In one Arab country after another, some small local outrage has been enough to spark revolution across the nation. The pattern began in France. In October 2005, two young Muslims escaping from the police jumped over a fence into an electricity sub-station and were electrocuted. Sure that some injustice had been done, disaffected and angry Muslims launched a proto-uprising. In over 300 cities and towns, according to official statistics, there were 110,206 incidents of urban violence. One leading commentator thought he was witnessing “the decomposition of the social body.”
A court in Paris has just absolved the policemen who chased the two young Muslims, finding that there was no case to answer. However, it is doubtful that the issue has died. France has passed a law imposing penalties on women wearing a burqa in public. Whole quarters of Paris seem arabised, as shops advertise halal products often in Arabic, and agencies exist to transfer money to Arab or Muslim countries. The relation of the French to the large and growing and ever more militant Arab minority in the country is more and more fraught, and sure to be an essential feature in next year’s presidential elections.
It was impossible to put these details out of mind on the National Review cruise that has just sailed up the Seine from Paris to Normandy. The ship had no facilities for the internet — hence the prolonged silence of David Calling. The countryside was summery, idyllic, offering houses and views much the same as once Van Gogh, Manet, Flaubert, and other famous men had seen them. Crowded cafes and restaurants seemed recession-proof.
Yet that is not a complete or realistic picture. Just a few short years ago it was unimaginable that we should have to be vitally concerned with the fate of one of the many sons of a Saudi building contractor.
Many, probably most, people are glad that Osama bin Laden has been killed. The end of the cruise, though, and therefore access at last to the internet, brought a quite contrary opinion. Many were distressed and angered by his death. They spoke of him as a martyr. To the founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba, the most extreme Islamist group in Pakistan, bin Laden was “a great person.” Ismail Haniya, leader of Hamas, thinks him “the prince of jihad fighters,” while for the militant branch of Fatah his death is “catastrophic.” Indeed, a poll shows that just under two thirds of Palestinians would like him to have been buried among them.
The BBC loves to give broadcasting opportunities to Abdul Bari Atwan, a newspaper editor, who referred to bin Laden as “our dear sheikh,” and who doesn’t believe the Americans are telling the truth about his death. The chorus of lamentation included Tariq Ramadan, a specialist in selling Islamist snake-oil, Moazzam Begg who has made a career out of his time in detention in Guantanamo, assorted Muslim Brotherhood spokesmen, and Salafist demonstrators in Cairo. Useful idiots, that is to say non-Muslim critics of the operation, are of course totally predictable, most of them professors sheltering in a library. Noam Chomsky can be relied on to defend the indefensible. There cannot ever have been an Archbishop of Canterbury so unworldly as Rowan Williams.
The moral confusion of such people is a warning of the imminent decomposition of the social body.
As the cruise ended, news became available that Qaddafi’s soldiers were shelling a Red Cross ship with medical supplies; a Tunisian had shot dead a protestor; Yemeni forces had killed three people and wounded eighty; in Cairo, Muslims had burnt down two churches, twelve people had died, and the Archbishop of Canterbury found nothing to say on that subject. In Syria, snatch squads are arresting and then torturing in prison those judged to be potential rioters, probably up to 10,000 in number; tanks are out in the streets of several towns; and nobody knows how many have been shot dead, at least 800 but probably many more. This is what happens when the social body finally decomposes.