Best Defense

Timely Monday book review: Gilles Kepel’s lively study of ‘Terror in France’

This book offers a surprisingly lively account of where France is at.

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First, there is the book’s cover: It’s a bit of a stopper. It is black on white, with black endpapers that just whisper death. This is the most funereal book presentation I can remember in recent years.

That’s bad, because if you can get past that, this book offers a surprisingly lively account of where France is at. Frankly, I hadn’t paid a lot of attention to the political, cultural, and economic background of the terror campaign in France, so I found the book helpful in providing context.

— I hadn’t realized how much, by Gilles Kepel’s account, Nicolas Sarkozy had adapted the posture and coded language of the National Front in his successful 2007 campaign for president of France. This played well in a country still in shock from the riots in the suburbs of Paris in October and November 2005, in which 8,000 automobiles and trucks were burned.

— Nor had I understood how much the 2008 global financial crisis further contributed to discontent in the predominantly Muslim poor neighborhoods, as shadow economy jobs evaporated.

— Kepel also discerns a generational competition within France’s Muslims. He sees younger France-born Muslims contending with the preceding generation of immigrants over which group speaks for French Islam. The big difference is the younger ones vote and run for office.

— Finally, I didn’t know that Islamic extremists have beef with Masons/Freemasons. “The hatred of freemasonry is extreme in the Islamist movement,” Kepel writes. I don’t know a lot about the Masons but I remember being told that there is a longstanding tradition within the U.S. Army of officers being Masons, going back to George Washington. Anyone know how strong that tradition is today?

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Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at @tomricks1
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