Thanks to alert spectators, the life of a head of state was saved and the nation of France was spared the trauma of the assassination of its president.
Bastille Day, July 14, which has marked the emergence of the French republic for more than 200 years, would have forever carried a tragic connotation. It would not have eclipsed the triumphant character of the day, but would have compromised it.
The United States, a nation that has seen four of its presidents assassinated and has witnessed several unsuccessful attempts, including the most recent, in which Ronald Reagan was seriously wounded, can fully appreciate the pain that France has been spared.
What France has not been spared, however, is the need to consider the implication of Sunday's attempt on the life of President Jacques Chirac.
It should dispel any illusions that the French in particular and Europeans in general may have had about America having cornered the market on violence. Europeans are fond of allusions to the stereotype of American cowboys, but that was no cowboy who pulled a rifle from his guitar case and tried to take aim on Chirac. That was Maxime Brunerie, 25, who was alternately described as an ultra-right political candidate, a neo-Nazi hooligan and a man with obvious mental health problems.
Attention must be paid.
Whatever Brunerie's motives and whatever his level of sanity, the potential for violence by and against the neo-Nazi movement cannot be minimized. It is worth noting that Europe's most recent political assassination was in Holland May 6 , when Pin Foruyn, the leader of the Dutch far-right movement, was murdered. An environmental and animal rights activist has been arrested in Foruyn's killing.
Unscrupulous politicians are trading on the troubling issues of immigration, crime and economic stagnation to encourage right- wing fanaticism and the politics of reaction.
Serious issues such as those must be pursued by honest politicians who are committed to solving problems, not inflaming passions.