Loudly secular France is now engaged in a hot war, in its former imperial domain of Africa, against Islamist killers – the ultimate anti-secularists. The French military, which numbers in its ranks some of my friends, has always defied American stereotypes of “cheese-eating surrender monkeys.” In my operational military experience, French forces could be great to work with: smart, amicable, capable, and gifted with fortitude. (And, yes, they knew where to find the best food wherever we were; my thanks to them.)
But whenever operations began to touch conflicting national policies, usually stemming more from deeply different traditions playing out in domestic politics than from divergent geopolitical interests, cooperation and communication abruptly ceased.
The French are currently seeking to defeat Islamists connected with terrorist organizations, including al Qaeda, who threaten the governments of Mali and other nations in Africa. On that continent, which has given us so many priests thankfully come to re-evangelize our country, an extended confrontation between Islam and Christianity is playing out. Post-1789, post-modern French rulers, like our own political elites, would not describe this war as a conflict of civilizations.
But these Islamists are able to seize on any parcel of ungoverned territory to set up operations that could eventually kill their opponents, broadly described as “the West,” including Israel. Let’s hope the French operation succeeds.