"We are at war but not a war against religion...It is a war against terrorism and radical Islam."
These words were the coda of a fiery speech delivered by Prime Minister Manuel Valls before the French National Assembly on Jan. 13 -- words which seemed to be a call to arms and which gave a boost to the already vigorous image of Valls...a boost which has also happened to François Hollande, whose atonal presidency seemed to have come alive with dignity and presence in the wake of the massacre at the Charlie Hebdo satirical weekly on Jan. 7.
There was something exhilarating but also disturbing about France's version of the "million man march" which took place on Jan. 11 in Paris and was reprised in other French cities. The marchers were upholding the French republican values of freedom of speech and in particular the long French tradition of political satire. But in promoting everywhere the slogan of "Je suis Charlie," the massive crowd was also, without saying so, implicitly supporting the weekly and its offensive cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in various inelegant poses. Indeed, another cartoon of the Prophet appeared on the cover of Charlie Hebdo's first edition after the massacre.
The reaction to this new provocation was predictable, from shootings in Niger to howling mobs in Karachi, a city of 20 million people. Fortunately, the latter crowds were far from the gates of Vienna, so to speak -- an evocation of the moment, in 1683, when Muslim Turkey's last attempt to invade Europe was repulsed.
Until and if there is a waning of radical Muslim attitudes and a gradual toleration of some degree of desacralization of the Prophet and the Koran, we will continue to observe, and increasingly for a while, a larval tension between Islam and the West.