The gruesome attack on Charlie Hebdo has earned condemnation around the world. It has been called “cowardly” and “evil” by Barack Obama, “a barbaric act” by Stephen Harper, and an “infamy” by François Hollande.
Yes, violence is serious. It’s a crime when done by an individual and war when done by a country. It’s a grave breach of the rules that govern our society. Whatever differences we may have, they are to be settled peacefully, through the courts if need be. Violence is just not to be done.
Except it increasingly is. The attack on Charlie Hebdo is not an isolated incident. It’s part of a worsening trend of violence by people described as jeunes [youths] or simply not described at all. That was not the case in the recent attack; the victims were too well known. But it is generally the case, and this conspiracy of silence has become something of a social norm, particularly in the media.
Yet statistics do exist, notably those compiled by the Gendarmerie. According to French criminologist Xavier Raufer:
The criminality we are talking about is the kind that is making life unbearable for the population: burglaries, thefts of all sorts, assaults, violent thefts without firearms, etc. In these specific cases, 7 out of 10 of these crimes are committed by people who in one way or another have an immigrant background, either directly (first generation on French territory, with or without a residence permit) or indirectly (second generation). (Chevrier and Raufer, 2014)
The word “immigrant” is misleading. Many if not most are French-born, and they tend to come much more from some immigrant groups than from others. In general, they are young men of North African or sub-Saharan African background, plus smaller numbers of Roma and Albanians.
This criminality, when not being denied, is usually put down to social marginalization and lack of integration. Yet the reverse is closer to the truth. The typical French person is an individual in a sea of individuals, whereas immigrant communities enjoy strong social networks and a keen sense of solidarity. This is one of the reasons given why the targets of the crime wave are so often Français de souche [old-stock French]. “Whites don’t stick up for each other.”
Personal violence in human societies
In France, as in other Western countries, personal violence is criminalized and even pathologized. The young violent male is said to be “sick.” Or “deprived.” He has not had a chance to get a good job and lead a nice quiet life.
Yet this is not how young violent males perceive themselves or, for that matter, how most human societies have perceived them down through the ages. Indeed, early societies accepted the legitimacy of personal violence. Each adult male had the right to defend himself and his kin with whatever violence he deemed necessary. The term “self-defence” is used loosely here—a man could react violently to a lack of respect or to slurs on his honor or the honor of his ancestors. There were courts to arbitrate this sort of dispute but they typically had no power, enforcement of court rulings being left to the aggrieved party and his male kin. In general, violence was a socially approved way to prove one’s manhood, attract potential mates, and gain respect from other men.
Things changed as human societies developed. The State grew in power and increasingly monopolized the legitimate use of violence, thus knocking down the violent young male from hero to zero. This course of action was zealously pursued in Northwest Europe from the 11th century onward (Carbasse, 2011, pp. 36-56). There were two reasons. First, the end of the Dark Ages brought a strengthening of State power, a resumption of trade and, hence, a growing need and ability by the authorities to pacify social relations. Second, the main obstacle to criminalization of personal violence—kin-based morality and the desire to avenge wrongs committed against kin—seems to have been weaker in Northwest Europe than elsewhere. There was correspondingly a greater susceptibility to more universal and less kin-based forms of morality, such as the Christian ban on murder in almost all circumstances.
Murder was increasingly punished not only by the ultimate penalty but also by exemplary forms of execution, e.g., burning at the stake, drawing and quartering, and breaking on the wheel (Carbasse, 2011, pp. 52-53). This “war on murder” reached a peak from the 16th to 18th centuries when, out of every two hundred men, one or two would end up being executed (Taccoen, 1982, p. 52). A comparable number of murderers would die either at the scene of the crime or in prison while awaiting trial (Ireland, 1987).
The cultural norm thus shifted toward nonviolence. There was now strong selection against people who could not or would not lead peaceful lives, their removal from society being abrupt, via the hangman’s noose, or more gradual, through ostracism by one’s peers and rejection on the marriage market. As a result, the homicide rate fell from between 20 and 40 homicides per 100,000 in the late Middle Ages to between 0.5 and 1 per 100,000 in the mid-20th century (Eisner, 2001, pp. 628-629).
Was this decline due solely to legal and cultural restraints on personal violence? Or were there also changes to the gene pool? Was there a process of gene-culture co-evolution whereby Church and State created a culture of nonviolence, which in turn favored some genotypes over others? We know that aggressive/antisocial behavior is moderately to highly heritable. In the latest twin study, heritability was 40% when the twins had different evaluators and 69% when they had the same one (Barker et al., 2009). The actual neural basis is still unsure. Perhaps a predisposition to violence is due to stronger impulsiveness and weaker internal controls on behavior (Niv et al., 2012). Perhaps the threshold for expression of violence is lower. Perhaps ideation comes easier (van der Dennen, 2006). Or perhaps the sight and smell of blood is more pleasurable (vanden Bergh and Kelly, 1964).
