It was a sort of farewell to the army. During a brief visit to the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle last December, French President François Hollande honored the French soldiers involved in "Operation Chammal" against the Islamic State. After two years and 238 deaths at the hands of Islamic terrorism, what did France do to defeat radical Islam? Almost nothing.
It is this legacy of indifference that is at stake in the looming French presidential elections. If Marine Le Pen or François Fillon win, it means that France has rejected this autocratic legacy and wants to try a different, braver way. If Emmanuel Macron wins, France as we have known it can be considered pretty much over. Macron is, for example, against taking away French nationality from jihadists. Terrorism, Islam and security are almost absent from Macron's vocabulary and platform, and he is in favor of lowering France's state of emergency. By blaming "colonialism" for French troubles in the Arab world, and calling it "a crime against humanity", he has effectively legitimized Muslim extremist violence against the French Republic.
As General Vincent Desportes wrote in his new book, La dernière Bataille de France ("The Last Battle of France"):
"President Hollande said on November 15 that it would be ruthless, we were at war ... but we do not make war! History shows that in the eternal struggle between the shield and the sword, the sword is still a step forward and winning".
In the past two years, France only used the shield.
France's fake war began in Paris with a massacre at the satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo. Twelve cartoonists and policemen were massacred by two brothers who shouted, "We avenged Muhammad, we killed Charlie Hebdo". After a few days of marches, vigils, candles and collective statements such as "Je Suis Charlie", half of the French intelligentsia was ready to go and hide underground, protected by the police. These are academics, intellectuals, novelists, journalists. The most famous is Michel Houellebecq, the author of the book Submission. Then there is Éric Zemmour, the author of the book, Suicide Française ("The French Suicide"); then the team of Charlie Hebdo, along with its director, Riss (Laurent Sourisseau); Mohammed Sifaoui, a French-Algerian journalist who wrote Combattre le terrorisme islamiste ("Combating Islamist Terrorism"); Frédéric Haziza, radio journalist and author at the journal, Canard Enchaîné; and Philippe Val, the former director of Charlie Hebdo. The latest to run was the Franco-Algerian journalist Zineb Rhazaoui; surrounded by six policemen, she left Charlie Hebdo after saying that her newspaper had capitulated to terror and refused to run more cartoons of Muhammad.
"Charb? Where is Charb?" were the words that echoed in the offices of Charlie Hebdo on January 7, 2015, the day he and his colleagues were murdered. "Charb" was Stéphane Charbonnier, the editor of the magazine that had published cartoons of Muhammad. Charb was working on a short book, On Blasphemy, Islamophobia and the true enemies of free expression, posthumously published. Charb's book attacked self-righteous intellectuals, who for years had been claiming that Charlie Hebdo was responsible for its own troubles, a childlike view, popular throughout Europe. It is based on the notion that if everyone would just keep quiet, these problems would not exist. Presumably, therefore, if no one had pointed out the threats of Nazism or Communism, Nazism and Communism would have quietly have vanished of their own accord. Unfortunately, that approach was tried; it did not work. The book also criticized "sectarian activists", whom he said have been trying "to impose on the judicial authorities the political concept of 'Islamophobia'".
As for "the Left", he wrote: "It is time to end this disgusting paternalism of the intellectual left" -- meaning its moral sanctimony. Charb delivered these pages to his publisher on January 5. Two days later he was murdered.
Now, some of these people he was calling out are trying to hide their cowardice by attacking him. In recent weeks, a number of cultural events in France have tried to "deprogram" the public from paying attention this extremely important book. A theatrical adaptation of it, attended by one of the journalists of Charlie Hebdo, Marika Bret, was scheduled to take place at the University of Lille. However, the president of the University, Xavier Vandendriessche, said he feared "excesses" and the "atmosphere", so he eliminated Charb from the program. Twice. The play's director, Gérald Dumont, sent a letter to the Minister of Culture, Audrey Azoulay, mentioning "censorship".
At the same time, Charb's book also disappeared from two events at a cultural festival in Avignon. "How to reduce the dead to silence", tweeted Raphaël Glucksmann. "Killed in 2015, banned in 2017", Bernard-Henri Lévy summed up.
During the past two years, the publishing industry itself has played a central role in censoring and supporting censorship, by censoring itself. The philosopher Michel Onfray refused to release his book, Thinking Islam, in French and it first came out in Italian. The German writer, Hamed Abdel Samad saw his book Der islamische Faschismus: Eine Analyse ("Islamic Fascism: An Analysis"), a bestseller in Germany, censored in French by the publishing house Piranha.
