|Inside a Revolutionary Committee during the "Terreur"|
I don't think most people are aware of the mental straightjacket in which the French have placed themselves for the last 30 years. Some probably know that the French have some very strange philosophers such as Finkelkraut and BHL, and some very despicable intellectuals such as Michel Houellebecq. They pretend to be victims of political correctness, although they occupy most of the media. One thing that might not be as well known is that there also exists a whole swamp of dissident intellectuals that are actively maintained in the margins of the French discourse. In France, they are called the "confusionnists", "cryptofascists", and so on, so forth. The slippery slope argument and guilt by association have become commonplace in France. In this mixed bag, you will find true far right people, but also anarchists, radical critics of NATO, Israel, etc. As an example, France has been able to outlaw the boycott campaign against Israel, which makes it more repressive of boycott calls than Israel itself. Don't try to protest: if you are not called an anti-Semite you will be called an objective supporter of anti-Semites. There is no way out. These kinds of large-scale paranoid delusions are reminiscent of the arbitrary denunciations of French Revolution's Terreur, described in this 1797 illustration.
There are very old beliefs, also reminiscent of the Terreur era, about religion and minorities that should never be questioned. In France, multiculturalism is considered a danger. Let's consider, for instance, the fact that those terrorists, who were born an raised in France or Belgium have more in common with the skinheads of the 1980s than with the fundamentalists we see on TV. They drink alcohol, smoke pot, play murder rampage video games, and really have the "no future" belief system of other teenagers 20 years ago. Several observers witted that religion would actually be a pacifying, structuring, influence for these young people. In other words, supporting the strength of religious communities, not just stopping humiliating them, might actually prevent terrorism. At the present moment, the orthodoxy says that we should not limit "free speech" (especially the Charlie kind) and even that we should celebrate humiliation of religion as the most exquisite mark of French Freedom and Rationality.
A French anti-terrorism judge also lamented that, as the laïcité laws became more rigid, the whole Muslim community felt so alienated they stopped collaborating with the police to denounce potential terrorism suspects. But, again, don't try to convince the authorities and intellectuals that supporting communities, especially the Muslim community, as such (not as a community with socioeconomical problems, but as a community whose customs and religion are positive contributions to France) is a positive step towards the elimination of terrorism. Supporting ethnic, religious or cultural minorities, in France, is called "communautarism". Another word for multiculturalism? Yes, except that it must be said with a grin of disgust. The French feminist sociologist Christine Delphy, who has been widely vilified for her opposition to the French scarf-banning laws, offers the rest of us a definition :
The French definition of communautarism is the fact that people who are discriminated, who are assigned with prejudices, to whom equal chances are denied, etc. these people – who have often been parked in the same neighborhoods – these people hang out and talk to each other. This is communautarism, it's bad, it means that they want to part from the rest of society and, instead of looking for well seen people, people who have privileges, for example, for Blacks and Arabs instead of reaching out for Whites and beg them to come and talk with them, they talk to each other. That would be communautarism.
Yet the fact remains that cultivating friendly and respectful relationships with communities, acknowledging their contribution to civil society, is one of the time-tested ways to prevent ostracism and extremism. Yet in france, too often individual members of minorities talking to each other are considered potential enemies of the state. Just imagine how dangerous it would be for the French State if it decided to approach these communities and recognize them as such!
Finally, journalism too is constrained in this straightjacket. There are only a few journalists left who analyze the terror events in depth. They have pointed out in the past the same thing that was pointed out about the Bush administration (foreknowledge, and the presence of elements in the intelligence services who rather preferred terrorist attacks to happen, for instance to impose mass surveillance (of course these theses are not mainstream but they are still more audible in the anglophone world than in France)). But they are marginalized, and quickly become part of this "cryptofascist", "conspiracy theorizing" swamp I was talking about. The result is that compelling elements of inquiry are missed not only in France but abroad. For example, Hicham Hamza, a French journalist, has investigated the local ramifications of a Times of Israel article covering a warning by "officials" to France's "Jewish community", on the morning of the attacks. His resources are thin, his site is regularly under cyberattacks and of course most would not approach him with a tad pole, because of the usual name-calling.
The same could be said of the Charlie Hebdo attacks - and further in the past -- of Rwanda, about which the BBC aired a documentary that would be swiftly thrown in the holocaust denying, cryptofasisct swamp in France. These elements do circulate in the French blogosphere. But guess what: France now has the right to shut down any website it judges problematic.
Even so, of course, it cannot prevent us from thinking and inquiring. The French population really needs a breath of fresh air right now. They need fresh insights, serious journalism, and the freedom to discuss outside of their mentally and legally censored world. I don't have specific suggestions to solve those issues. I just think that the rest of the world should be aware that the French prison of ideas is not always self imposed and that there are many people who just wish they could escape. Many do: I can see that in Quebec.