Death of a hero in France

Death of a hero in France


By Jonathan Power


April 4, 2018

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.

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 burqua, 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 fueled 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 programs 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.

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.

In France, as in the UK and the US, the right 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.


© Jonathan Power

4 Responses to "Death of a hero in France"

  1. jonathan power   April 6, 2018 at 9:33 am

    Dear Robert J,

    You make very good points, not least why Italy- I would add Spain and Portugal- have so little of the overt racism you find in France. I’ve always wondered about this. The best I can come up with is that the Catholic church’s teaching in schools has long been good on race and immigration. (In France schools are not allowed to teach religion.)

    I don’t think France is worse than the UK. In France before African independence came along you had people like the Senegalese, Senghor, in the cabinet. James Baldwin and many other blacks moved to France to get away from the racism of the US. As for the police, look how they behaved in 1968 against French white students.

    All the best, Jonathan

  2. Robert J.   April 5, 2018 at 8:21 pm

    I have always appreciated what Jonathan Power has had to tell us, but I’m afraid that here he has little understanding of the French mentality.

    To some degree or other all people around the planet demonstrate an array of prejudices, on a number of grounds, towards those groups that are different from their own. Ethnic prejudice, which I’ll call “racism” for the sake of simplification, is no exception, and to paraphrase a famous saying, I might say that everyone is a racist, but that some are more racist than others. Or, better said, that some express their racist prejudices in a more overt, a more blatant, a more arrogant, a more aggressive way than others. This is regardless of the fact that the civilisational turmoil of our times has led to increasing manifestations of overt racism, even in those parts of the world that seemed to have a more established tradition of mutual acceptance, not to say tolerance (Brazil, Scandinavia, Senegal, Italy)

    Having been close to French culture ever since the days I was an infant, and having encountered and studied racism in a good number of contexts (not to mention having experienced it in my own flesh), I can vouch for the proposition that France is one of the countries, if not the country in Europe, where one is — always has been — most likely to get racist abuse thrown at one’s face. And when I use the word “abuse”, it’s not only in the semi-metaphorical meaning of verbal expression: France, by the same token, is the country where abuses based on racial prejudice are most likely to be committed by the structures of power, especially the police forces.

    No wonder we are witnessing certain reactions: any young person born and raised in France, albeit of the “wrong” skin colour, will testify, not only to having grown up with names like raton, beur or fatou hurled at them in just about any context, but also to be subjected to controls, beatings or just any form of unjust treatment at the hand of the police, where “ethnic” French people would be left in peace.

    To deny this would, in my eyes, be tantamount to denying that the Turks are the most hated group in the Balkans (even if hardly anyone there has ever met a Turk), or that the Rom, which people still call Gypsies, are the underdogs in that same part of Europe. It would also, a contrario, make it hard for us to explain why such terrorist actions as Jonathan Power describes in France are virtually unknown in today’s Italy. Yet Italy has a sizeable and well-established immigrant community from Morocco and Tunisia. For the sake of accuracy, I have to quickly add that the traditional spirit of tolerance proper to the Italians is wearing away fast, thanks to a mixture of idiotic policies (viz. the Dublin treaty) and historical corruption encouraging the traffic of immigrants across the Mediterranean.

    • JO   April 5, 2018 at 8:49 pm

      Dear Robert J. – I thank you warmly for the sincerity with which you contribute to a fundamentally important debate. I have written to Jonathan Power and asked him to reply. We are working hard to make The Transnational here one of the most important, serious – and not mud-casting, superficial – sites for the necessary debate.

  3. vhelenl   April 4, 2018 at 12:15 pm

    Nemesis I believe its called. Multiculturism. No thank you. Stop wars. Let people go home. And rebuild countries- with immigrants lile always.


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