Ann Telnaes is a political cartoonist for the Washington Post. Last Sunday, she drew and posted this cartoon:
She probably meant well. She probably genuinely thought she was sharing important insights that would serve France well in the days, weeks, and months to come. She probably thought the French—or at least the more politically astute, as she probably likes to think of herself—would appreciate the gesture.
She was wrong, and she owes France an apology.
Let us rewind a little. On Saturday morning, I was awoken by my wife: “Dag-Erling, you need to read the news”. Still groggy, I squinted at my phone and pulled up the front page of my preferred (or should I say least despised) Norwegian newspaper. I read the lede of the top piece, then returned to the front page and scrolled down to try to get the story in chronological order. That was when I saw a headline that made me scream, put down my phone and vow to stay away from the news. That headline was:
This is France’s September 11
We showered and left for a brunch appointment with an American friend of ours. As we sat down at the Nighthawk Diner, I told her straight out: “I do not want to discuss the news, because I am currently unable to do so without saying very rude things about the United States.” She was very gracious about it. So here is what I didn’t say to her:
Since September 11, 2001, the United States have completely monopolized the discourse on terrorism, even to the point of replacing the correct term with an abbreviated one, because it has too many syllables for the semi-literate ape who occupied the Oval Office at the time. They have shaped, or should I say twisted, the narrative to fit their ignorant, arrogant, self-centered, navel-gazing world view, and then exported it to the rest of the world, a large portion of which (including the Norwegian public) has swallowed it whole. In this narrative, terrorism is an exclusively Muslim phenomenon which was invented by Osama bin Laden in 2001; no one but the United States truly knows what it’s like; no one but the United States is truly qualified to fight back; and anyone who criticizes their methods or refuses to participate in illegal wars which fail to achieve anything whatsoever is either a coward or a terrorist sympathizer.
This is not the first time I have had this kind of conversation. A common reaction is “well, OK, but September 11 was unprecedented”. No, it wasn’t. In 1993, al Qaeda detonated a car bomb in the parking garage under the World Trade Center hoping to bring down both towers, but they had parked it in the wrong place. In 1994, an Algerian militant group hijacked Air France flight 8969 in Algiers with the goal of crashing it into the Eiffel Tower, but they had no flight training and were bamboozled by the crew.
Some have described Friday’s attacks as the “worst act of violence towards France since the World War II”. Let me tell you what anyone who has opened a history book or spent five minutes on Wikipedia should know: since World War II, France has gone through two foreign wars, a civil war, various military or “peace-keeping” interventions in the Middle East and former colonies, and several decades as a battlefield for the PLO, the PFLP, Mossad, miscellaneous pro- and anticommunist or -anarchist groups, and Basque and Corsican separatists.
France knows terrorism. France knows how to defend itself. When the Norwegian press reports, breathlessly, that French authorities have sent 1,500 soldiers to Paris, I think to myself: that’s a relatively small number next to the thousands of soldiers and heavily armed police who are already permanently stationed in and around Paris. I’ve lived in Paris both before and after 2001, and the only significant change I’ve noticed is that some trash cans are welded shut and all public buildings have signs indicating the current threat level (on a scale of “red”, “crimson”, and “emergency”).
France also knows that the only way to be one hundred percent safe is to become a police state, but the French have never had much respect for authority and have extensive experience in shaking it off, or at least shaking it up, when it displeases them (cf. 1789, 1830, 1848, 1871, 1934, 1968).
So please, Ann Telnaes, and the rest of the US media (I can only imagine what sort of crap CNN and Fox News have been spouting the last few days): don’t you dare presume to teach France how to deal with terrorism. And don’t you dare use last Friday’s events to score cheap points against your own political establishment.