President Nicholas Sarkozy of France, addressing the joint houses of congress today, is likely to please those who, having claimed that Communism represented a “clear and present danger”, now use the same incantatory formula to describe “Islamo fascism”.
But if the new French president appears to be more supportive of US policy in the Middle East, Democrats would do well to focus on those essentials of French history that are likely to make him more nuanced in the implementation of his approach, Not only does France have a long history of cultural involvement in Africa and the Middle East, not even a right-wing leader can turn his back on a revolution which, though two centuries old like ours, inspired egalitarian reforms that, like our own New Deal, came into being before the second world war, but unlike ours, grew over time.
That is due to the essential difference between the French and the American revolutions, one based on liberty, equality, fraternity, which implies solidarity, the other based on life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness which implies it’s each man for himself. These differences explain the difficulty we always seem to have getting other democracies to follow our impetuous lead.
Here’s an interesting exercise: consult the constitution of the Communist Party USA as amended in July, 2001, and compare them to the injunctions of the Koran as laid out by the eminent Muslim scholar Tarik Ramadan. You have to be blind not to see their similarities. Both are about equity, recommending behavior that improves the quality of life of the majority, building on what may be considered the secular ten commandments: thou shall not kill, steal, commit adultery, bear false witness, or covet thy neighbor’s possessions.
Although the Greeks considered slavery natural, and India still retains a caste system, in the modern world it wasn’t until the notion of the survival of the fittest brought on the political idea of “natural selection” that the Protestant work ethic turned into a justification for inequality.
We’re entering a period of increasing confusion at home and abroad, when it will pay to keep one’s eye on the equity ball: What we continue to call “the Middle East” extends from the Mediterranean to Afghanistan, where tribal inequality is exacerbated by the presence of foreign boots on the ground.
Were there any doubt about the relevance of inequality to the present turmoil, the sight of supine lawmakers in both Islamabad and Washington should serve to convince skeptics that power and its exercise are distressingly familiar whatever the tribal customs or the regime.
By always keeping their eye on the equity ball, modern European governments such as President Sarkozy’s manage to maintain more decency in their relations with society than either we or those we disdain.
I will write more about the implications of this for the Democratic candidates in my next blog.