Accommodating Europe's largest Muslim population, the French could be said to have their hand stuck out for a ruler-slap or a knife stroke -- depending on the mood of the militants. Three hundred French towns -- not counting the suburbs of Paris -- struck by rioting! If not war, it certainly has the right look.
"War over what?" is the question. War over the indigestibility of the Muslim morsel that the West has been trying for several decades to ingest with hope and a glass of water. It's not working.
Professor Samuel Huntington's "clash of civilization" thesis looks more and more plausible as time goes by. One factor in that category nevertheless needs more discussion than it has received -- the religious factor: not Christianity against Islam; rather, passionless secularism against passionate discontent and despair, often enough presented in religious terms.
To the extent you'd want to call it a religious war, this one is waged for the most part by religious dropouts on the Western side. In modern-day France, there isn't much religion of any kind -- just spacious indifference masquerading as tolerance. As long as the ordinary Frenchman gets his 35-hour week and August vacation, he's fine. The assumption that leisure and gain are what life is about -- c'est la France. And c'est the rest of Europe to one degree or another, a continent drained of its spiritual inheritance by habit and neglect.
Come the Muslims, not so much thirsting for the overthrow of Christianity -- of which there isn't much in France anyway -- as seeking to convert powerlessness into power by force of numbers and will. Post-Christian Europe lacks a rationale for denying the newcomers that power. What it has to say, mostly, is, voila! -- we got here first. Which "we" did.
The rioters would argue, "so what?" Firstness confers no special rights. Europe's "specialness" having consisted in its Christianity, now lost, what reason can there be not to welcome the newcomers? None the riotous newcomers can see. The failure of France in our time is its failure to appreciate why French distinctiveness was rooted, at bottom, in adherence to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
So it goes in a closely related way, with Americans. To many W-phobes, American distinctiveness is as offensive and hateful as Christian distinctiveness: a sign of pride and willfulness. We are the world! Why not act like it?
Whatever makes a country stand out from other countries -- that thing becomes the attribute worth defending against all comers. Clearly, in France, Christianity no longer inspires the descendants of those who followed St. Joan. In America, the present crisis is less critical. But nuttiness is infectious. A people who have to be reminded they are at war, fighting for their homes and liberties -- you can't watch some of these people, or listen to them, without wondering whether avian flu is our deadliest enemy.
BTW, excellent Hewitt interview with VDH re:France riots here.