Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Article excerpt

Les événements in France have provoked self-congratulation here. Apparently, the French model of assimilation is bad. If they had our multiculturalism, the celebration of diversity and ethnic monitoring, everything would be much better, it is said. The French are 20 years behind us, etc. It seems but yesterday that I read praise of France for its tough secularism which forbids anything religious in state schools and exalts being French above everything else. I also read that France would escape serious disturbance because it had been opposed to the Iraq war. It would be better to accept the truth that any European country with a large Muslim population faces serious unrest at present, and stop gloating when it happens, for a week or two, to afflict our neighbour, not ourselves. It would also help, when these occasions are reported, if we could be told straight away what is going on.

I listened to the on-the-hour news bulletins on BBC Radio 4 on Monday morning. None mentioned that the rioters were Muslim. In fact, beyond a reference to 'young people', they gave no indication of why anyone was attacking anyone, so the sudden appearance of all sorts of race and immigration experts to comment seemed, at first sight, inexplicable.

Iwonder how Jacques Chirac will try to take advantage of events. The last time France was engulfed by rioting was in May 1968. The young Chirac was secretary of state and part of the 'iron guard' round the prime minister, Pompidou, who took charge while the president, General de Gaulle, underwent an extraordinary nervous crisis. Appearing to believe that the Republic might fall, de Gaulle flew to Baden-Baden, to see General Massu, commander of the French forces in Germany. Massu persuaded de Gaulle to return to Paris, where the president promptly delivered a brilliant radio broadcast 'as the possessor of national and republican legitimacy', and got more than half a million people on to the streets in his support. De Gaulle's histrionics were probably deliberate:

'I want to plunge the French people, including the government, into doubt and anxiety in order to retain control of the situation, ' he told his son-in-law on the way to Massu. He also said, in a version of Louis XIV, 'The State will be where I am.' Chirac must know that he lacks the prestige to take such risks. He must also, in his seventies, be acutely aware that this was de Gaulle's last throw, and that he had to leave office when he lost a referendum the following year.

Chirac has already lost his referendum (on the European constitution). What can he do next? Blame Sarkozy, of course. But the problem he confronts is a bit bigger than that.

As the release of the film The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe approaches, attacks on C.S. Lewis flow thick and fast.

From psycho-history -- early loss of mother, raging father -- is extrapolated the idea that Lewis is intolerant. Even his friendly biographer, Michael White, says that 'many aspects' of the Narnia books are 'appalling', including the fact 'the portals into this fantasy world are all located in Britain'. Worse, Lewis is Christian, and uses his books to convey a Christian message. The same could be said of Milton, Spenser, Bunyan, even Dickens. It is true that there are occasions when Lewis turns didactic or preachy in the Narnia books, but what is far more striking is the creative relationship between his Christianity and his imagination: 'People who have not been in Narnia sometimes think that a thing cannot be good and terrible at the same time. …

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