying I Told You So.
The real loser in Macron. This brings to three the number of crises during his reign that he’s manifestly incapable of coping with. The Gilets jaunes and Covid were bad enough, but this is a full-blown security crises which starkly brings into question a man who is certainly full of himself, but empty of much else. A man only really at home in finance and banking, a lukewarm republican scornful of his own country (“there is no such thing as French culture”), an advocate of ever deeper Europeanism, a speaker of strangled Franglish, educated by Jesuits, he’s hardly a figure for the nation to rally round. Oh, and his wife used to be a teacher, just to drive the splinter further in under the fingernail. I’m not betting on him being re-elected now.
Finally, now that the immediate horror has passed, there’s a much clearer idea of what’s going on here. As has been known for a long time, but never accepted by the elites, there is an organised attempt to radicalise the French Muslim community, organised by the same people who brought you Tunisia and Egypt after 2011. The goal is the same: political power. In France, for demographic reasons, that can’t really be at national level, but the Muslim community is very concentrated, and it’s perfectly possible to imagine a municipality or a town with a hard-line Islamist council , even if they have to share power with independents . This year, there was talk in the municipal elections of presenting an “islamic slate” in certain areas, although the virus, and popular opposition, stopped that. But there are local governments, generally headed by Socialists or Greens, which have had to rely on islamists for support. This is why schools are important, and have been the priority target for the last twenty years. Children who are educated in republican principles are less likely to vote for islamic parties: conversely, the more that schools can be bullied into dropping “contentious” ideas like Evolution from their syllabuses, the stronger the islamist position will be. Local councils control education up to the age of 11, and have an influence on schools thereafter, and what is not directly under their control could be achieved by threats and intimidation. These tactics are having some effect: a much quoted statistic over the last few days is that 72% of a sample of younger French Muslims questioned earlier this year were at least generally favourable to the idea that religious doctrine should take precedence over the laws of the country.
For the moment, at least, that momentum has been halted. And people are realising (as they should always have known) that this problem is not, except incidentally, about violence, and certainly not about caricatures, but about political power. But the rot is very deep, and France now has, conservatively, hundreds of thousands of younger Muslims, failed by the educational system, and happy to contemplate what we would see as a religious state. It’s not clear what the answer is, but it is clear that Macron doesn’t have it.