“A life is worth nothing, but nothing is worth a life.” André Malraux
On the night of Nov. 13, Paris experienced multiple indiscriminate terrorist attacks that slaughtered dozens and injured more than 300 people. Beyond the horror — which is like that experienced by Algerians during the black decade, and which no one can ever get used to — we must ask why these mass murders take place. Why young people? Why, more broadly, are dozens of young people around the world being slaughtered? In the space of barely a month Turkey, Lebanon, Russia and now France have all experienced mourning, suffering and tears. There is one organization that is responsible: the Islamic State.
According to the newspaper Le Monde Diplomatique, “The perpetrators of these attacks, often young French Muslims, justify their actions by citing the military intervention of their country in Syria against the Islamic State group. And now the French government, as well as the right-wing opposition, agree the ‘strikes’ in Syria must be increased. The rush to wage a ruthless ‘war’ at home does not make them look any better either … French foreign policy, confidence in which has been marred by a succession of hypocritical actions and gaffes, seems now to be rallying to the idea of forming the widest possible alliance. All those, including Sarkozy and others, who a few months or weeks ago were demanding the departure of Syrian President Bashar Assad as a prerequisite [to peace], have now renounced that call … Must we now anticipate another intervention to separate or even destroy some of these former coalition partners? The other fundamental question hangs on the legitimacy and effectiveness of Western military intervention in achieving its own goals … To begin with, unless we think that the United States, France, the United Kingdom and others simply aim to ensure that the Middle East and the obscurantist monarchies of the Gulf remain a dynamic market for their arms industries, how can we forget the truly calamitous record of recent military interventions by or on behalf of Washington, Paris, London and their allies?”
What Is to Be Done About Terrorism?
“During the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, the Gulf states and Western powers largely assisted Saddam Hussein’s regime. Fifteen years later, in 2003, a coalition led by the United States and the United Kingdom, but without France, destroyed Saddam’s Iraq. As a result, the country — or what was left of it — became (surprise, surprise) a very close ally of Iran. Several hundreds of thousands of its inhabitants were killed, mainly following religious battles between Sunnis and Shiites. To make the disaster complete, the coalition provisional authority took control of part of the Iraqi territory. It was the same scenario in 2011 when, going beyond the UN mandate, the West precipitated the fall of Muammar Gaddafi. They claimed that doing so would re-establish democracy in Libya, as if this aim had ever previously driven their foreign policy in the region. Today, Libya is no longer a nation, but a disputed territory where two governments are in military conflict.”*
According to [editor of Le Monde Diplomatique] Alain Gresh, the bombings by the West in Iraq and Syria are the beginning of a long campaign against the Islamic State group. “The Obama administration’s rhetoric is increasingly resembling that of George W. Bush, whose policies led to the current disaster. Make no mistake, we are witnessing a relaunch of the war on terror in the Middle East. It is the direct descendent of the crusade launched by Bush in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.” It is too often forgotten that in the last month the Islamic State group has drawn attention to itself with no fewer than four bloody attacks, as John Kerry reminded us after his visit to the Elysée Palace. More than 100 died in Ankara; 224 were killed when an airplane exploded over Sinai; 40 were killed and hundreds were injured in Beirut; and finally, 130 died in Paris. Pointing the finger at the failure of the West to take responsibility, and their surprise at the backlash, Claude Herdhuin [in an online article] has written, “I’m floored by this carnage and revolted that innocent people have paid with their lives for something that our leaders have deliberately allowed to happen … Since Sept. 11, 2001 the war on terror has turned the world into a battlefield. The United States has managed to create a climate of terror, first at home and then worldwide. Of course they claim to act in the name of justice, democracy and the good of all peoples. However, it has been shown that Sept. 11 was a strike organized by the American government … With the fall of the Eastern bloc there was no longer anyone to stop the United States and they were able to reign as lord and master. Yesterday evening’s attacks are the result of this omnipotence … Everyone talks of the menace of a third world war, but we are already in the middle of it. It is a war that shakes the whole world and stigmatizes populations. In the 1930s, the Jews were the despised group; now it is the Muslims. We are seeing the same demonization campaigns … My heart goes out to the victims and their families. It also goes out to the victims in Syria, Lebanon, Kenya and everywhere in the world. I reject all attempts to consider refugees, Muslims, Arabs and terrorists as one and the same. I hope that all those responsible will be punished. All of them.”
