Personally I’m a coward. I’m unlikely ever to be a hero. (I have rescued on different occasions three young children from drowning, but I didn’t risk my life.) I certainly would never have done what Colonel Arnaud Beltrame, the French policeman, did. He asked the terrorist who had taken over a supermarket if he could substitute himself for the female hostage he held. The terrorist agreed and then murdered him. Last Wednesday Beltrame was given a state funeral. The Moroccan terrorist who appears to be a supporter of ISIS is in jail, awaiting trial.
Islamic terrorism has hit France particularly hard. In the last few years it has claimed over 300 lives in France and neighbouring, French-speaking, Belgium. Compare this with the US where murders committed by Islamic-minded terrorists were only eight in 2017 yet white men murdering schoolchildren en masse has almost become a sport. In Britain where there was more (35) the number is much less than the French.
In France most of the assassins have been locals although many of them have worked for ISIS abroad. They can be the most dangerous. However, most returnees seem to want to give up violence and settle down.
One result of the failure has been the rise in politics of the xenophobic right, personified by Marin Le Pen’s National Front
A good proportion of the French electorate would like to see the doors totally closed to new immigrants, even if they are refugees from war. The government doesn’t go this far, recognizing that the terrorists are not new arrivals but second or third generation sons of migrants who have not been properly educated, brought up in third-rate housing far from amenities, and jobless.
Like other countries in Europe the French have long believed in “multiculturalism”. This means as a foreigner you can live where you want, and group together with members of your own nationality. This has had the effect of cutting immigrants off from the mainstream. In France it has usurped laicite, the traditional French republican ideal of civic secularism. Apart from banning the full body covering of the burka, worn by a few female immigrants, often under pressure from their husbands, the French government has only modest results to show for its effort to stand up for its principles.
But there is a need for fighting back and winning back lost ground, necessary now after the failure of multiculturalism. What is needed if the fight is to succeed is “integration”, (as the Supreme Court in America recognized 53 years ago with its banning of white-only schools. Regrettably it has only been partially enforced.)
One result of the failure has been the rise in politics of the xenophobic right, personified by Marin Le Pen’s National Front. Apart from recruiting white racists the extreme right has fuelled the rise of Muslim identity politics.
Now a few countries in Europe are changing course to integration. In Sweden there is a policy to disperse new arrivals around the country. Language and cultural tuition is compulsory, including emphasis on the rights of women. They have to fit in, not join the old de-facto ghettos. In Finland there are special programmes for women- to get them out of the house, where many men like to keep them, into normal working life outside. France has been, belatedly and too slowly, pushing integration.
But there is a need for fighting back and winning back lost ground, necessary now after the failure of multiculturalism.
Good, but what to do about immigrants already here? In France there has been the emergence of ultra-conservative Salafi enclaves which have bred violent Islamists and have encouraged confrontation with the French authorities. Lax government supervision of mosques has allowed non-Francophonic imams to preach on the evils of French society.
The main push to counter Islamic extremism must be to reach those whose minds are closed to the tenets of French society because of the geography of where they live, combined with the fury that comes from young people with no prospects.
Now a few countries in Europe are changing course to integration. In Sweden there is a policy to disperse new arrivals around the country
In France the right, as in the UK and the US, has stirred the pot of discrimination, highlighting the crime rate and the lack of effort of young men to find jobs. For its part the left has defended the right of immigrants to live where they want and how they want. French Muslims are seen as the victims of Islamophobia- which they too often are- but they are also victims of the laissez-faire (live and let be) policies of successive governments.
The election of Emmanuel Macron as president was a victory for the centre, a necessary step for France, not just because of the immigrant question but because of economic and other social issues too.
It will be a long haul to put society right again, to break up the ghettos, to build good housing and schools, to find imaginative ways to give the young unemployed jobs and to give the security services the resources to monitor would-be terrorists. There is no easy answer to the knife that killed Arnaud Beltrame.
For 17 years, the writer was a foreign affairs columnist and commentator for the International Herald Tribune/New York Times.