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The End of bin Laden from a French Perspective

by Dr. John Warwick Montgomery
May 18, 2011

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It is commonplace for Americans to think that if France can find a way to criticize them, it will do so (remember the "Freedom Fries" issue?).  It is certainly true that tensions exist between the two national perspectives.  But these are due more to similarities than to differences.  American tourists complain that Parisians are rude and obnoxious; French tourists find New Yorkers rude and obnoxious; in neither case is the foreign counterpart as deferential as they obviously should be!  Both nations have powerful traditions of world influence and a short fuse when it comes to questions of status on the global stage.  This, of course, was compounded when France, once the arbiter of Western culture and language, found itself being sidelined by America and the English tongue.

So, we might well expect that the French would look with a jaundiced eye on the American raid that ended the career of Al-Qaeda's icon, Osama bin Laden.  But nothing could be further from the truth.

By far the most widely read and influential daily paper in France is Le Figaro. It publishes a distinguished weekly news magazine, received by subscribers with the Saturday paper.  Following bin Laden's demise, the magazine's lead articles (issue of 6 May) were devoted to the raid, accompanied by commentaries on it. The main editorial, by Alexis Brézet, was titled, "Yes:  Justice Has Been Done" (Oui, justice est faite). Readers of American Roundtable should find the following extracts, in translation, of more than routine interest.

Referring to the celebrations in Times Square: they were "the emotional outpourings of a nation wounded to the core, at the point of its national honour, which, ten years after Ground Zero, exhibited a patriotic fervor of which we French are doubtless ourselves incapable of demonstrating."

As for the criticisms of the way the raid was handled:  "Some say that, ethically, democratically, and in terms of human rights, it would have been preferable for bin Laden to have been judged by a tribunal. But then what?  A gigantic trial at The Hague, with lawyers' arguments and counter-arguments and cameras everywhere?  An international soapbox permitting Al-Qaeda's founder to preach holy war from the witness box?  A life sentence providing hostage-takers of all varieties for the next thirty years to demand the release of their unjustly imprisoned 'guide?' . . . One does not need to have recourse to the legal concept of self-defense (recognized by Article 51 of the United Nations Charter) to proclaim there were a thousand reasons to handle the matter as it was handled."

Treatment of the body in a non-Muslim fashion?  "M. Boubakeur deplores the fact that bin Laden was not buried as a ‘good Muslim’ should be buried.  True enough.  But wouldn't burying him in the U.S. have been an affront to the thousands of Twin Towers’ dead -- themselves buried in the rubble?  As for burying Osama's body elsewhere, (1) where?  Muslim states wouldn't have the pariah; and (2) would one want a place of pilgrimage for tomorrow's jihadists? The body was not maltreated or profaned. . . . The terrorist bin Laden was in fact far better treated by ‘infidels’ than Saddam Hussein -- a head of state -- was treated by his co-religionists."

In sum:  "Osama bin Laden's self-proclaimed project was to murder 50,000 innocent people on September 11, 2001 in New York. His criminal activities were at the origin of two wars -- in Iraq and in Afghanistan -- which, whatever one thinks of them otherwise, have resulted and continue to result in tens of thousands of victims.  His inflammatory preaching, inspired by a literal reading of the Qur'an, has contributed more to feed the ‘war of civilizations’ between the Muslim world and the West than all the islamophobes on earth.  So, should we be prohibited -- on the basis of who-knows-what scruples -- from rejoicing at the disappearance of the fellow?"  (Note that, unlike many naive Western political and religious liberals, Brézet sees clearly that terrorism can indeed be derived from and justified by "a literal reading of the Qur'an.")

"The elimination of bin Laden was a demonstration of necessary force. . . . For Western opinion, suffering from doubt and guilt, haunted by the specter of decline, this act signifies that a leap forward is possible.  It is not the case that democracy equals weakness.  The West, which has given humanity its values of liberty, need not forever take punishment without reacting.  Because the world is an unjust place, one must sometimes use force to ensure that justice be reestablished."

The same issue of Le Point has a longer article titled, "The World Without Bin Laden," in which six "lessons" are culled from his demise.  Two are worth mentioning here.  Number One: "A providential victory" (une victoire providentielle).  For the writer, the killing of the arch-terrorist was "not just an unarguable victory, but truly a providential one."  Number Six:  "Barack Obama reinforced 18 months before the elections."  May we note that this is, mercifully, the last item in the list?  And, hopefully, the providential element does not extend quite that far!

The French are well aware of the historic ties between their nation and the United States and are eternally thankful of what America did for them in two World Wars.   We must be very careful not to let isolationist tendencies cause us to forget our genuine friends and allies across the pond.

One of contemporary Christianity’s leading apologetics experts, Dr. John Warwick Montgomery holds eleven earned degrees and has authored more than fifty books in four languages on the issues of human rights and biblical apologetics. He is currently residing in Strasbourg, France, where he spends the spring and summer and manages the summer International Academy of Apologetics, Evangelism and Human Rights. Read full bio.

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