Toby Young says Paris terrorist attack reminds us Frenchmen are cowards

English chauvinism is of no help in fighting 'murderous fascists'


Writer Toby Young apparently believes what’s missing from coverage of the thwarted terrorist attack on a Paris train is some good old-fashioned English chauvinism.

His article for the Spectator (which I shalln’t link to, since I suspect he only wrote it for clicks), is titled:

‘Once again, the French are relying on Americans and Brits to protect them from murderous fascists’.

Young starts as he means to go on, announcing: ‘Boy, am I glad I’m not a Frenchman.’ He could (should?) have stopped there really, since that’s basically the essence of the piece.

Alas, he goes on, claiming French people present for the attack acted in a cowardly fashion, while Americans and Brits risked their lives to save everyone. (There is an implied reference to how ‘we’ rescued ‘the French’ in the Second World War, a mythologised version of which looms large in the minds of many conservatives.)

Young has a spot of bother with evidence, though. He repeatedly cites a news report on the day of the attack claiming French train staff ‘ran away’ (i.e. tried not to be killed), probably following some awful rehearsed counter-terrorism procedure. The fact that an off-duty French train driver helped subdue the gunman once he was unarmed appears to have escaped his attention.

Other evidence causes him strain. Young writes:

“…to be fair […] Mark Moogalian, was a French passport-holder and the first to tackle the monster. But it’s quite hard for any self-respecting Frenchman to salvage much national pride from his actions, because Moogalian was also an American, with dual citizenship.”

Another way of putting this would be: the first person to tackle the monster was French. It was after this initial move that Young’s Anglo-American heroes got involved.

But apparently, citizenship isn’t the issue. ‘Moogalian was also an American’ must mean in his blood or genes, or perhaps he just inhaled freedom, bravery and martial virtues growing up on US soil.

Young then imagines, (he says ‘half-expected’, so we can assume he was half-joking), while learning of the attack on holiday in France, that he and his family might be spared the ‘barely concealed contempt by surly waiters and hotel receptionists’ – you know those French, so rude! – and instead:

“…we would be greeted as national saviours, like Allied troops in Paris after the liberation.

But no. The turkey-cocking arrogance of the typical French male, the absolute conviction that he sits at the top of the human food chain, was completely unaffected by what had happened on the train.

There seemed to be no shame, no sense of national humiliation. Just the standard Gallic shoulder shrug. I suppose I should know by now that the vanity of the French is unassailable.”

Here we see Young’s chauvinism and bigotry in full plumage. The shrugging! The vanity! The arrogance! Every French national stereotype save the baguettes, and all because they didn’t feel ‘national humiliation’ after being saved by Brits and Yanks again. It seems never to have occurred to Young that perhaps French people (or French males, his particular target), don’t look at problems of terrorism as tribally as he does.

In fact, when was the last time Britain honoured a citizen of a foreign country for their courage? Young dwells on the ceremony at which his heroes received the Légion d’honneur from President Hollande, but forgets the many French veterans who received the same honour for fighting bravely against ‘murderous fascists’ in his favourite war. Or indeed that the Frenchman who invented the prize, Napoleon Bonaparte, was hardly a clucking pansy when it came to warfare.

More recently, French pilots played a crucial role in defeating forces loyal to Col Gaddafi in Libya and liberating Mali from the Jihadist tyranny of Ansar Dine – ‘murderous fascists’ by any measure.

France has been the subject of a number of terrorist attacks this year. In each case, French people behaved with great courage and solidarity.

Is Young going to claim officer Ahmed Merabet, who lost his life protecting the staff of Charlie Hebdo, was not really French because he was also an Arab Muslim?

Would he say the same for Mali-born Lassana Bathily, who had to wait until after he had saved the lives of Jewish shoppers in the same attack to be granted French citizenship?

If so he demonstrates an attitude towards national identity that has more to do with how you look or where you were born than what you do. Dividing people in this way, thinking of oneself or of others as being part of a particular tribe, rather than as individuals with rights, belongs in the same backwoods ideas-dump as those of the ‘murderous fascists’ he purports to despise.

Adam Barnett is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward. Follow MediaWatch on Twitter

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