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Taking Sides in the War Within Islam

PARIS – French Prime Minister Manuel Valls was right when he recently said that there is no good excuse for jihadism. Rejecting the culture of excuses, said Valls, also meant resisting the temptation to dwell on explanations of the jihadist impulse.

And Valls was right again on April 4 when he warned against the danger of an ideological victory for Salafism, the doctrine underlying jihadism, which views Europe (and, within Europe, France) as prime ground for proselytization.

Successive French governments, over three decades, abdicated responsibility for engaging in this debate. But while passivity may have ensured social peace in the short term, it enabled values other than those of the republic to take root in wide swaths of French cities. And this was followed by willful blindness, as governments refused to recognize that militant Islamic fundamentalism was actually Islamo-fascism, the third global variant of totalitarianism that diehard critics had been decrying for a quarter-century.

This failure of government was abetted by the complicit myopia prevailing at the extremes of the political spectrum. In 2012, Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right National Front, lumped together (in order to condemn them both) the religious symbol that is the yarmulke and the political emblem that is the veil. And just this month, Green Senator Esther Benbassa claimed that a miniskirt is no less alienating than a chador. What were Le Pen and Benbassa doing if not making acceptable a form of barbarism whose occasionally human face should never allow us to forget that people are killing, maiming, and raping in its name?