A Europe Without God or Mothers
A reader sends this speech transcript published as an op-ed in the French daily Le Figaro, written by the Catholic philosopher Fabrice Hadjadjbefore the recent Paris attacks. The link will take you to the French version of the piece, first published this past February, but recently reprinted by Le Figaro for obvious reasons. I’ve translated below parts of it, using my bad French and Google Translate. If you are willing and able to add to a more precise translation here, please do.
Hadjadj begins by citing an “open letter” a famous French polemicist wrote to jihadists in the wake of 9/11, sarcastically warning Al Qaeda to “fear the wrath of the consumer” who will fight to maintain his softness. Hadjadj says that is pretty much “the state of the French State” today, and that the “ideological blindness” of the French to the role of religion in political life is “preparing soon, if not civil war, at least the suicide of Europe.”
His point, if I understand, is that the progressive model that holds all political and social life eventually moves to secularism is a dead letter, but the secularists don’t grasp this. The philosopher points out that the Charlie Hebdo attackers were French-born and French-raised, and that French people who knew these men were shocked that anybody who had the relative material advantages of modern French life could turn to jihad. Hadjadj recalls the mayor of a small French city who expressed surprised that ten young people from his city had gone to wage jihad in Syria, despite the fact that the city had built a beautiful skate park in the middle of their neighborhood.
Hadjadj says, with bitter sarcasm:
What ingratitude! How do these young people have not had the feeling of having accomplished their deepest aspirations by working for Coca-Cola, skateboarding, playing in the local football club? How is it that their desire for heroism, contemplation and freedom he did not feel overwhelmed by the generous offer to choose between two frozen meals, watching an American TV series or abstaining in elections?
How have they thought their hopes and thoughts of love were not accomplished seeing all the progress on the economic crisis, gay marriage, and legalization of euthanasia? For it was precisely the debate that interested the French government just before the [Charlie Hebdo] attacks: the Republic was all stretched out to make this great human conquest, probably the last frontier, namely the right to be assisted in one’s suicide by executioners whose delicacy is attested by their medical degree …
Understand me: the Kouachi brothers, Coulibaly [the Charlie Hebdo attackers] were “fully integrated”, but integrated into nothing, to the denial of any historical and spiritual movement, which is why they eventually submitted to Islam, which was not only in response to this void but also in continuity with the void, with its global deracination, loss of the transmission of the family, the transformation of bodies into soulless super-instruments.
A young person is not only seeking reasons to live, but also, especially — because we can’t live forever — a reason to give his life. Yet is there still in Europe reasons to give one’s life? Free speech? So be it! But what to we have to say that’s so important? What good news do we have to tell the world?
This question of whether Europe is still capable of carrying a transcendence that gives meaning to our action -this question, I say, because it is the most spiritual of all, is also the most carnal. It is not only to give one’s life; it is also to give life.
Curiously, or providentially, on 7 January, the first day of the attacks, the pope quoted an Oscar Romero homily showing the link between martyrdom and motherhood, between being willing to give one’s life and being ready to give life. It is an inescapable fact: our spiritual weakness affects demographics; like it or not, biological fertility is always a sign of hope lived (even if this hope is disordered, as in the nationalist and imperialist natalism).
Hadjadj goes on to say that Europe’s problem is that its natives are not having babies, and that this is inextricably related to religious belief. He says that France suffers from “religious and sexual asthenia,” and that the future cannot help but belong to the fertile.
The jihadists, he says, commit a grave strategic error” by their attacks. The “soft Islamization” of Europe is underway, and will only be halted by jolts like terrorist attacks awakening Europeans to the crisis upon them. If Europeans continue to deny the religious dimension of this crisis of civilization — and to deny that terrorist attacks by Muslim fanatics are driven by religion — then the soft Islamization will continue. More:
In any case, we must discard the vanity of believing that Islamist movements are pre-Enlightenment movements driven by barbarians who will moderate as soon as they discover the splendors of consumerism. In truth, they are post-Enlightenment movements. They know the humanist utopias that had substituted for religious faith have collapsed. One has reason to wonder if Islam is not in a dialectical relationship with a techno-liberal Europe that rejects its Greco-Latin roots and its Jewish and Christian wings, and that cannot live too long without God or mothers. Like a spoiled child, this Europe cannot return to its Mother Church, so she may finally agree to indulge in easy monotheism, where the relation to wealth is played down, where sexual morality is looser, where hi-tech postmodernity builds radiant cities like Qatar. God + capitalism + the companions of the harem + computer mouse — why would this not be the final compromise, the real end of the story?
One thing seems certain: what is good about the Enlightenment cannot subsist without the Light of the ages. But do we recognize that this is the Light of the Word made flesh, the God made man, that is to say, a deity who does not crush the human but rather assumes it in its freedom and in its weakness?
Hadjadj concludes his speech to his audience in Rome like this:
That is the question I put to you at last. You are Romans, but do you have strong reasons that Saint Peter’s will not suffer the same fate as the Hagia Sophia? You are Italian, but are you able to fight for the Divine Comedy, or are you ashamed that in Inferno, Canto 28, Dante dares to put Mohammed in hell? Finally, we are Europeans, but are we proud of our flag with its twelve stars? Do we remember even the meaning of these twelve stars, which refer to the Apocalypse of St. John and the faith of Schuman and De Gasperi?
The time is for comfort is over. We must respond, or we are dead. For what Europe are we willing to give our lives?