How France’s Leaders Failed Its People
Translated from the French
Lire en français (Read it in French)
By Michel Houellebecq
New York Times | Nov. 19, 2015
[Michael Hoffman’s reply to Houellebecq immediately follows, below]
Paris — In the aftermath of the January attacks in Paris, I spent two days transfixed watching the news. In the aftermath of the Nov. 13 attacks, I hardly turned on the television; I just called the people I knew (no small number) who lived in the neighborhoods that were hit. You get used to terrorist attacks.
In 1986, there was a series of bombings in various public places in Paris. I think Hezbollah was behind those attacks. They occurred a few days, or maybe a week, apart; I’ve forgotten exactly. But I remember very well the atmosphere in the subway that first week. The silence inside the cars was absolute, and people exchanged glances loaded with suspicion.
That was the first week. And then, soon enough, conversations resumed, the mood returned to normal. The prospect of another imminent explosion was still there in everyone’s mind, but it had retreated into the background. You get used to terrorist attacks.
France will hold on. The French will hold on, without even needing a “sursaut national,” a national pushback reflex. They’ll hold on because there’s no other way, and because you get used to everything. No human force, not even fear, is stronger than habit.
Keep calm and carry on.” All right, then, that’s just what we’ll do (even though, alas, there is no Churchill to lead us). Despite the common perception, the French are rather docile, rather easy to govern. But they are not complete idiots. Instead, their main flaw is a kind of forgetful frivolity that necessitates jogging their memory from time to time. There are people, political people, who are responsible for the unfortunate situation we find ourselves in today, and sooner or later their responsibility will have to be examined. It’s unlikely that the insignificant opportunist who passes for our head of state, or the congenital moron who plays the part of our prime minister, or even the “stars of the opposition” (LOL) will emerge from the test looking any brighter.
Who exactly weakened the capacities of the police forces until they were totally on edge and almost incapable of fulfilling their mission? Who exactly drilled into our heads for years the notion that borders were a quaint absurdity, and evidence of a foul and rancid nationalism?
The blame, as one can see, is widely shared. Which political leaders committed France to ridiculous and costly operations whose main result has been to plunge Iraq, and then Libya, into chaos? And which political leaders were, until recently, on the verge of doing the same thing in Syria? (I was forgetting: We didn’t go into Iraq, not the second time. But it was close, and it looks as though Dominique de Villepin, then minister of foreign affairs, will go down in history for that reason — which is not nothing — for having prevented France, for the one and only time in its recent history, from participating in a criminal operation that also distinguished itself for its stupidity.)
The obvious conclusion is scathing, unfortunately. For 10 (20? 30?) years, our successive governments have pathetically, systematically, deplorably failed in their essential mission: to protect the population under their responsibility.
As for the population, it hasn’t failed at all. It’s unclear, at bottom, exactly what the population thinks, since our successive governments have taken great care not to hold referendums (except for one, in 2005, on a proposed European constitution, whose result they then preferred to ignore). But opinion polls are allowed, and for what they’re worth, they more or less reveal the following: that the French population has always maintained its trust in and solidarity with its police officers and its armed forces. That it has largely been repelled by the sermonizing airs of the so-called moral left (moral?) concerning how migrants and refugees are to be treated. That it has never viewed without suspicion the foreign military adventures its governments have seen fit to join.
One could cite many more examples of the gap, now an abyss, between the population and those supposed to represent it. The discredit that applies to all political parties today isn’t just huge; it is legitimate. And it seems to me, it really seems to me, that the only solution still available to us now is to move gently toward the only form of real democracy: I mean, direct democracy.
Michel Houellebecq is the author, most recently, of the novel Submission. Read more at: http://www.nytimes.com
How Houellebecq, in his NY Times column, Has Failed France
By Michael Hoffman
I specify that Houellebecq has failed France “in his NY Times column," because in Submission he does a better job of providing context and apportioning responsibility for the terror crisis in France. But not in this column.
In the New York Times, Houellebecq, who has been compared to L.F. Céline, lets the French people off the hook for their low birthrate and selfish consumerism, which have contributed to a demographic gap that has been filled by migrants.
Céline often excoriated the French mercilessly as sybarites whose future was grim. Houellebecq puffs them up. It is all the fault of the political parties; and oh yes, let’s give the police and army our complete solidarity. Worries about a police state in the land of Thermidor? Perish the thought.
I agree that the dogma of multiculturalism has suffocated the will to defend national borders, and that governments in the West often do not represent the people. But the fault, dear “Horatio” Houellebecq, is in ourselves — we childless, sterile, luxury-loving consumers who demand a half-empty utopia for ourselves —and are profoundly dismayed when refugees and opportunity seekers from distant lands come knocking at our gates, ready to care for us in our lonely old age.
Terrorists? Kill as many as you can, legions of new recruits will keep coming. Until immigrants in France are offered alternatives to jihadist Islamic Fundamentalism more profound than sex and shopping, the terror will continue and the police state will metastasize.
Michael Hoffman is the author, most recently, of the history Usury in Christendom: The Mortal Sin that Was and Now is Not, and the essay, “The War in Paris is Between the Faithful and the Faithless."
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