That’s the front page of today’s Le Figaro. Headline: “French Islamists prepare their attacks.” French police over the weekend busted an Islamist cell that was allegedly getting ready to attack Jewish targets throughout the country. Here’s an English-language version of the story. I highly recommend, however, that you go to the Figaro site and, if you don’t read French, at least read the coverage there in Google translation. What you learn from the French coverage is:
- These terrorists were all converts to Islam.
- They had criminal records, which indicate a general hatred of society that found focus and transcendent meaning in radical Islam.
- The Interior Minister says there will probably be more arrests, as there are “several hundred” Muslims in France believed to be able to activate themselves as terrorists.
- The police say the cell members were all ready to die as shaheeds (martyrs). One of the 12 was killed in a shootout with police. He had already shaved his beard, martyr-style, and was found with a will on his person.
- Jean-Louis Bruguiere, the former head of France’s counterterrorism efforts, gave an interview in which he said that this new generation of Islamist terrorists are perhaps the most dangerous, because of three reasons: 1) they are converts (thus the most enthusiastic), 2) they adhere to an ultraradical form of Islam that allows them to eat pork and drink alcohol to cloak themselves for jihad, making them harder to track, and 3) they benefit from the organizational capabilities of the Internet. From the interview:
The New Islamists in Europe don’t have the need any longer to be formed from abroad …
There will always jihad initiation of this type. [Mohamed] Merah is also a perfect illustration. But in the case of Louis-Sidney [the terrorist killed in the weekend raids — RD], the first evidence collected suggests that the phenomenon of self-radicalization has grown dramatically. On French soil, the cells aggregate with individuals who have not gone through the camps in Pakistan-Afghanistan area or elsewhere. The change in the speed of network organizations amazes me. And probably the antiterrorist services have neglected this evolution. And not only in France. I was struck, for my part, by the expression of Salafists in September, in front of the United States Embassy in Paris. It is, in my opinion, the first visible sign of a deeper rooting of radical Islam in our Western societies and its ability to mobilize, particularly via social networks.
I spoke recently to a source tied to French intelligence circles. He says that the long-term planning among the professional law enforcement elite is focused on preparing for widespread and sustained civil strife in and from the Muslim-dominated suburbs of France’s major cities. In talking to others since I’ve been here, I’ve observed how much immigration and the resulting cultural anxieties occupy the concerns of the French. As one of my interlocutors put it, “France is very worried about preserving its culture, which the French value highly, but cannot figure out how to do it in the modern world.”
One is put in mind of Jean Raspail’s dystopian 1970s-era novel “The Camp of the Saints,” condemned by some as racist, hailed by others as prophetic, and analyzed in this 1994 Atlantic magazine cover story. Excerpts:
If anything, Raspail’s contempt for sympathizers and fellow travelers in the West is even more extreme. The collection of churchmen who plead for tolerance of the approaching armada; the intellectuals and media stars who think this is a great event; the hippies, radicals, and counterculture people who swarm south to greet the Indians as the panic-stricken Provencois are rushing north–all these get their comeuppance in Raspail’s bitter, powerful prose. In one of the most dramatic events, close to the book’s end, the leader of the French radicals is portrayed as rushing forward to welcome the “surging mob” of Indians, only to find himself “swept up in turn, carried off by the horde. Struggling to breathe. All around him, the press of sweaty, clammy bodies, elbows nudging madly in a frantic push forward, every man for himself, in a scramble to reach the streams of milk and honey.” The message is clear: race, not class or ideology, determines everything, and the wretched of the earth will see no distinction between unfriendly, fascistic Frenchmen on the one hand and liberal-minded bishops and yuppies on the other. All have enjoyed too large a share of the world’s wealth for too long, and their common fate is now at hand.
When The Camp of the Saints first appeared, in 1973, it was, to put it mildly, not well received. Sixties radicalism still prevailed in Paris; a century of capitalist imperialism was blamed for the problems of the Third World, though the feeling was that Africans and Asians now at least had control of their own destinies; and French intellectuals and bureaucrats believed that they had a special rapport with non-European cultures, unlike the insensitive Anglo-Saxons. Besides being shocking in its contents, Raspail’s book was also offensive: it insulted almost everything that Sorbonne professors held dear. The Camp was swiftly dismissed as a racist tract. As for Raspail, he went off to write other novels and travel books. But in late 1985 he offended again, by joining forces with the demographer Gerard Dumont to write an article in Le Figaro Magazine claiming that the fast-growing non-European immigrant component of France’s population would endanger the survival of traditional French culture, values, and identity. By this time the immigration issue had become much more contentious in French politics, and only a year earlier Jacques Chirac, then the mayor of Paris, had publicly warned, “When you compare Europe with the other continents, it’s terrifying. In demographic terms, Europe is disappearing. Twenty or so years from now our countries will be empty, and no matter what our technological power, we shall be incapable of putting it to use.” The Raspail-Dumont article was highly embarrassing to the French Socialist government, which, though pledged to crack down on illegal immigrants, was deeply disturbed by the potential political fallout from such a controversial piece. No fewer than three Cabinet Ministers, including Prime Minister Laurent Fabius, attacked it as “racist propaganda” and “reminiscent of the wildest Nazi theories.” It was no consolation to them that Jean-Marie Le Pen, the head of the fast-growing National Front, was making immigration the leading issue as he campaigned among the discontented French electorate.
Readers may well find Raspail’s vision uncomfortable and his language vicious and repulsive, but the central message is clear: we are heading into the twenty-first century in a world consisting for the most part of a relatively small number of rich, satiated, demographically stagnant societies and a large number of poverty-stricken, resource-depleted nations whose populations are doubling every twenty-five years or less. The demographic imbalances are exacerbated by grotesque disparities of wealth between rich and poor countries. Despite the easy references that are made to our common humanity, it is difficult to believe that Switzerland, with an annual average per capita income of about $35,000, and Mali, with an average per capita income of less than $300, are on the same planet–but Raspail’s point is that they are, and that a combination of push and pull factors will entice desperate, ambitious Third World peasants to approach the portals of the First World in ever-increasing numbers. The pressures are now much greater than they were when Raspail wrote, not only because we’ve added 1.5 billion people to our planet since the early 1970s, but also, ironically, because of the global communications revolution, which projects images of Western lifestyles, consumer goods, and youth culture across the globe. Ambitious peasants no longer need a messianic untouchable to urge them to leave by boat for Europe; they see the inducements every day on their small black-and-white television sets.
Is all this gloom and doom justified? What about rosier visions of the future? What about the good news? The apocalyptic literature appears to be at odds with an equally large array of writings, chiefly by free-market economists and consultants, that proclaim a brave new world of ever-greater production, trade, wealth, and standards of living for all. In these portrayals of “the coming global boom,” a combination of market forces, diminished government interference, ingenious technologies, and the creation of a truly universal customer base will allow our planet to double or treble its income levels during the next few decades. In the view of those who believe that the global technological and communications revolution is making the world more integrated, rather than more envious, the constant modernization of the world economy is leading to a steady convergence of standards of production and living. As more and more countries open up to a borderless world, the prospects for humankind–or, at least, for those able to adapt–are steadily improving.
Yet a closer look at this cornucopian literature reveals that its focus is overwhelmingly upon the world’s winners–the well-educated lawyers, management consultants, software engineers, and other “symbolic analysts” analyzed by Secretary of Labor Robert Reich–who sell their expertise at handsome prices to clients in other rich societies. To the extent that they consider the situation in the Third World, the cornucopian writers typically point to the model minority of global politics–the East Asians. The techno-liberals pay hardly any attention to the mounting human distress in Calcutta or Nicaragua or Liberia, and no wonder: were they to consider the desperate plight of the poorest two billion beings on our planet, their upbeat messages would sound less plausible.
Despite attempts by centrist politicians to ignore this touchy topic, it refuses to go away.
I wonder if even Raspail imagined that a radical version of an alien religion, come to Europe via immigration and the Internet, would appeal to the criminal dispossessed of post-Christian Europe, and give some of them inspiration for waging holy war on Europe itself.
UPDATE: It is commonly recognized that the French have had a terrible time integrating Muslims into French society. I’m reading the book about Americans in Paris that Fred gave me, and it seems that the impossibility of any foreign person integrating fully into French life, except possibly through marriage, is a universal phenomenon. In his introduction to the collection, Adam Gopnik says that they may like you fine and be nice to you, but you will never, ever be one of them. That’s just how it is here. I can imagine how that must feel to Muslims, especially those born here.