Bruno Adrie makes the same analysis: “We’re going to have to be very vigilant, because in this type of situation democracy will quickly find itself in trouble. We must not forget that at a time of crisis — with salaries dropping and insecure employment, while those who hold the means to produce wealth see the maintenance of, or even increase in, profits — it may become necessary, in order to maintain an unjust social order, to find ways to stifle discontent and muffle dissenting voices. These shootings and explosions, which can without hesitation be defined as terrorist [attacks] because they cannot help but inspire terror in the public, are at risk of soon being used against liberty and democracy, in the name of liberty and democracy, regardless of who ordered and carried them out. It is undoubtedly time to reread Fahrenheit 451.”
Edwy Plenel has made a remarkable presentation of the issues, while calling on people to not equate Muslims with terrorists. “On Friday, Nov. 13, a whole society became the target of terrorism: our society, our France, where people meet and mingle together in a diverse and plural society. And it is this France that I must defend, because it is our most certain and sustainable protection … Beyond France and its foreign policy, or that of those who govern it, their target was the democratic ideal of a free society where by law we have the right to have rights. A society in which we have equal rights, with no regard for origin, appearance or belief. Where we have the right to live our lives without being put in a box at birth or defined by our affiliations. Our society is one of many individuals woven together to form a whole where everyone is in relation with each other. It is a society of individual liberty and collective rights … It is this open society that the terrorists want to close. Their war aim is for it to close, fold, divide, dry up, lie down and lose its way; in short, to lose. They turn us against ourselves and transform our common life into a civil war. Whatever the context, time or place, terrorism always feeds on fear … In order to fight terrorism better and avoid falling into its trap, whether through ignorance or denial, [we must] avoid proving it right by succumbing to an even greater chaos than the terrorists could have hoped for in allowing anger, resentment and injustice to increase. We know from recent experience that the North American decision to [indiscriminately] forge ahead following the 2001 attacks caused the Iraqi disaster and allowed the so-called Islamic State group to emerge from the ruins of a fractured society and a destroyed nation … Faced with this peril that concerns us all, we cannot leave our future and our security to those who govern us. It is their responsibility to protect us, but we must not accept their acting against us, in spite of us or without us.”
French Foreign Policy
There have been many analyses of the way that French foreign policy has been responsible for these consequences. Edwy Plenel goes on to talk about foreign policy: “We must not be denied the right to question a foreign policy that makes alliances with dictatorial or obscurantist regimes such as those in Egypt or Saudi Arabia and embarks on military adventures without strategic vision — as happened in the Sahel. We must question a policy that includes an accumulation of security laws that have proved ineffective and that has a short-sighted political discourse that lacks perspective — especially regarding Islam, with this colonial attitude of assimilation that divides more than it brings together, feeds fear more than it reassures, and expresses the fears of the hierarchy more than it mobilizes ordinary people. To counter terrorism, we must create an inclusive society as a defense against that which they seek to destroy: our France, our rainbow nation, strong in its diversity and plurality, a France that is capable of coming together in refusing to conflate different groups and create scapegoats … In Great Britain at the time of the 2005 attacks, people spontaneously rallied around the slogan ‘We’re not afraid,’ created by a young blogger. No, we are not afraid. Only of ourselves, if we allow ourselves to be. We will defend the openness of the society that the killers want to close, more than ever.”
