Charles Martel

Charles Martel : “the hammer” whose determination and brilliance rescued France 1300 years ago. Will his like be needed again ?

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We don’t editorialize much about world affairs; the news from right here in Massachusetts rightly commands full attention. Yet we are “Here and Sphere,” and last night the Sphere sent us an horrific message that demands response.

There’s no need in this column to retell what happened. The question that moves  me is, “why ?” Even more portentous : “what will the future bring to France, and why ?”

No one wants to see France revert to the days of Charles Martel, in the eighth century, when only the imaginative military genius of a man who forged unity out of anarchy kept “Francia”: from being conquered by Muslim armies. All out war should not be a prospect for a nation so well organized, so culturally powerful, so conscious of its destiny, as is the France of today, almost 1300 years after Martel’s well-prepared forces saved the nation. Yet this is the prospect, if today’s France cannot solve the problem posed lethally by yesterday’s attacks.

Let us work on that by answering the questions.

First : there were eight attackers, well armed and well co-ordinated. Where they did get their weapons ? Their grenades and suicide vests ? I presume none of that is on offer at the local depanneur. And where did they meet and how converse ? by cellphone ? It’s inconceivable that no one knew but the eight. Who supported them ? How many and for how long ?

Who were they ? The French police aren’t saying, but it’s most likely they were of Algerian, Morrocan, or Tunisian origin. France has been at war with Algerian killers for at least 60 years. The Algerian government has never completely shaken off its internal guerrillas. Tunisia has recently become a hotbed of killers inspired by ISIS. Morocco sends many killers to the Syria fight. It is unlikely that the eight were Pakistani or Egyptian. Their language is English, not. French.

Still, who the eight were seems less important than how they were able to amass such a plot and carry it out with no one in French intelligence noticing.

(UPDATE : it appears that the attack was planned and financed in Brussels even though one participant at least was French. This may explain why French intelligence missed the signs.)

Here in America, loners can wreak terror and there’s little one can do; if no one knows but the person who intends, it’s hard for anyone else to get wind of it. Eight killers is different. In America,where Middle East Muslims are few, eight killers couldn’t possibly develop a plot claiming Islam as its purpose and no one notice. Indeed : in America,people of Middle Eastern origin are watched all the time, by everyone; even Christian Arabs — and Hindus and Sikhs — can’t move much without eyes on them.

This level of scrutiny is unfair to almost everyone scrutinized, but it almost certainly prevents the development of attacks like yesterday’s. It’s certainly unfair to America’s Middle Eastern Christians, whose relatives back home face persecution,church burnings, and death. It’s also unfair to American Muslims, because few share the virulent hate for Western ways so evident in France.

America’s Muslims almost all want to belong, not destroy.

Can that be true because Muslims are so rare in America ? One wonders. Consider the difference. Muslims amount to about two percent of Americans; in France they’re ten percent. Numbers matter. In France, it’s far easier for eight killers to go about within their very large North African neighborhoods — or out in the city center — and not attract special notice. After all, if ten percent of the people you see on the street — hundreds, even thousands — are Arab, how can you possibly follow any eight of them ? Certainly French intelligence could not do it.

For intelligence officers it’s vital to have information. In America, that information is ready to hand, most of it provided by Muslims themselves. In France the opposite is true., Though very few North Africans in France would wreak terror, a very large number almost certainly sympathize — we know this from the huge intimidation hurled at France’s Jews for many years now — and a much larger number dislike France’s foreign policy. Thus eight killers can amass an arsenal, plan an attack, and go unreported.

France’s very large Kurdish community is of no help either. Though all Kurds despise Islamic terror and support Israel and the West, the Kurds’ separateness — linguistic, too — assures that no one in North African neighborhoods tells the Kurds anything.

So much for the state of things in France., The question now is, “where does France go from here ? By what means ?”

I would like to think t.hat France will recognize that its non-Kurdish Muslims pose an almost ineradicable threat to the nation’s well being. I would like to think that France will proceed to vet every single person, living in it, and of non-Kurdish Muslim origin; interview each and all; put a stop to Islamist preaching, by deportation or otherwise; ramp up the nation’s military contribution to the war on ISIS in Syria and Iraq; track down contraband weapons smugglers and end them; send individual intelligence operatives under cover into the huge North African neighborhoods; institute a “see something, say something” campaign in the cities especially. Lastly, pay informers for information.

None of the above suggestions is a happy thing  Paying informers is  nasty business. But being killed by gangs of self-aggrieved murderers is nastier still. At least if you develop a staff of paid informers, you foster distrust such that France’s North Africans start killing each other for informing (as already happens in Hamas-controlled Gaza). Plus this : with informants all around, how could eight killers ever trust one another sufficiently to become operative ?

I see no other way for France to extricate itself from a problem that, if not dealt with severely, can only lead to Paris becoming like Baghdad, a city in which bombings and gunfire go on all the time, killing thousands every month. Because, as pundits are already saying that even after ISIS is wiped out, there’ll always be, in France, a ready supply of jihadists who hate you and seek to kill you.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere