“It is hard not to see the pattern of the gangrene of Islamist thought spreading from the violence I witnessed in Syria to towns and cities in my own country,” writes French international aid worker Alexandre Goodarzy in a new book. In a Sophia Institute Press translation of his French memoirs, Kidnapped in Iraq: A Christian Humanitarian Tells His Story, he examines the dangerous interrelationship between jihadist violence abroad and in Western countries such as France.
Working on behalf of Middle East Christians with the French Catholic aid organization SOS Chretiéns d’Orient, Goodarzy during multiple trips to Syria and the wider Middle East personally saw the dark side of the post-2011 “Arab Spring.” Contrary to naïve Western beliefs in a wave of Muslim democracy replacing despots, jihadists quickly established dominance over the revolts in places including Syria against tyrants such as Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. Christians in Syria and the broader region, who have long suffered Islamic repression since jihadists conquered the Middle East in the seventh century, had to align with Assad and other unsavory, unlikely allies in self-defense.
Yet jihadist ravages did not just shock Frenchmen such as Goodarzy in Syria, but also savagely struck home in France, only to leave him dumbfounded at France’s tepid responses. After the Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for the November 13-14, 2015, Paris night of terror during which jihadists slaughtered 130 in the City of Light, he was
just as flabbergasted at the overall reaction of my countrymen to what had happened. There was no . . . anger. There was only a limpid response, as if our whole country were too tired and close to extinction to put up a fight, to rouse the aggression that allows for survival.
Only eight months later in an attack claimed by IS, another jihadist killed 86 people by running them over with a truck on a seaside promenade in Nice, France, on July 14, 2016, France’s Bastille national day. Goodarzy laments that “our uninspired and uninspiring Prime Minister Manuel Valls advised us all to ‘get used to living with terrorism.’” Goodarzy “thought with annoyance of the contrasting response” from Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, who “had vowed that Russian soldiers would hunt down any such attackers,” although Putin himself has most likely organized terrorist attacks. “In France, we had been attacked multiple times in a year by these same murderers, with hundreds killed, but we had no stomach for the battle that should have been fought against them in defense of our homeland,” Goodarzy concludes.
Islamic violence struck France yet again on October 16, 2020, when a Muslim beheaded French schoolteacher Samuel Paty in a Paris suburb. He had shown in class cartoons from the French satire publication Charlie Hebdo irreverently depicting Islam and its prophet Muhammad. The images had previously resulted in a January 7, 2015, jihadist massacre at Charlie Hebdo’s Paris offices.
After Paty’s murder, Goodarzy writes,
France, as it had done before, went into a state of shock. And, like a bad habit, almost as though such rituals could ward off evil spirits, it started its medieval processions of verbal contrition, explanations, and expiations, fueled by demonstrations, wakes, and empty speeches.
For Goodarzy, French reactions to jihadist outrages relate to a general malaise in French society, as the
general atmosphere in France was eating away at me. Nothing great, beautiful, or powerful was happening in our country. Each day took us further away from the grandeur of our past and rooted us more firmly in mundanity and mediocrity. The Europe we had been promised was starting to disintegrate, and our culture with it. Increasingly, our society was looking like one enormous retirement community, with all of our own people growing older.
As a history professor, Goodarzy’s “enthusiasm and love for our French history had earned me a reputation among the students not of being a patriot but of being an ‘exhilarated extremist.’” By contrast, the French people
no longer believed in anything, especially not in ourselves. There was not a day without repentance: public and widespread apologies for being who and what we were, and for the so-called crimes of the generations of our people who had come before us. This included repentance for being French, for being white, for having colonized countries and brought them water, electricity, and literacy, and for having built roads and capitals that could not have been built without our aid.
The French Catholic Goodarzy contrasted his countrymen’s morale with the spirits of embattled Middle East Christians. Traveling there, he “was grateful even at the prospect of temporarily sharing my faith alongside those who had held fast to it in very dark times” and “persecution,” but offered a “spiritual witness unlike any I had ever seen.” In his multiple trips to war-torn Syria, he “had loved the country, its people, its natural goodness, and its certain way of life. In Syria, tradition survived modernism; in France, it felt like a daily collective suicide.” He “was embarrassed for my country, which had clearly lost its national pride,” but “Syrian Christians fought so as not to disappear, and their villages had courageously arisen as one man to resist elimination.”
Even if France was not locked in a civil war, this land of laïcité had much to learn from the Syrian church militant. “Nature abhors a vacuum, which is exactly what a secular republic creates,” Goodarzy notes. Modern French “society is so meaningless that Islam is able to move right in and fill the holes in each heart that yearns for something more, something bigger, something deeper,” he adds. Searching for meaning, people “will find it in Islamic radicalism if nowhere else. After all, man cannot live on bread alone.”
Such spiritual warfare is particularly pertinent as jihadist sentiments appear among France’s Muslim migrant population. “It sickened me,” Goodarzy writes after multiple terrorist attacks in France,
that, yet again, everyone was sidestepping the real issue, not naming the enemy, declaring that Islam is love. The truth still was that in fact the people of France had become hostage to the immigrants they had allowed to enter, immigrants who did all the manual labor, garbage-collecting, building, cleaning, and sweeping that kept our country running, everything that Frenchmen themselves had no stomach or brawn or pride to do on their own. We had let the devil into the house, disguised in workmen’s clothes, and then we were astonished and grieved when his pitchfork struck.
Thus, Goodarzy, whose father is Iranian, worried about assimilating Islamic immigrants into the West. “When I look at Syria, I see a message and a warning for the Western world. Diversity can lend a richness to a society, for sure and certain, but without the proper supervision of diverse ways of life, conflict will inevitably ensue,” he writes. Words of wisdom to remember, lest Muslim migrants import their conflicts into their new homes, and the Islamic world’s past becomes the West’s future.