Returning to Paris from London the day after Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel killed 84 people in Nice and seriously injured many more, I was struck not by the atmosphere of fear or anger, but by the sheer normality of everything around me and the continuation of daily life as before. If I had not known what had happened the previous night, I should not have guessed that anything untoward had happened.

But of course I did know, and I noticed particularly that the women in various forms of Muslim dress went about their business without apparent fear of recrimination or retaliation. Their confidence in the rule of law in a liberal-democratic state seemed absolute. It struck me that modern societies are so complex, productive, and large in scale that outrages such as the one in Nice, however horrible, might have no important effect on the course of history, and are therefore not only evil but also utterly futile, advancing no cause at all. In the long run, the current wave of terrorism, terrible and murderous though it has been, may not be remembered as what is commonly called an existential threat.

Whether or not this turns out to be so depends on a number of factors, among them how many people are willing to act as Lahouaiej-Bouhlel acted, and with what intelligence and determination the state (and the population) opposes them.

The 84 dead might be said to be the victims of political correctness and the ever-expanding doctrine of human rights. Lahouaiej-Bouhlel was born and raised in Tunisia and, a totally unskilled man, was given leave to enter and stay in France only because he had married a French citizen of Tunisian origin in Tunisia. The decision to allow him into France was based on an abstract doctrine of human rights—in this instance, the right to family reunification—rather than on France’s national interest, which is never allowed to enter into such decisions.

As it turned out, the marriage was not a happy one, though it produced three children. Lahouaiej-Bouhlel was very violent to his wife (witnesses testified that this violence was not merely occasional), and she divorced him, but of course it was impossible to deport this père de famille, for to do so would have been contrary to his children’s right to a father. His children therefore acted as his permis de séjour, his leave to stay, which was duly renewed when the original ran out.

Though the perpetrator of the Nice outrage managed to obtain a job as a deliveryman, he was not in other respects a model citizen. Interestingly, the public prosecutor of Paris described him as a petit délinquant, a petty criminal or delinquent, though his offenses included damage to property, robbery or theft, making threats and repeated acts of violence. In January, he hit a man with a baseball bat (which, of course, he just happened to have with him, though baseball is not played in France), because the man asked him to move his van, which was blocking traffic. He was sentenced to six months in prison, though the sentence was suspended. After the events in Nice, the victim posted the following on Facebook: “The terrorist responsible for the outrage in Nice is he who hit me with a baseball bat. . . . Where is justice? The world is small therefore stop letting them walk about free.”

So far, no connection to Islamism has been found. But is a state that cannot bring itself to punish a man who attacks another with a baseball bat one with the will to thwart terrorism?         

Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images


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