By Bruce Bawer
On the one hand, twelve Islamists in Marseille, Avignon, and Bordeaux have been arrested in connection with arms and explosives trafficking and Al Qaeda-linked terrorist plots – a cheering report which suggests that France, at least, is taking seriously the need to act against home-grown jihadism.
But while France is fighting armed jihad on the domestic front, it continues to buckle under to the far more serious threat – namely, the “soft” or “stealth” jihad carried out within its border by smooth-talking, purportedly peacable Muslims who, without the use of arms or explosives, are fast eroding the core values of la République. Case in point: a 30-year-old man from Bischheim, a town near Strasbourg, France, who the other day posted a nearly hour-long video on You Tube and Dailymotion that has since been removed. In the video the man reportedly tore a page from the Koran, made a paper airplane out of it, flew it into two boxes representing the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, then soaked it in alcohol, put it in a bowl, and set it afire. In an elegant coup de grâce, he doused the fire by urinating on it.
If all this is true, the guy is obviously a bozo, but let’s face it: if he’d done something similar with a Bible, his actions would probably have been considered, in certain circles, a brilliance piece of performance art; by now, museums of contemporary art might well be vying for the honor of televising his video on their premises on an endless loop. Instead, the perpetrator (whose name has been withheld) is, naturellement, in trouble with French judicial authorities, who arrested him on Monday and plan to prosecute him for “incitement and provocation to racial hatred” – an offense for which he can be punished with five years in prison.
The charges were brought by the head of Strasbourg’s Grand Mosque, Abdeaziz Choukri, who said the Koran-burner told him personally that he had acted “in the name of freedom.” Choukri was outraged: “If we do not react, we are authorising people to burn a holy book.” What especially appeared to incense Choukri was that the Koran-burner “did not seem to realise at all the impact of his gesture.”
“[A]uthorizing”; “the impact of his gesture”: one might almost think one were reading here about an action committed in, say, Saudi Arabia or Iran, rather than in France. One hears a great deal these days about Muslims in the West supposedly feeling harassed and besieged – like the Jews under Hitler, it is constantly said. But Choukri’s words are quite clearly those not of a member of a frightened, downtrodden group but, rather, those of a man who has power and knows it and is prepared to use it.
According to Strasbourg deputy prosecutor Gilles Delorme, the Koran-burner “says he’s not a right-wing extremist but that in France he can burn the Koran, just as he can burn a Winnie the Pooh book, without worrying about the consequences.” But of course the Koran-burner is mistaken: in France today, as elsewhere in the Western world, the Koran stands alone; rules that apply to all other books on the planet do not apply to it. Reuters itself described the man’s actions as “vandalism” – although the Koran-burning apparently took place in the man’s own living room and there is no indication that the Koran was not his own property.
Unsurprisingly, the Conseil français du culte musulman (CFCM), or French Council of Muslim Faith, has also weighed in, describing the blogger’s actions as “heavy with consequences.” Like the comments by Coukri, these are ominous words, and they suggest that the CFCM has already developed an alarmingly healthy sense of its own authority over such affairs within the borders of la belle France. The CFCM further characterizes the man’s video as exhibiting “a total disregard for the values of the Republic.” Alas, when it comes to “the values of the Republic,” the CFCM is increasingly close to the truth of the matter than is the home-video maker with his talk of freedom: while the values of the French Republic did once include freedom of expression, that value has now been superseded, when it comes to anything and everything that Islam regards as holy (the Koran above all), by a cringing “respect.” Autres temps, autres moeurs.