Prime Minister Manuel Valls has declared France is at war with radical Islam, but his government may have to take on Islam altogether. Certainly, it must abandon its pell-mell accommodation of immigrant cultures that threaten French civilization.
Slow growth in France has pushed up unemployment, and social programs that shore up the economic conditions of the middle class and poor have left many native French unwilling to accept low paying service jobs.
Muslims, fleeing much worse circumstances in the Middle East and Africa, migrate to take this work but often end up living in poor and ethnically isolated districts.
Frustrated young Muslims are just a short journey or text message away from radical Islamists abroad and ensconced in France. Some join the movement and perpetuate horrendous terrorist acts.
The European policy response to the Islamic diaspora has been “multiculturalism.” Specifically, the notion that Muslims—and other third world immigrants—not need fully assimilate and become culturally French, German or British to live harmoniously with native Europeans.
France’s extreme adaptation, “secularism,” is to ignore religion and race altogether and statutorily relegate those to the personal sphere. For example, Muslim women are prohibited from wearing veils in public.
Doing so, the French government tacitly embraces the myth that Muslims can peaceably be part of France without assimilating the values of the Enlightenment that define the French character and culture.
Politicians fail to grasp that unified national cultures establish the rules and limits for behavior that permit citizens to build economic institutions and prosper, participate in civil society and governance, and ensure personal safety and security.
National cultures also establish needed mechanisms to express angst with conditions—for example, spectator sports, art and literature—but they also place social and legal limits on acceptable expressions of frustration and disappointment.
Art and journalism in the West provide such a psychological safety value and are often irreverent. Charlie Hebdo, though extreme, was no exception.
In 1999, New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani found particularly offensive Chris Ofili’s depiction of the Virgin Mary, which featured a lump of varnished elephant dung forming one breast. Hanging in the Brooklyn Museum, in part thanks to grants from the city government, the mayor sought to close the museum.
The mayor ultimately lost his argument in court, but he accepted the outcome. Neither he nor his followers resorted to terrorist acts against the museum’s curators or the artist.
The strictures of American culture constrained Giuliani’s outrage in ways Muslim culture apparently does not.
The attack on Charlie Hebdo was another in a string of terrorist attacks by disaffected Muslims dating back to the 2001 destruction of the World Trade Center. President Bush then, and other western leaders now, are quick to publicly state their governments’ policies of tolerance toward Islam.
Islam may not be worthy of quite the same acceptance as other religions.
In the wake of these violent acts, prominent moderate Muslims, who have attained considerable success within our professional communities and universities, have been largely silent or muted.
That silence condones the violence by estoppel, or at least diverts the public dialogue to the imprudence of Charlie Hebdo’s irreverence and the failure of western governments to improve the conditions of Muslims and marginalized minorities.
All this, despite the fundamental fact that free speech, protected from state censorship and threat of private violence, is central to the success of our societies. And the economic and social conditions of Muslims cannot be improved if they act out—or condone through silence—violence against voices they find offensive, and generally refuse to play by the rules of their adopted societies.
Islam can never be a welcome faith in the West until successful Muslims outwardly and repeatedly condemn the violence. France cannot subdue Islamic terrorism within its own borders by refusing to acknowledge the folly of secularism and require newcomers to assimilate and truly become French.
Peter Morici is an economist and professor at the University of Maryland and a national columnist. He tweets @pmorici1