An Islamist named Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhel drove a truck into a crowd watching fireworks and celebrating Bastille Day on July 14. There were children and women among the 84 people mercilessly cut down as Bouhel screamed “Allahu Akbar!” Many more were injured. This came on the heels of the deaths of 130 people last November in a coordinated attack in Paris by organized Islamic fanatics. Stories have recently emerged of disembowelment, beheadings and other mutilations in connection with the November massacre. France is in an official state of emergency in its efforts to address Islamic terrorism.
When a Roman executioner strangled Vercingetorix in the Tullianum following the defeat of Gallic tribes at Alesia, he put the finishing touches on the permanent incorporation of Cisalpine Gaul into Rome.
Following the sack of Rome by Teutonic tribes in 410 A.D., and the disintegration of the Western Roman Empire in 476 A.D., Gaul emerged in 483 A.D. a Frankish kingdom, from which it derives its present name. Charlemagne, on his death, divided this empire, and the medieval Kingdom of France, ruled by the House of Capet, emerged from a third of this partition. With the death of the last Capetian king in 1328, France fell into the Hundred Years War between Valois (French) and Plantagenet (English).
The Hundred Years War, punctuated by the victories and death (1431) of St. Joan of Arc, ended in 1453 with the extinguishment of Plantagenet claims on the continent. France then occupied what are largely its present day borders, a roughly hexagonal state bordered by the Pyrenees, the Atlantic, the English Channel, Belgium, the Alps and then back along the Mediterranean to the Pyrenees. This is much as Caesar had described Gaul some 1,500 years earlier in Commentarii de Bello Gallico [“Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres, quarum unam incolunt Belgae, aliam Aquitani, tertiam qui ipsorum lingua Celtae, nostra Galli appellantur” translated in English as All Gaul is divided into three parts , one of which the Belgae inhabit , the Aquitani another , those who in their own language are called Celts, in ours Gauls, the third.].
Rome Catholicism, the idea of femininity as national salvation and divinity, and this basic territorial extent have ever since been principal ideas that define France. The spread of Luther’s Reformation, which began in 1517, plunged France into a religious war between the Calvinist French, known as Huguenots, and the Roman Catholic majority. A dark chapter in this war closes with a great crime, the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre.
On St. Bartholomew’s Day in 1572, Admiral Gaspard de Coligny – an advisor to the Valois king (Charles IX) and a senescent Protestant military leader – awoke to the sound of armed men breaching his Paris lodgings. Confronting his assassins, Coligny was stabbed in the mouth and then again the chest. The murderers defenestrated the mutilated but still living Coligny, passing him to a throng in the street below, who cut off his head. Many prominent Protestants were then gathered in Paris for the wedding of Margaret of Valois and Henry of Navarre, and a five-day general massacre ensued. As many as 10,000 Huguenots lost their lives in a frenzied killing spree of French nationalism and Roman religious zeal.
With the rise of Henry IV, a Catholic convert from Protestantism, came civil peace. Henry IV issued the Edict of Nantes (1598), which treated Huguenots as a tolerated sect rather than heretics, doctrinally separating for France civil unity from religious unity. Twenty years following the Edict of Nantes, Europe convulsed with a general war of religion, the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648), in which France represented the Catholic great power among the anti-Hapsburg belligerents.
Despite the conflict of the Thirty Years’ War – in which the Huguenots were only mostly loyal – the Huguenots slowly recovered under the aegis of the Edict of Nantes. With the end of the war, they prospered. The distinctive habits of the Huguenots — driven by different beliefs about election, redemption, and the relationship of the human and the divine – moved Huguenots to great industry and frugality. By the 1680s, Huguenots were in control of large portions of the critical industries of France, including ceramics, paper making, textiles and watchmaking. This success bred resentments and isolated the Huguenots from their countrymen.
The prosperity of the Huguenots was too much to bear, and in 1685, French religious toleration came to a close. Louis XIV, the Sun King, bending all things to his will, issued the Edict of Fontainebleau (1685), revoking the Edict of Nantes. The new edict ordered the destruction of Protestant churches and the closing of Protestant schools. In a short time France would perfect, through the violence of religious intolerance, its status (to paraphrase Voltaire) as a country of sixty sauces and one religion. France vomited up the Huguenots.
In one year, roughly 900,000 Huguenots departed France (by Louis XIV own estimates scarcely 1,500 Protestants remained), a sudden forced eviction of 5.5 percent of the population. Huguenots took with them their habitual industry and frugality, and their skills in porcelains, paper making, textiles, glassworks, silver, watchmaking and other vital industries.
Religious toleration returned to France to some degree under Louis XV, and then more fully with the Declaration of the Rights of Man in 1789. Yet even the Declaration of the Rights of Man is muted [“10. No one should be disturbed on account of his opinions, even religious, provided their manifestation does not upset the public order established by law.”(Emphasis added)], and while the French state is aggressively secular, French identity has remained fundamentally Roman Catholic. The French enjoy sixty sauces, but they essentially contemplate one religion or none at all. Some 89% of the French are Catholic or are atheist or agnostics of Catholic extraction. 9.9% are Muslim.
Today, France’s Muslim population, like the Huguenot population of 1685, is isolated from the larger France. It is confined to suburbs of Paris and other urban enclaves. Its economic condition is distinct as are its habits. Unlike the Huguenot minority, it is poor and many are dependent on generous French social welfare. Yet it prospers in an important sense: births per capita in the enclaves far exceed those of the rest of France. Portions of the French enclaves have distinct customs, which liberalism is loath to criticize, except that many of these are illiberal, and at odds with longstanding French manners. In the land of the Marianne, in the enclaves of the metropolis of Paris women desire (or are obliged) to cover their heads. In a nation that accepts liberal sexuality and is a font of feminism, Islam calls many to strict and lopsided sexual mores of polygamy, child marriage, and honor killing. The isolation of this sect – and now jihad – breeds powerful resentments. Where the Huguenots were resented for their prosperity, France’s Muslims now inspire resentment for their repudiation of France’s liberal values and for the growing violence within France’s borders.
Liberte, Egalite. Fraternite Ou La Mort. This is the original motto of republican France. The latter part, ou la mort (or death), was dropped to obscure the memory of The Terror. What policy will France pursue to cope with a crisis of terrorism and spectacularly failing integration of a major religious minority? A shallow understanding of the course of French history is enough to dread a possible cul de sac where the road ends.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls was booed and heckled earlier this week when he advised that the French would have to “live with terror.” Politicians in France have a tremendous challenge ahead of them if they are to intercede effectively in the downward spiral of civil concord and devise a policy that is at once humane and consistent with France continuing to be the nation whose threads run from Vercingetorix through St. Joan of Arc and the republican Marianne. The French are a rigorous, philosophic and magnificent people, but no competent French statesman can forget to take in to account the whole of the material cause of France: the French are also a people with a history of having expelled a religious minority merely for doing too well. If French politicians are unable to devise a policy firm enough to address the crisis, will they be complicit in devising a similar crime?