They came in their hundreds of thousands. Jews, Muslims (although fewer than hoped for), Christians and atheists: Students, workers, the unemployed and the bourgeoisie. They said “I am Charlie.” “I am Ahmed.” (the policeman executed at Charlie Hebdo). “I am a Jew.” Or, they just said nothing.

They were anarchists, communists and ultra nationalists, social democrats and conservatives. There were also islamophobes and anti-Semites. The one thing that united them all was their refusal to yield to fear and their desire to keep the freedom to think what they want and to be able to say it in public without facing obscurantist violence. This coming together of those who want the right to disagree with each is extraordinary. France, which gave us the enlightenment, 1789 and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is still Une Grande Nation.

Laurent Gbagbo must understand violence will get him nowhere,” said French Defense Minister Gerard Longuet while French attack helicopters and troops attacked Abidjan.

There is a new Euphemism: “protecting civilians”. This is the catch word used to provide air to ground support to rebels in the Libyan desert and it now used to justify France’s destruction of the Ivorian Army while pro-Ouattara rebels conduct the ground offensive.

I was standing outside the metro station when I heard a loud bang and a scraping roar. Another bang and the medium sized black-lacquered guitar came scraping out onto the sidewalk and banged into the foot of a Bangali-looking man waiting there.

Without any apology, without even looking at the man, the nine-year-old Gypsy kid runs up to his guitar, tosses it and gives it another kick. He is followed by his father in blue jeans, a denim jacket and a military cap. Both have short black hair and the dark Eastern European Gypsy complexion.

The boy takes another kick, misses and his foot lands on top of the guitar. So the father gives it a kick – bang, roar – showing his son how to have fun destroying a work of art made to create beauty.

I wonder what this kid will be doing for fun in five years? But above all, I understand French anger.

There is something wrong when 50 people on the margins make the headlines around the planet and threaten world peace for simply exercising their First Amendment Right to freedom of expression.  There is something wrong when they are pressured not to do it because it will spark violence among people who reject our notions of freedom.  There is something fundamentally wrong when we are willing to sacrifice our freedoms for fear of attack from those who don’t like our ‘civilization’.

In his 2004 book, Colossus, Niall Ferguson argues the United States is an empire and should assume its rightful place as the inheritor of Britain’s 19th century ‘White Man’s Burden’.  He decries the American schizophrenia of being an empire in denial, sending troops abroad without the intention of staying and being squeamish when GIs die.  Ferguson says we should go, stay and impose our will for world order and to prevent chaos. 

This may seem easy to say for a man comfortable in the Ivory Towers of Oxford and Harvard who never did military service, much less saw the harsh realities of war but he does have a point.  Americans need to back their wars or not fight them and that is why I say we need to bring back the draft.

Paris — July 19, 2008: The American press is upset that France denied citizenship to a fundamentalist Moroccan Muslim woman who wears the niqab, a facial mask which only lets the eyes show. First, there is the question of what it means to be a French citizen. Second, there is the European fear of letting the wolf in the back door.