Pierre Conesa, formerly a high-ranking official in the French defense ministry, analyzed the Paris attacks in an interview with Hassina Mechaï. “Since Nicolas Sarkozy’s presidency,” he said, “France has totally aligned itself with the American strategy. Paris has spearheaded a sort of European defense campaign in the Arab-Muslim world. We have seen this in Libya, but also in François Hollande’s declarations on Syria. The Islamists of the Islamic State group have been able to think that neoconservatives are in power when considering Nicholas Sarkozy and François Hollande in comparison with Jacques Chirac, who refused to go to war in Iraq. This position has necessarily meant that France has risen further up their list of enemies. The other reason is a simple question of accessibility. France is a country of immigrants: The largest Chinese, Jewish, Armenian and Muslim communities in the European Union are found in France.”
[Conesa continues,] “This affair is not so much a question of Islam as one of Salafism. Last year I prepared a report considering appropriate anti-radicalization policies for France entitled ‘Quelle Politique de Contre-Radicalisation en France.’ In my report I commented on the gap between these people, who claim to speak for all Muslims, and middle class Muslims, who are successful members of French society, from whose ranks come professional people, artists, writers, engineers and so on. This middle class finds itself confronted by these Salafists, who call them traitors and police informers. This middle class was already mobilized against the Salafists, who, incidentally, kill more Muslims than non-Muslims.”
Islamic State Group’s Policy of Confusion
“Islamic state feeds mistrust by claiming to mobilize all Muslims, but in fact it deliberately equates ‘Muslim’ with ‘Salafist,’ which will inevitably please the extreme right as well … More than ever, there is a need for discussion with French Muslims in order to avoid making the same mistakes again … We also need to address de-victimization, because the Salafists definitely thrive on the idea that French Muslims are victimized … We must remember that there is a history of the West intervening in the Middle East. Muslims have long thought that the West has double standards: They intervene when it is in their interests, but never in defense of the Palestinians. For example, I read this on a Salafist website: ‘1000 dead in Gaza and nothing is done. Four Westerners with their throats cut and they send in the army’ … If it had been suggested, for example, that Saudi Arabia should have intervened in Ireland to separate Catholics and Protestants, they would have said that was crazy, but that is precisely what the West has done … If [the West] attacks the Islamic State group because it beheads people, cuts off people’s hands, forbids other religions and oppresses women, why is Saudi Arabia, which does the same things, defended?”
Pierre Conesa recognizes that by getting mixed up in affairs that does not concern it, it is the West that has declared war. “We are the ones who have declared war. There were 15 Saudis amongst the 19 terrorists implicated in the Sept. 11 attacks, but it was Iran, Iraq and North Korea that were designated the ‘axis of evil’ … History shows that this situation must be resolved politically. In Algeria, terrorism stopped with independence, for example. We must put in place a political process. Every time it is said that there should be no talks with terrorists, we know that in the end, unless we have the means to exterminate them, we will get nowhere. The more we are locked in to a military approach, the more attacks there will be. We must begin a political process. We cannot choose their representatives … A political process means that we must recognize that the enemy also has legitimacy for what it claims.”
Appearing on the television program “Ce Soir ou Jamais” in Sept. 2014, former [French] Minister for Foreign Affairs Dominique de Villepin recalled the liabilities of an American policy that has had nothing to recommend it for 15 years, and denounced France for uncharacteristically going along with it. “War is not our vocation, our vocation is peace and diplomacy because our existence and influence is not dependent on having enemies. The Elysée, Matignon and the Quai d’Orsay are occupied by men who are incapable of thinking of a world beyond the Pax Americana and our current need to distance ourselves from it. We need to do this in order to re-establish our independence and diplomatic tradition of seeking stability.”
French Muslims are first and foremost French, and it is the republic’s responsibility to protect them. By ordering them to exonerate themselves every time there is an attack, we are sowing the seeds of division. In denouncing terrorism, they are necessarily associated with it. The Paris attacks should be a moment of reflection for all French people. Nothing should justify it. However, it is important to point out that the seedbed of terrorism is the lack of prospects enjoyed by these misguided young Frenchmen. The integrationist republic has a duty to bring them back on track.