The French courts, meanwhile, revived le délit d'opinion -- a penal offense for expressing political opinions, now an "intellectual crime". It was explained by Véronique Grousset in Le Figaro:
"Insidiously, the law blurred the distinction between the discussion of ideas and the personal attack. Many organizations are struggling to bring their opponents to justice".
It means that the legal system is hauling writers and journalists to court for expressing specific ideas, in particular criticism of Islam.
In just two years in France, Muslim organizations have dragged to trial great writers such as Georges Bensoussan, Pascal Bruckner, and Renaud Camus. It is the Islamists' dream coming true: seeing "Islamophobes" on trial to punish their freedom of expression.
Charlie Hebdo's physical massacre was therefore followed by an intellectual one: today, Charb's important book cannot find a room in France for a public reading; it should, instead, be protected as a legacy of courage and truth.
Even in French theaters, free speech is being crushed. Films about Islam have been cancelled: "The Apostle" by Carron Director, on Muslim converts to Christianity; "Timbuktu" on the Islamist takeover of Mali, and Nicolas Boukhrief's "Made in France", about a jihadist cell. A poster for "Made in France" -- a Kalashnikov over the Eiffel Tower -- was already in the Paris metro when ISIS went into action on the night of November 13, 2016. Immediately, the film's release was suspended, with the promise that the film would be back in theaters. "Made in France" is now only available "on-demand". Another film, "Les Salafistes", was screened with a notice banning minors. The Interior Ministry called for a total ban.
After the massacre at Charlie Hebdo, the country seemed for a short time to return to normalcy. Meanwhile, thousands of Jews were packing up to leave France. At the request of local Jewish community leaders, the Jewish skullcap disappeared from the streets of Marseille, and in Toulouse, after an Islamic terrorist murdered a Jewish teacher and three children in 2012, 300 Jewish families pack up and left.
In the daily newspaper Le Figaro, Hadrien Desuin, an expert on international relations, compared the last two years to the "phony war" that France did not fight in 1939-40. Paris, while declaring a war against Germany, as it now declares a war against terrorism, simply refused to fight. For a whole year, France, crouching behind a Maginot Line that it foolishly believed was invincible did not fire a single gun against the Germans who were spreading throughout Europe at the time. Similarly, General Vincent Desportes explains in his book The Last Battle of France that Operation Sentinel, in which French soldiers are now deployed in the streets, is a "show", and that "the Islamic State is not afraid of our aircraft. You have to attack by land, terrorizing. We have the means to do it, but it takes political courage". According to Desportes, Operation Sentinel "changes nothing".
France's never-begun war on terror also collapsed around the three most important measures: removing French citizenship from jihadists, "de-radicalizing" them and closing their salafist mosques.
There are at least 20 among 2,500 famous radical mosques that need to close now. The Territorial Information Center (SCRT) recommended that there are 124 salafist mosques in France that should close. Only Marine Le Pen has demanded that.
Three days after the November 13 Paris massacres, President Hollande announced a constitutional reform that would strip French citizenship from Islamic terrorists. Faced with the impossibility of finding a shared text by both Houses, as well as with the resignation of his Justice Minister Christiane Taubira, Hollande was forced to cancel the move. It means that hundreds of French citizens who went to Syria for jihad can now return to their country of origin and murder more innocent people there.
The Bataclan Theater -- the scene of a massacre in which 90 people were murdered and many others wounded on November 13, 2015 -- recently reopened with a concert by the performer Sting. His last song was "Inshallah" (Arabic for "If Allah Wills"). That is the state of France's last two years: starting with "Allahu Akbar" ("Allah is the greatest"), chanted by the jihadists who slaughtered 80 people, and ending with a phony invocation to Allah by a British singer. "Inshallah," said Sting from the stage, "that wonderful word". "Rebirth at the Bataclan," the newspaper Libération wrote as its headline.
The director of the Bataclan told Jesse Hughes, the head of American band Eagles of Death Metal: "There are things you cannot forgive." True. Except that France has forgiven everything. The drawing on the cover of Charlie Hebdo after the massacre -- a weeping Muhammad saying, "All is forgiven" -- was the start of France's psychological surrender.
Giulio Meotti, Cultural Editor for Il Foglio, is an Italian journalist and author.