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William C. Altreuter
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Friday, January 09, 2015

My news source for the Charlie Hebdo story has mostly been the BBC, with a little bit of NPR. It has been interesting to hear from French experts on terror, and I find that the French-- who resemble Americans maybe more than any other European nation in their multiculturalism and approach to civic life-- have handled this horrible episode in a way that deserves commendation. 
First of all, let's start from the premise that like the US the French have a lot to overcome before they can claim to have overcome racism. It's a work in progress for them, just as it is for us, and the long history of awful racist caricature that is apparently still more-or-less mainstream in France looks like stuff that no American newstand would carry. It is crude, Klan level shit, and although I yield to no-one in my free speech absolutism, gross bad taste is hardly the same as incisive social commentary. 
That said, the response of the French authorities was to treat this event as what it actually was: a criminal matter. To me it resembled the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing, and I think that is how terrorist acts should be treated. From Charley Pierce: 
One encouraging part of the French response to this incident is the fact that it was conducted primarily as a police action. A vigorous one, granted. A militarized one, certainly. But, at least from my vantage point, the murderers were treated as criminals. They were identified as criminals, hunted as criminals, and ultimately discovered through the basic techniques of criminal investigation. Except over here, they weren't treated as super-villains with dark magical powers. They were gunmen -- and one gunwoman -- who shot up places and killed people. Their crimes were their only cause. Now they are dead. Their crime spree is over. It ended the same way crime sprees ended for Bonnie and Clyde, and John Dillinger. And it's time for people to calm down again. But I suspect that won't happen, at least not here.
Finally, this. Both the US and France have long traditions of religious freedom. In the US we keep the government out of religion because there were persons who believed that governments are inclined to persecute religions. In France religion and government are kept separate because  it was thought that religions were a pernicious influence on good governance. I lean to the latter, myself, and wonder if some of the sense of victimhood that seems to permeate the thinking of many persons on the Right doesn't come from the former.

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