France at a dangerous crossroad

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By Gerard Leval

It has often been said that Jews are the canary in the coal mine of the societies in which they live – that Jews are the first to feel the onslaught as a society begins its decline into intolerance and immorality. If that is the case, then the French coal mine is rapidly filling with toxic fumes.


Last week’s terrible events in Paris in which 12 journalists and their security guards, a police officer and four shoppers at a kosher market were killed by Islamist gunmen were not isolated incidents, but rather the culmination of several weeks of increasing Islamist violence.

The major events in Paris were preceded by several more modest, but nonetheless, frightening, acts of violence – the stabbing of two police officers in a village, and two incidents in which drivers drove into crowds of Christmas shoppers in the provincial cities of Dijon and Nantes, leaving one dead and many injured. In all of these incidents, witnesses heard the perpetrators shout the Muslim declaration of faith “Allahu Akbar.” But in each case, the authorities were quick to ascribe the acts to deranged lone wolves.

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For France, indeed, for Western Europe and, arguably, for Western civilization, the reaction to the horrific events in Paris of last week and those that preceded them, will assuredly end up being
far more important than the events themselves.

The initial reaction, while dramatic, falls far short of what is necessary. Within less than an hour following the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo, the satirical newspaper that was the object of the attack, President François Hollande appeared at the site of the carnage. He promptly and solemnly declared, “This is an act of terrorism.” He then urged his fellow citizens not be deterred from upholding the “values of the Republic.” Throughout France, hundreds of thousands of French citizens have marched in protest.


Neither the declarations of the French president nor the impressive feel-good marches augur well for the well-being of France. Hollande’s statements suggest that he is still not prepared to acknowledge the true nature of the problem afflicting France. At no point, did the president, or his minister of the interior ever mention the Islamist motivation of the violence. They tried to alter the ideological motivation for the terrorist acts from intolerant Muslim triumphalism to a challenge of the lofty abstract principles of free expression and secularism. Similarly, the marches seem to be an attempt to avoid the underlying issue.

Only French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who has always been outspoken in his bluntness (and whose wife is Jewish), unhesitatingly noted that France is at war with radical Islam and declared that, in this moment of crisis, “We are all Jews of France.”

Today, France has a very large unassimilated and potentially unassimilable Muslim population.  This is not to suggest that all or even a significant portion of French Muslims are hostile to France and its principles or even to Jews or that they are part of an age-old effort to complete the aborted Muslim conquest of Europe. It is merely to note that the Muslims who dominate the French landscape are increasingly angry, alienated and violent. The so-called “moderate Muslims” are being silenced and marginalized. We all know that it does not take a huge cadre of individuals to take over a society. It merely takes a small determined group of ideologues and a passive and unfocused general population. Consider the Bolshevik takeover of Russia and the Nazi seizure of control in Germany.

By suggesting that the perpetrators of last week’s violence are not really Muslims, that they are just isolated fanatics, the French government does a disservice not only to France and Western values, but also to the Muslim community. The failure to note the real root of the festering problem means that neither the French government nor the Muslim community will be able to confront and
combat the growing threat to all of French society.

For France and the Western world at large, the crescendo of Islamist violence needs to be considered as a clarion call. Societies that cannot confront and defuse threats to their very existence cannot long survive. Life in France has been and remains good for the average French
person. Long vacations, good food and wine, and early retirement are among the hallmarks of French existence. Those attributes do not combine well with the courage and energy needed to
confront evil.

The Jews of France, caught in the middle of the increasing Islamist violence, are justifiably alarmed and are voting with their feet as, in ever-larger numbers, they choose to move to Israel rather than battle for a France that, regrettably, few Frenchmen seem willing to defend.
Perhaps, now it is France itself that has supplanted Jews as the canary in the coal mine. And the coal mine may very well be all of Western Europe.

Gerard Leval is a partner in the Washington, D.C. law firm of Arent Fox LLP.  He is active in both the Jewish and French communities of the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. He has lectured and written on topics related to French-Jewish history.

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