On Tuesday, reactionary French historian, writer and former militant Dominique Venner made a figurative and presumably literal splash by shooting himself “through the mouth” in Notre Dame Cathedral. The media were quick to note that he’d recently fulminated against government recognition of gay marriages, which France has just brought in following bitter controversy, and against Muslim immigrants from Africa. An explanatory letter that Venner punctiliously placed on the altar indeed alluded to threats to the family and to “our identity”, but seemed to suggest that his fundamental objection was to “the metaphysics of the unlimited, the baleful source of all modern excesses”. A French intellectual’s suicide note would pretty well have to include a few lines like that, I suppose.
National Front leader Marine Le Pen promptly took to Twitter to announce her “respect” for Venner, but this verdict was hardly unanimous. Even one of the leading lights of the French anti-gay-marriage movement, who for some reason calls herself Frigide Barjot, was disapproving. An anonymous source who “knew” Venner said that he was dying anyway, and “wanted to give meaning to his death”. A Femen activist mimed suicide in the same cathedral, with “MAY FASCISM REST [not ROT?] IN HELL” written on the front of her bare and rather fetching torso. Even if Venner’s ghost was still flitting around the precincts of Notre Dame at the time, his stern rejection of individualistic hedonism may have prevented him from enjoying the show in the way that the more cynical and worldly Vladimir Putin did when confronted with a similar protest back in April.
On Wednesday, a Muslim of African descent teamed up with a “much more shy” accomplice to chop up British soldier Lee Rigby in the London district of Woolwich, as if to underscore Venner’s misgivings about a certain type of immigration to Europe. However, there are significant complications in that the assassin is thought to be Michael Adebolajo from Essex, who was born on British soil to Nigerian Christian parents and then converted to Islam as a young man. He is a Muslim and, in ethnic terms, an African, but not exactly an African Muslim of the kind that Venner seems to have been worried about.
They say that converts are more zealous than those who learn faith at a maternal knee. Whether that’s true or not, the Woolwich jihadist clearly became fairly radical at some point. After hacking Rigby to death, he was quite happy to explain his motivations to bystanders while waiting for armed police to arrive so that he could attack them too:
We swear by almighty Allah we will never stop fighting you. The only reasons we have done this is because Muslims are dying every day. This British soldier is an eye for an eye, a tooth for tooth.
We must fight them. I apologise that women had to witness this today, but in our land our women have to see the same. You people will never be safe. Remove your government. They don’t care about you.
That seems clear enough to make London mayor Boris Johnson’s comment “that it is completely wrong to blame this killing on the religion of Islam and it is also equally wrong to link this murder to the actions of British foreign policy” seem more than a little suspect. I think the killing happened precisely because of the way particular aspects of British foreign policy intersect with particular strains of Islamic thought. Given the recent deployment of British soldiers in predominantly Muslim countries, and the presence in the UK of Muslims who see themselves as members of a global ummah that must defend itself more or less by any means necessary, shit like this is going to hit the fan occasionally. Why wouldn’t it?
The jihadist’s apparent urge to protect women from sights that might disturb them seems misguided in the light of what followed. First a passing former teacher called Ingrid Loyau-Kennett had a civil but hardly obsequious conversation with him over Rigby’s body while waiting for armed police to arrive, quite unfazed. She apparently loves the queen and thinks “everything is going downhill”, characteristics that might endear her to the ghost of Venner.
When the armed police finally did show up, however, the poetic justice in the air became even more palpable. A rapper called Boya Dee, on Twitter, possibly said it best:
Oh my God!!!! The way Feds took them out!!! It was a female police officer she come out the whip and just started bussssin shots!!
Out the whip? Bussssin? Anyway, she evidently shot the jihadist bastards, if “jihadist” isn’t too respectful a term given their shambolic efforts – and better yet, she incapacitated them without killing them, so that it might eventually be possible to question them about their motivations and associates. Boya Dee also claimed that one of the jihadists tried to fire a gun at the police, but that “it just backfires and blows mans finger clean off”.
Venner, with a sniff and a Gallic shrug, would probably have said that that moment encapsulated the whole history of modern confrontation between Islam and the West. A faulty weapon and all the help Allah can provide is no match for a well-oiled gun in competent hands.