France against Terrorism, is it Total War?


The views expressed below are solely those of the author.

Pierre Rousselin is a former deputy managing editor in charge of international affairs with French daily Le Figaro and the author of Les démocraties en danger (Democracies in danger) edited in November 2014 by First Editions.

Following the terrorist attack carried out in Nice on July 14, 2016, killing 84 people including 10 children and wounding 202 people, statements made by French elected politicians raised two major questions. The first one consists of wondering if we’re at war, and if so, what kind of war France has to wage against the enemy. The second one consists of questioning the relevance of the current state of criminal law with a view to addressing an enemy that has no limits and never cares about Geneva conventions and human rights.

About this, former French Budget Minister Alain Lambert wrote a text titled “Quel droit pour arracher le terrorisme ? Et conjurer la colère du Peuple qui monte (What law to address terrorism? And conjure up the People’s growing anger)”. This way, Lambert started useful thinking as for the indispensable evolution of France’s rule of law in order to counter the heavy threats against France’s national unity and security. Regarding France “at war”, Pierre Rousselin, a former deputy managing editor in charge of international affairs with French daily Le Figaro published in French on Cyceon the following text (translated into English by our staff):

A Total War

On July 14, on France’s national day, this was Nice. This could have been any other city in the country. The massacre didn’t happen during the Euro 2016 soccer championship, which France has been totally right to organize in spite of terrorist threats, because jihadists wanted undoubtedly this to happen on a July 14 in order to benefit from the symbolic dimension of the date and show that France is their preferred target, more than any other country, more than a world sport event, whatever its importance.

Why France? Because it’s a Mediterranean power largely involved in past, recent and current history of the Arab world. Because it’s the European country with the largest Muslim population, and lastly, because its political system is based on a more pronounced laïcité than elsewhere and which imposed itself against the Catholic Church and is now undergoing assaults from the Muslim religion.

This doesn’t mean other countries are immune from such horror. We underwent this wave of terrorist attacks for years without our societies taking the measure of what’s really happening.

Because of ignorance or fear to fall into discrimination that’d be deemed “islamophobic”, one tries to deny the religious dimension of the issue. We continue to be afraid of designating the enemy by its name, by talking about “radicalized” or “terrorists” or “lone wolves”, as if these people could kill dozens of people randomly without being motivated by a gruesome ideology.

Obviously, it’s not about Islam as such. It’s about a radical Sunni Islamism that opted for an offensive conquest not only in Syria and Iraq but everywhere it can draft killers, sympathizers and preachers of an ideology that is harmful for Muslims as for any one of us.

The holy war they’re waging is about to end the unprecedented era of peace which we’ve known in Europe for a generation. This is a war that could last for years, if not decades. Attacks are more frequent and, unfortunately, there’s no reason for it to change.

We can strengthen measures in airports and stadiums, but we will never control all vehicles and individuals who travel on our roads. Just a few days before the Nice attack, French domestic intelligence chief Patrick Calvar predicted attacks by car bombs in France the same way as in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East. He got it wrong. Here, bombs are unnecessary: a truck or a van is enough to generate drama.

We didn’t want to see reality for years. We let most radical people take control of mosques in Europe using the Gulf’s petrodollars. When authoritarian regimes were toppled in Arab countries, we let islamists take advantage of their new freedom to combat, in the name of “democracy”, whatever looks close to western values.

The enemy is not a well-established disciplined organization like Al Qaeda that we could infiltrate and thwart in the best case scenario. It just needs that one individual, a bit unstable and unknown to law enforcement, ceases to be a spectator and decides to act literally in line with calls for holy war which proliferate on the internet. Neither intelligence services nor soldiers who are patrolling our subway stations can prevent that.

This war is a total war against our societies which won’t have any other alternative than putting themselves on a war footing someday. The combat is being led by individuals who, for some of them, at least in France, are French citizens and therefore have the same rights as any other citizen. This is not a war that can be won by multiplying security measures. This calls upon a mobilization of our whole society to which we cannot tirelessly repeat that it’s not so serious, that indeed there will be other very unfortunate attacks to which we will to get used to courageously after one, two or three days of mourning.

Lisez la version française.

A first version of this text titled “Una guerra total“ was published in Spanish at Larazon.es

The opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the author and are independent of Cyceon.