And no one saw it coming? The French riots: the burning, the looting, and now, the killing that make you just sad enough, perhaps, to bump freedom fries from the menu and reinstate French fries, out of a fraternal sympathy the French have piggishly denied the Americans since the Iraq war began.
On the other hand, it's not just the French.
Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear next year a plea against the use of military tribunals to try terror suspects.
"Our country is at war," the president sought to remind his countrymen at a press conference the same day. At war on the battlefield; otherwise imprisoned in a mental morass. Witness the glee with which liberals and assorted W-phobes have assailed their country's headman for "lying" the country into war -- which he didn't, operating rather on the same unfortunately flawed information that every other world leader judged credible concerning weapons of mass destruction. Anyway, there you are. During a war, the commander in chief has to remind us the war is on.
A kind of nuttiness overtakes us -- as the French, our persistent critics from the time the Iraq war came onto radar screens, were overtaken by blindness as to their own condition.
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.