Ever since September 11th, head-in-the-sand types on both the left and right have had a single mantra intended to discredit any action the U.S. might take against the jihadist menace. The Islamists, these dreamers tell us, are not aggressors, but defenders; they seek to kill us, not because of what we are, but because of what we do, namely our imperial acts of interference in the Islamic world. It follows that if we pulled back from all involvement in the Mideast, if we abandoned Israel, if we withdrew our forces from Iraq (and, some argue, from Afghanistan as well), and if President Bush dropped his arrogant program of trying to impose Western-style democracy on the Muslim world, then Osama bin Laden and his followers would stop hating us and all would be well again.
On one hand, this argument has always seemed unpersuasive, given the well-known fact that bin Laden aims at the creation of a global Caliphate and would therefore be waging jihad on us, in one form or another, no matter what we did. On the other hand, the argument cannot be entirely dismissed either. Even if a core of hard-line Islamists seek a world-wide Caliphate, this reasoning goes, is it not evident that our massive intrusions in the Mideast have fueled the rage of many Muslims, continuously attracting new batches of young jihadist converts ready to kill for Islam? Surely our occupation of Iraq, even if it did not create the jihadist movement, is exacerbating it. Look at how the Islamist thugs in Iraq have been kidnapping and murdering the innocent citizens of any country that has joined in the U.S.-led reconstruction effort. Savage beheadings of non-Muslims were not routinely occurring in Iraq or anywhere else prior to the U.S. takeover of that country. This is a new and horrible phenomenon. Is it not obvious, then, that the U.S. occupation of Iraq has enflamed and intensified the jihadist impulse rather than weakening and dispersing it?
Unfortunately, many of the people who ask these reasonable questions about U.S. policy do not stop at suggesting that America's own actions may be triggering jihad; they regard another country, France, as their beau ideal of international statesmanship. Why, they wonder, can't the Americans be more like the French? Unlike the Americans, the French have such deep knowledge and appreciation of Islam. The French maintain the most intimate and cordial relations—political, commercial, and cultural—with the Muslim world. They sensitively tailor their foreign policy to avoid offending Muslim regimes. They have signed on fully—indeed, with relish—to the Muslim view of Israel as an illegitimate oppressor state and vicious agent of U.S. imperialism. And, most importantly, the French were correct in their opposition to America on the Iraq war, not only refusing to support the U.S.-sponsored war resolution in the Security Council, but making an all-out effort to hamstring and humiliate America—the biggest backstabbing of one Western country by another since World War II. As a result of its opposition to U.S. imperialism, and of its friendliness (or, as Bat Ye'or would describe it, its dhimmi-like submissiveness) to Islam and Islamists, France and its citizens have been free of terrorist attacks. This, the anti-war critics continue, is decisive proof of the idea that the Islamists are not hostile to the West itself, but only to Western interference in the Islamic lands.
Thus, in the eyes of appeasers everywhere, particularly the French themselves, France is the very model of a Muslim-friendly modern state, a shining example for the rest of the Western world to follow. What sweet vindication for la France et sa mission civilatrice! Except that now France's "civilizing mission" is no longer aimed at introducing backward non-Western countries to advanced Western ways, but at showing backward Western countries, namely the U.S, how to submit themselves to Islam.
These complacent assumptions have been shattered once and for all by the kidnapping of two French journalists, Georges Malbrunot and Christian Chesnot, by the same Iraqi Islamist group who earlier had kidnapped and murdered Italian journalist Enzo Baldoni. As the condition for releasing (or for not killing) the hostages, the kidnappers demand that France revoke its law banning the wearing of the Muslim head scarf in French schools.
With the previous kidnappings and beheadings in Iraq (which were not just beheadings, but the sawing-off of the victim's head as he screamed in agony, with a recording of the chanted Koran being played in the background), the Islamists' supposed grievance was the support of the victim's country for the U.S.-led foreign presence in Iraq. The demand was for the victim's country to withdraw its personnel. France, of course, has had nothing to do with the Iraq war or the reconstruction effort, and is the foremost opponent of American policy in the region. Yet all that appeasement has not protected France. The Islamists have kidnapped and are threatening to murder two French citizens, not for any French interference in the Realm of Islam, but for the existence of French culture in France.
In other words (are you listening, all you anti-war rightists and leftists?), the Islamists are targeting France not for what it does but for what it is—a secularized Western country that maintains a secular public culture, and therefore does not allow conspicuous religious symbols to be worn in state schools. In their ransom message to France, the kidnappers called the anti-headscarf rule "an attack on the Islamic religion." The phrase clearly suggests that France, simply by maintaining its own laws and customs, is committing an act of aggression against Islam. This Islamist view should be no surprise, given that Muslims see all non-Islamic countries as part of the dar al-harb, the Realm of War, which means that all inhabitants of that realm, in their mere existence as non-Muslims, are waging war against Islam.
The principle announced by this kidnapping is that any citizen of any country that refuses to surrender its culture and institutions to the demands of Shari'ah is an open target. In effect, bin Laden's fatwa against all Americans and Jews has been expanded to include all non-Muslims, everywhere.
This event shows how ineluctably dangerous is the growing Muslim presence in the West. As we see in the French situation, the more Muslims enter and live in a Western society, the more they seek to practice Shari'ah customs and try to make the host society endorse them. Any refusal by the host society to yield to these demands is seen by many Muslims as an "attack on Islam," a conviction which not only sparks civil protests, as in French Muslims' plans to have their daughters disobey the headscarf ban, but, given the existence of the global jihadist movement, leads to terrorism, kidnappings, murders, and the sawing-off-of-heads of innocent people for being citizens of an "anti-Islamic" country. The kidnapping of French journalists over the anti-headscarf rule refutes the belief that jihad is only a defensive reaction against Western interference in the Islamic world. It proves that the presence of large Muslim communities in Western countries, in and of itself, spells unending jihad to force those countries to submit to Islam.
Lawrence Auster is the author of Erasing America: The Politics of the Borderless Nation. He offers his traditionalist conservative perspective at View from the Right.