Aprés Paris



The Australian, 17 November 2015


Even the most committed moral equivocator must be running out of excuses after the sickening news from Paris. Friday night’s atrocity defied explanation save for the depravity of its perpetrators and the wickedness of their ideology.

Attempts to rationalise the behaviour of these demented people serves only to ­dilute their guilt. It is enough to say simply that they are our enemy. They are enraged by everything civilised people stand for and claim the authority of Allah to reap carnage in crowded restaurants, streets and concert halls. There is nothing to negotiate; we just wish them dead.

That’s not enough for the conceited hand-wringers who spent the weekend seeking extenuating circumstances. France, they told us, had this coming. Our “disproportionate outrage” only made matters worse. “Westerners are finally being given just a small taste of the constant fear that people from other nations have endured for generations,” Chris Graham wrote in New Matilda.

The editorial writers at The Sunday Age condemned the action before foolishly seeking to explain it. “Very few nations can say they do not have blood on their hands,” they wrote. “Indeed, the Algerian war between France and the independence movement 50 years ago is a case in point.”

If the authors had worked harder on their degrees in colonial studies and western culpability, they would have known the French also faced bloody wars of resistance in Indo-China before they eventually called it quits. They would know, too, of industrial war waged by the Americans and their allies in a futile attempt to stabilise the region and the monstrous ideologies from which millions fled.

Among them were Monsieur and Madame Ben, their daughter Karita and their son Kunthea, Cambodians who sought refuge in Paris during the reign of the Khmer Rouge. The French had nothing to fear from the Bens and everything to gain. In 1979 they opened Oriental Shop on the Boulevard Montparnasse, a family restaurant with a simple menu that appealed to Cambodians and locals alike.

In 2011 after the death of her husband, Madame Ben opened a new restaurant with Karita and her husband Christian in the 10th arrondissement. Le Petit Cambodge on Rue Alibert was “a charming, modern, simple restaurant”, according to one Trip­Advisor reviewer. “Great team, good service,” wrote another. “They have a very small terrace along the restaurant which is nice at night.”

Diners were interrupted on Friday evening by the sound of semiautomatic gunfire. Terrorists in a black Seat were firing indiscriminate 30-second bursts into the nearby Le Carillon restaurant just across the road. Le Petit Cambodge’s turn was next. Customers outside in the unseasonably warm weather had nowhere to hide. Gunfire rained through the open door and smashed windows. Fifteen people are reported to have died.

If the apologists for terrorism had the capacity for self-reflection, the tragedy of Le Petit Cambodge would cause them to abandon their self-flagellating narrative of racism, colonialism and exclusion. The refugees who began fleeing Indo-China in the early 1970s decided to leave their not-inconsiderable troubles behind them. They were, for the most part, neither caucasian nor Christian and their European language skills were often poor. Yet four decades later they are honourable, integrated, upright citizens.

The immigrants responsible for Friday’s atrocity might have driven taxis, worked in the market or perhaps opened a restaurant, contributing to and benefiting from a vibrant if patchy economy. Yet instead they imported and enlarged a barbaric conflict that is destroying the region from where they came. They had no intention of becoming a member of a society they loathe. Instead they choose to remain within enclaves, mired in past grievances, the atmosphere in which radicalism thrives.

In so far as they anticipate a better future, it is the dystopian ­vision of a tyrannical Islamic state. To them, the civil beauty of Paris is worth no more than the ruins of ancient Palmyra. They would tear Paris down too if they could.

Australia’s Le Petit Cambodge moment occurred last month when Curtis Cheng, a decent, hardworking citizen, was shot by a teenage zealot outside Parramatta police headquarters. The response to the outrage has been sobering. Community groups, Muslims included, have decided that enough is enough. Far from cowing the community, as the terrorists hoped, it has galvanised them to seek to mend the social fabric.

Malcolm Turnbull is right to claim that Australia is the most successful multicultural society. While some Australians remain uncomfortable with the word itself, Australian multiculturalism, on the whole, has been a binding force. It has operated on the unspoken assumption that new arrivals need not be forced to integrate since joining a young and free society was the ambition that brought them here in the first place.

The rise of homegrown terrorism has shaken that complacency. Uniquely in Australia’s settled history, the enemy is no longer outside the gate. Our response to the Paris shooting must go beyond statements of disgust, reviews of our own anti-terrorism measures or increased commitment to crush the fledgling caliphate in Syria and Iraq. Those things are a given. Beyond that, the sickness in Europe’s multicultural project must prompt us to reflect on the integrity of our own migration settlement arrangements.

It may be time for a formal review of Australian multiculturalism. The last significant inquiry, Towards Inclusiveness, predates 9/11 and the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Its dreamy rhetoric may have suited the mood in 1999, but today’s world demands a harder edge, recognising that not everyone who wishes to settle in this country arrives with good intent.

The new inquiry must recognise too, as previous studies have not, that the maintenance of social cohesion cannot be outsourced to governments. It should draw on the fact some of the strongest advocates of an integrated Australia are former migrants and their children, including the vast majority of the 500,000 Muslims who now call Australia home. A review would give them the opportunity to tell the broader community the values they believe should unite Australians and what practical steps should be taken to rid Australia of the scourge of cultural separatism.

The stakes are high. After ­November 13, 2015, self-satisfaction is a luxury that a multicultural nation cannot afford.