After the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January, and the horrific terrorist attacks in Paris this month, everyone has hastened to remind themselves that some of the first responders, and best citizens of France, are Muslims. This much is true.
But it’s also true that Islam and France are in a complicated dance. Up to 70 percent of France’s prison population is Muslim. Intellectuals fantasize about a religious revolution that is an Islam “Made in France.” Michael Houellebecq’s novel Soumission imagines Islamic vitality buying off French passivity and nihilism and bringing national renewal. Others see the encounter between France and Islam looking like the Clash of Civilizations, as imagined by Samuel Huntington.
But in truth, it is a Clash of Failures. France and Islam each hold out a universal promise for the world. And in each other, they see that promise revealed as a lie.