Belmont Club

The Rhythm of the Night

The Associated Press says Mohammed Merah, now the chief suspect in the killing of Jews and French soldiers of Algerian origin, wants to surrender at night in order “to be more discreet.” The article did not say who he wished to spare from embarrassment, beside himself.


The sudden transformation of the suspect’s profile, from that of a white, neo-Nazi rear echelon French military type to a man who had traveled to Afghanistan, met with al-Qaeda leaders and who professed a desire to punish France for it’s un-Islamic culture was as complete an about-face as it was possible to have.

Following the killings, media reports recalled that three soldiers from the 17e RGP had been drummed out of the regiment after an incident in 2008 when they staged a neo-Nazi demonstration.

One of the suspect former soldiers was briefly brought in for questioning, and on Tuesday Interior Minister Claude Gueant confirmed that a link with the neo-Nazi troops was one possible line of inquiry.

But a police source later told AFP that, while inquiries were continuing, a direct link with the trio had been “one hypothesis among others” and was “no longer a priority in the current stage of the investigation”.

The Telegraph says a French journalist working for al Jazeera says “the difficulty now is to make sure that these murders are not used to bring one community against another.”  By that he did not mean the community of Nazis.

The new suspect already had a youth rap sheet, then spent considerable time in Afghanistan from which he was expelled as a suspicious character and was recently rearrested for driving without a license. In fact French intelligence had been ordered to watch him. It is not clear what success they had.


Merah’s activities in Pakistan and Afghanistan led to him being placed under surveillance by France’s domestic intelligence agency, the Central Directorate of Interior Intelligence, for suspected involvement as a radical Salafist

But other than that, the suspect Merah was generally described by his neighbors as a quiet man, with a penchant for watching “violent jihadist videos online, including footage of decapitations” at home.  He was in other words, what the French government and polite society hoped he wouldn’t be. What they fervently prayed he wouldn’t be. And now that he appears to be what he is, they can only hope for the cover of the Rhythm of the Night.

The situation in France resembles that of the American in one general respect.  Nothing seems to work any more, not even denial. Walter Russell Mead argues that the accumulated weight of epic failure will eventually force the ossified governance models of the West to change.  “Even the Dems can’t hack it any more,” he writes. Everywhere the forces of political correctness are fighting a “rearguard action” even though at least some liberals and Marxists are aware that it’s not working.

Look for this perception to spread among the advocates of government power. Clumsy, inefficient and expensive government doesn’t work for anybody; the old style of organizing and managing government with 1950s style bureaucratic structures and post office-style staffing patterns of a large but inefficiently deployed unionized staff is a Democratic dream-killer as well as a Republican nightmare. Progressive-era lifetime bureaucracies using midcentury administrative and management procedures can’t address the issues of our times.


But they need an out, Mead argues, some way to explain on their own terms why they need to go to Plan B. Mead suggests one line of argument, probably best administered to Julie Andrew’s lilting rendition of “Just a Spoonful of Sugar Helps the Medicine Go Down”. He notes that even Democrat politicians know in their heart of hearts that things just can’t go on. What they’re looking for is a plausible way to climb down from their self-constructed moral tree house.

Some people will push to transform the civil service and increase the productivity of workers in government and government-related services (above all, health and education) because restructuring and re-engineering government is the only way they can provide the services they want the public sector to provide. This is the pro-government case for converting blue institutions into something new: if the government and the social service sector tie themselves to a less productive, more expensive way of working, government will inevitably do less — and do it more expensively — than necessary.

Europe can’t face the possibility of more Mohammed Merahs either. Neither the demographic collapse that compels Europe to rely on increasing immigration; nor the hate preachers who radicalize said immigrants under their noses; nor the fact that such people even exist can be faced. In fact, until just a few hours ago, they could not even accept that French Jews were being targeted by something other than their pet political peeves: the Nazis.


Europe can face Nazism with great moral confidence and contempt. After all the US Army already beat them in 1945. They are as safe fighting Nazis as shooting paper targets on the range. The Mohammed Merah’s shoot back. At the heart of the European evasion is a deep awareness of incapacity. They won’t face the obvious challenges because they fear they can’t — at least not without reforming themselves. Mead continues:

I’ve written before that this isn’t just an American challenge. Virtually every advanced country in the world faces some combination of economic stagnation due to blue model rigidities, tight government finance and mind-boggling pension debt. America’s comparative advantage isn’t that we avoid these problems better than other people. It isn’t even that we are all that much smarter about them. It is that the responsiveness of our political system, the ability of federalism to promote experiments and a forward-looking, optimistic approach to change, combine so that we tend to overcome these problems faster than other big countries.

Europe will follow suit too, in due time. Lags are a feature of history. It is entirely possible that a hundred years from now, when shape-shifters from another solar system are menacing the earth, that governments will routinely identify mysterious attacks as the work of radical Islamists, whose challenge was met in the mid-21st century, and which has been dormant for 60 years.


The safest enemy to fight is the one you know doesn’t really exist.

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