It was probably a mix of cultural and genetic factors that caused the homicide rate to decline in Western societies. Even if culture alone were responsible, we would still be facing the same problem. Different societies view male violence differently:
In Algerian society for example, children are raised according to their sex. A boy usually receives an authoritarian and severe type of upbringing that will prepare him to become aware of the responsibilities that await him in adulthood, notably responsibility for his family and for the elderly. This is why a mother will allow her son to fight in the street and will scarcely be alarmed if the boy has a fall or if she sees a bruise. The boy of an Algerian family is accustomed from an early age to being hit hard without whimpering too much. People orient him more toward combat sports and group games in order to arm him with courage and endurance—virtues deemed to be manly.(Assous, 2005)
In Algeria and similar societies, a shaky equilibrium contains the worst excesses of male violence. Men think twice before acting violently, for fear of retaliation from the victim’s brothers and other kinsmen. Of course, this “balance of terror” does not deter violence against those who have few kinsmen to count on.
Problems really begin, however, when a culture that legitimizes male violence coexists with one that delegitimizes it. This is France’s situation. Les jeunes perceive violence as a legitimate way to advance personal interests, and they eagerly pursue this goal with other young men. Conversely, les Français de souche perceive such violence as illegitimate and will not organize collectively for self-defence. The outcome is predictable. The first group will focus their attacks on members of the second group—not out of hate but because the latter are soft targets who cannot fight back or get support from others.
But what about the obviously Islamist motives of the Charlie Hebdoattackers? Such motives can certainly channel violent tendencies, but those tendencies would exist regardless. Even if we completely eradicated radical Islam, les jeunes would still be present and still engaging in the same kind of behavior that is becoming almost routine. At best, there would be fewer high-profile attacks—the kind that make the police pull out all stops to find and kill the perps. It is this “high end” that attracts the extremists, since they are the least deterred by the risks involved. The “low end” tends to attract devotees of American hip hop. Keep in mind that less than two-thirds of France’s Afro/Arab/Roma population is even nominally Muslim.
Modern France is founded on Western principles of equality, human betterment, and universal morality. Anyone anywhere can become French. That view, the official one, seems more and more disconnected from reality. Many people living in France have no wish to become French in any meaningful sense. By “French” I don’t mean having a passport, paying taxes, or agreeing to a set of abstract propositions. I mean behaving in certain concrete ways and sharing a common culture and history.
This reality is sinking in, and with it a loss of faith in the official view of France. Faith can be restored, on the condition that outrageous incidents stop happening. But they will continue to happen. And they will matter a lot more than the much more numerous incidents tout court—the rising tide of thefts, assaults, and home invasions that are spreading deeper and deeper into areas that were safe a few years ago. The attack on Charlie Hebdo matters more because it cannot be hidden from public view and public acknowledgment. How does one explain the disappearance of an entire newspaper and the mass execution of its editorial board?
The Front national will be the beneficiary, of course. It may already have one third of the electorate, but that’s still not enough to take power, especially with all of the other parties from the right to the left combining to keep the FN out. Meanwhile, the Great Replacement proceeds apace, regardless of whether the government is “left-wing” or “right-wing.”
Assous, A. (2005). L’impact de l’éducation parentale sur le développement de l’enfant, Hawwa, 3(3), 354-369.
Barker, E.D., H. Larsson, E. Viding, B. Maughan, F. Rijsdijk, N. Fontaine, and R. Plomin. (2009). Common genetic but specific environmental influences for aggressive and deceitful behaviors in preadolescent males, Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment, 31, 299-308.
Chevrier, G. and X. Raufer. (2014). Aucun lien entre immigration et délinquance ? Une France peu généreuse avec ses immigrés ? Radiographie de quelques clichés “bien pensants” à la peau dure,Atlantico, November 26
Eisner, M. (2001). Modernization, self-control and lethal violence. The long-term dynamics of European homicide rates in theoretical perspective, British Journal of Criminology, 41, 618-638.
Ireland, R.W. (1987). Theory and practice within the medieval English prison, The American Journal of Legal History, 31, 56-67.
Niv, S., C. Tuvblad, A. Raine, P. Wang, and L.A. Baker. (2012). Heritability and longitudinal stability of impulsivity in adolescence,Behavior Genetics, 42, 378-392.
Taccoen, L. (1982). L’Occident est nu, Paris: Flammarion.
Vanden Bergh, R.L., and J.F. Kelly. (1964). Vampirism. A review with new observations. Archives of General Psychiatry, 11, 543-547.
Van der Dennen, J.M.G. (2006). Review essay: The murderer next door: Why the mind is designed to kill, Homicide Studies, 10, 320-335.