Last March, an Islamist terrorist stormed a supermarket in Trèbes, France, shot two people dead and took others hostage. In negotiations with police, the terrorist agreed to accept a police lieutenant’s offer to swap places with the last hostage, a female cashier. The police officer, Arnaud Beltrame, was subsequently killed.
In honor of his heroic sacrifice, it was proposed that a place be named after Beltrame in the city of Marseille. But leftist officials vetoed the plan on the grounds that it might offend Marseille’s large Muslim population who, they argued, “will take it as a provocation.”
But why should Muslims be offended by the honoring of a policeman who was willing to risk his own life for the sake of another?
One possible reason is that many Muslims value the lives of Muslims above that of non-Muslims. This goes well beyond the normal human tendency to identify with people of the same race, religion, or ethnicity. Indeed, it’s a matter of doctrine. According to the Koran, Allah created Muslims “the best of peoples” (3: 110). How much better? One widely consulted sharia law manual stipulates that the value of a Jew or Christian is one-third the value of a Muslim (o4. 9). Moreover, a Muslim who kills a non-Muslim is not subject to “retaliation,” i.e. the death penalty (o1. 2), although he may have to pay a fine.
Lieutenant Colonel Beltrame didn’t kill the believer, but he did try to disarm him, and his failed attempt was the catalyst for his fellow officers to move in and kill the terrorist. From a Western point of view, it’s a clear case of the good guys against the bad guy, with the good guys finally coming out on top.
But try to look at the incident from the point of view of a devout Muslim. That a Muslim was killed was bad enough, but to have a place named in honor of the man whose actions precipitated his death would be like rubbing salt in the wound. And, after all, what had Beltrame done that was so important? He had saved the life of a non-Muslim woman—that is, a creature whose value, according to sharia law, is even lower than that of a non-Muslim man (o4. 9).
From the point of view of a sharia-adherent Muslim, there is the further question of who was the real hero. In the hour before the supermarket attack, Redouane Lakdim drove to a police barracks and tried to run down four police officers who were jogging near the barracks. Once inside the supermarket he declared that he was a soldier of the Islamic State, and that he was willing to die for Syria. In exchange for release of his hostages, he demanded the release of Salah Abdeslam, the primary suspect in the November 2015 Paris attack that left 130 dead and 368 injured.
In short, from an Islamist point of view, Lakdim was a martyr—a man who was willing to sacrifice his life in the service of Allah by committing jihad against unbelievers. Considering the extremely high regard in which martyrs are held in the Muslim world, even a Muslim of a more moderate disposition would likely have a certain respect for Lakdim. A more devout Muslim might very well pray to him as an intercessor. It’s quite likely that in some Muslim homes in Marseille there are small shrines to Lakdim featuring his picture illuminated by candle light.
The left-wing officials who vetoed the honoring of Beltrame’s name would be the first to claim that all cultures share the same basic values, yet they were shrewd enough to realize that in some matters there is a deep gulf between cultures. There was, indeed a good chance that many Muslims would be offended by any tribute paid to Beltrame.
It’s not that Muslims don’t believe in honoring heroes. They do share that value with other cultures. But there is a significant difference of opinion about who qualifies for hero status. For example, in the Palestinian Authority, numerous places—streets, squares, parks, and schools—are named after “martyrs” whose heroism consisted of killing innocent Israelis—very often women and children. Here’s an excerpt from a June, 2017 news story which captures that mentality:
Last week the Jenin municipality named a square and put up the stone memorial in honor of ‘martyr’ Khaled Nazzal who planned the 1974 Maalot massacre in which Palestinian terrorists murdered 22 school children and 4 adults.
There is really no moral equivalence to this kind of behavior in recent Western history. For example, although American soldiers and officers have been guilty of committing atrocities during wartime, the U.S. government is not in the habit of honoring them for the atrocities. There are no memorials to the perpetrators of the My Lai massacre.
Of course, the primary incentive for jihad martyrdom is not cash payment, but a place in paradise alongside 72 virgins. That motivation undoubtedly played a large part in the actions of Redouane Lakdim. Ironically, Lieutenant Colonel Beltrame was also apparently motivated by his faith. He was a devout Catholic who had “experienced a genuine conversion” in 2008. According to Fr. Dominique Arz, national chaplain of the gendarmerie:
The fact is that he did not hide his faith, and that he radiated it, he bore witness to it. We can say that his act of self-offering is consistent with what he believed. He served his country to the end, and bore witness to his faith to the very end.
According to another priest who knew Beltrame well:
It seems to me that only his faith can explain the madness of his sacrifice which is today the admiration of all. He knew, as Jesus told us, that there is no greater love than to give one’s life for one’s friends.
Or for the life of a stranger.
On the one hand, you have a man who gives up his life so that a stranger might live because he believes all men and women are created in the image of God. On the other hand, you have a man who takes the lives of strangers so that he can enjoy eternity in the company of virgins specially reserved for him. It wouldn’t matter if he had blown up a classroom of third graders. As long as they were infidels (i.e. non-Muslims), he would still get his reward.
France has to choose between two futures: either the faith that Lakdim embraced or the faith that Lieutenant Colonel Beltrame bore witness to. The third alternative—a thoroughly secular state—has already been tried. Although that kind of society is not without its benefits, it has proved incapable of resisting the onward march of Islam. Moreover, secularized France seems to have cut itself off from the Christian source of the values it professes to cherish—liberty, equality, fraternity, and the dignity of each person.
Islam requires submission. And one of the things it requires submission to is the doctrine that all men are not created equal. If France capitulates to an Islamicized future, it can forget about liberty, equality, and fraternity.
This article originally appeared in the December 10, 2018 edition of Crisis.