A friend, whom I have come to know solely through this blog, sent me a video of French Prime Minister Manuel Valls’ speech to the National Assembly after the Charlie Hebdo attack. Valls spoke with a clarity of language – and of purpose – that penetrated even my sorry French. Both have been too-often absent in our own leaders. “We are at war,” he said, against radical Islamic jihad. We are not at war against any religion, but against terrorism.
Surely, he is right. If we didn’t believe so yesterday, we must believe today, after the unspeakable immolation of the young Jordanian pilot.
Valls spoke with resolve. France has accepted the reality of this war; it has not launched its own. This is not Bush’s “global war on terror,” with its indiscriminate bombings, invasions and torture. In this war, Valls said, we do not jettison our values, we assert them. “There is a fundamental difference between democracy and terrorism.”
Finally, he spoke of inclusion to a deeply divided nation. We have suffered an attack on our people, he said, all our people – and on our values, “liberty, equality, fraternity.” Not all French people accept those values, and France doesn’t always live up to them. But Valls took the moment to reaffirm them.
A speech is only words. But words matter. They call us to our ideals, even as they reveal our continuing distance from their reality. And they call us together.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident . . .”