Tuesday 24 August 2004

Attitude versus policy.

Here's a brilliant article by Bret Stephens in the Jerusalem Post about the difference between the French attitude to Islamist extremism abroad and French policy towards Islamist extremism at home.

Since 1995, when an Algerian Islamist group called GIA killed eight people with a nail bomb in the Paris Metro, there has not been a single terrorist incident in France. This is ... because the French fight Islamic militants in ways that would make Israeli Shin Bit chief Avi Dichter proud and US Attorney General John Ashcroft envious.

... This year, eight Muslim imams have been deported from the country under a 1945 emergency law for preaching "discrimination, hatred or violence against a certain person or groups of persons." The judicial system has staged mega-trials of terrorist suspects – 100 at a time, in one instance. Suspects can be held without trial for years. Torture is not uncommon: According to a BBC report, the British High Court has blocked France's extradition request of Rachid Ramda, wanted in connection to the 1995 bombing, on grounds that "the evidence against him had been beaten out of one of the bombers by the notoriously tough French anti-terrorist police."

... France is not hypocritical: It simply holds contradictory positions. Or to put it more precisely, France has attitudes and it has policies. And while the two are frequently confused (often by the French themselves) they serve radically different functions: the former is psychological; the latter is political. To have an attitude is a way of saying, this is who I am. It's a matter of self-identification. To have a policy is to say, this is what I'm going to do about it. It's a matter of will and capacity.

And, of course, the French have no real international capacity, hence their policies have no real consequences outside France, so all we get from them is attitude.

The result is what one might call attitude inflation, which in turn arises from the de-linking of attitude from policy. That is, if you don't actually have to do something about your attitudes you're likelier to have more of them, and they are bound to be both more extravagant and more unrealistic.

Bret Stephens is clearly a man who understands the French.

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