Two terrorist dramas began in Iraq on the same day, Aug. 19, 2004, when jihadists separately seized 12 Nepalese workers and 2 French reporters. Although their fates may end differently – the former were murdered and the latter remain alive in captivity – it is striking how similarly impotent both victim populations felt and how differently they responded.
In the Nepalese case, a group of cooks, janitors, laundry attendants, and other laborers had just crossed the border from Jordan into Iraq when it was kidnapped by Ansar al-Sunna, a violent Islamist group. On Aug. 31, an Islamist website showed a four-minute video of their executions.
Nepalese responded to this atrocity by venting their anger by assaulting the Muslim minority in Nepal. Hundreds of infuriated young men surrounded Katmandu's one mosque on Aug. 31 and heaved rocks at it. Violence escalated the next day, with five thousand demonstrators taking to the street, yelling slogans like "We want revenge," "Punish the Muslims," and "Down with Islam." Some attacked the mosque, broke into it, ransacked it, and set fire to it. Hundreds of Korans were thrown onto the street, and some were burned.
Rioters also looted other identifiably Muslim targets in the capital city, including embassies and airline bureaus belonging to Muslim-majority countries. A Muslim-owned television station and the homes of individual Muslims came under attack. Mobs even sacked the agencies that recruit Nepalese to work in the Middle East.
The violence ended when armored cars and army trucks enforced a shoot-on-sight curfew, leaving two protesters dead and 50 injured, plus 33 police, and doing an estimated US$20 million in property damage.
Thus did a frustrated, enraged, and powerless people overwhelm their authorities and target close-by innocents.
The French response could not have been more different. Threats to murder the two reporters met with a massive governmental effort to save their lives, not by targeting French Muslims but by cultivating them. Paris strenuously pushed local Islamists to condemn the kidnappings, hoping that their voice would convince the terrorists to release the two men.
In the process, Islamic organizations effectively took charge of the country's foreign policy, issuing statements and acting as though they represented the national population. Bertrand Badie of l'Institut d'études politiques in Paris complains that French Muslims became "a sort of substitute for the French foreign ministry."
Likewise on the international level, Paris called in chits for having stood with the Arabs against Israel and with Saddam Hussein against the U.S.-led coalition. French diplomats openly sought the support of terrorist groups such as Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
These efforts culminated thirty years of French appeasement and, in the scathing analysis of Norbert Lipszyc, "constituted a major victory for Islamists and terrorists." Lipszyc sees France acting like a dhimmi (a Christian or Jew who accepts Muslim sovereignty and in return is tolerated and protected). "France has publicly confirmed that its dhimmi status, its readiness to submit to Islamist overlords. In return, these have declared that France, dhimmi that it is, deserves protection from terrorist acts."
If the hostages are released, the policy of appeasement at home and abroad will seemingly have been vindicated. But at what a price! As Tony Parkinson writes in Melbourne's Age newspaper, "No democracy should have to jump through these hoops to keep innocent people alive." And jumping those hoops has deep implications.
The historian Bat Ye'or, the first person to comprehend the gradual process of Europe accepting the dhimmi status, observes that this fundamental shift began with the Arab-Israeli war of 1973, when the continent began moving "into the Arab-Islamic sphere of influence, thus breaking the traditional trans-Atlantic solidarity."
Bat Ye'or points to Euro-Arab collaboration now being near-ubiquitous; it is "political, economic, religious and in the transfer of technologies, education, universities, radio, television, press, publishers, and writers unions." She envisions this shift ending in "Eurabia," or Europe under the thumb of Arabia.
Returning to recent events: the abhorrent Nepalese violence reflected an instinct for self-preservation – hit me and I will hit you back. In contrast, the sophisticated French reaction was supine – hit me and I will beg you to stop. If history is a guide, the Nepalese thereby made a repetition of atrocities against themselves less likely. And the French made such a repetition more likely.