Moi qui tremblais, sentant geindre à cinquante lieues
Le rut des Béhémots et les Maelstroms épais,
Fileur éternel des immobilités bleues,
Je regrette l’Europe aux anciens parapets!

Me, trembling, feeling the howling rut
Of beasts and whirlpools fifty leagues off,
Eternal weaver of blue standstills,
Longing for Europe, its ancient parapets!

From “Le bateau ivre” by Arthur Rimbaud, translation by John Hartley Williams


My wife and I spent a week this past summer in Paris. Weirdly, I’d managed never to have really explored the city before, which was unfortunate, because it meant that this visit had to cover so much tourist ground. I mean, were we really going to go to Paris without visiting Notre Dame, or Saint Chapelle? Without spending a full day at the Louvre and another at the Musée d’Orsay? Without paying our respects to Rodin and Picasso and Monet – you get the idea. The consequence was that we took in an awful lot of art, and never got the “feel” of a city that is kind of all about the rhythms of a deeply civilized life. Or so I am given to understand.

Thankfully, we will always have Paris. It feels funny to say that with confidence, but I feel it. Cities of Paris’s stature are hard to kill. My home city of New York descended into chaos and near-bankruptcy in the 1970s. It’s not only still here; it’s stronger and more prosperous than it ever has been. Tokyo and Berlin were obliterated at the end of World War II. They have never in their history been more important capitals than they are today. In the century between the July Monarchy and World War II, metropolitan France’s population grew negligibly, and would have shrunk were it not for immigration, while the populations of its British and German rivals exploded. But France is still here, and still French. I am hard-pressed to name any outpost of Western civilization that does a consistently better job of passing its heritage down to future generations.

I wish I had something useful and new to say about the enemy of that civilization – of civilization itself – that we’re now enjoined no longer to call “ISIS,” or “ISIL” or “The Islamic State” because those names grant them the prestige they seek, but rather “Daesh” – or “radical Islam” because, apparently, the one thing on which Republican candidates for President and protestors on American campuses agree is that policing language is more important than dealing with reality.

But I don’t. When they first appeared on the scene, I compared this latest band of murderous fanatics to the Khmer Rouge and I stand by that comparison. Of course they have to be destroyed. The question is whether we have any idea how to destroy them, and I don’t see any evidence that we do.

Nonetheless, it’s also worth remembering that those ancient parapets are still standing, show every sign of continuing to stand, and will continue to stand if the spiritual descendants of those who built them don’t conspire in their toppling. Asabiyyah is ultimately an expression of love, and if the people of France still remember what they love, I have every faith that they will not let it be lost.