The lede of this news story about the violence gripping Paris has to be read to be believed.
“France’s Front National leader Marine Le Pen pinned the blame for the killing of 12 people in Paris yesterday on Islamic radicals,” Bloomberg News reported, “as mainstream leaders tried to downplay the religious dimension of the attack.”
Ruminate on this for a second: the leader of a historically extreme political party is telling the obvious truth about the French terrorist attacks while “mainstream leaders” mouth comforting platitudes virtually no one believes.
“Of all political parties, the Front National stands to gain most from this atrocity,” the Bloomberg story goes on to quote French studies professor as saying. “Public agreement with the FN’s ideas has been rising steadily and this event will play into the party’s anti-immigration, anti-Islam agenda.”
Maybe that would not be true if “mainstream leaders” did not pretend that attacks by people shouting “Allah Akbar!” could have just as easily been carried out by a team of Zen Buddhists and disenchanted Unitarians.
Far-right parties like the Front National are often viewed through the prism of Europe’s experience with Nazis and fascists, known for their racism and anti-Semitism. This isn’t entirely undeserved.
But a historically Jewish neighborhood in Paris is not closed down because of the Front National. It is closed down because of jihadi violence against French Jews and the threat of future attacks.
France is having difficulty assimilating its estimated five million Muslims, the largest such community in Europe. It hasn’t entirely been for lack of trying, as France has constricted the liberal value of religious liberty — banning the hijab, for example — in an attempt to protect other liberal values.
The elephant in the room is that it has not worked and a non-trivial subset of the French Muslim population has turned violent. The mainstream political parties continue to behave as is if they can put a politically correct lid on the situation.
This is what James Burnham had in mind when he called liberalism the ideology of Western suicide. But there is also a decent, humane impulse behind the tendency to “downplay the religious dimension of the attack”: the desire to prevent the victimization of innocent Muslims.
Islam is the religion of 1.2 billion people worldwide. Walt Whitman might say this number is large and contains multitudes.
Just as it is self-evident that Muslims drove the Charlie Hebdo attacks, it is equally self-evident that this 1.2 billion includes many fine people who are nothing like the perpetrators. That is also true of the five million French Muslims, whose numbers once included the police officer who died trying to protect Charlie Hebdo staffers.
But refusing to talk openly about the assimilation problem hasn’t protected France’s Jews and cartoonists. And it ultimately won’t protect France’s Muslims if the only people who refuse to shroud this discussion in euphemism are indiscriminately hostile to Islam.
The National Rifle Association says that if guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns. If discussing vital issues of public safety and national identity is racist, only racists will start the discussion. But once there are jihadi attacks inside your country, silence is no longer an option.
The refusal of “mainstream leaders” to engage this debate constructively resembles an overprotective parent who won’t have adult conversations with his grown children. Except the stakes are much higher. The only people who benefit from this arrangement are the jihadis and the far right.
French citizens are ready for an adult conversation.
W. James Antle III is managing editor of The Daily Caller and author of the book Devouring Freedom: Can Big Government Ever Be Stopped? Follow him on Twitter.