CHRONICLE – With derisory means, jihadist terrorism manages to change our lives in depth. For the historian, it is time for the West, and in particular France, to stop flagellating itself to take stock of a threat that continues to spread.
Muslim and Western countries have been living under the influence of terrorism since September 11, 2001. Apart from the wars in Iraq and Syria, it is estimated that more than 190.000 deaths and 200.000 injured victims of international Islamic terrorism. For sixteen years, six attacks have been committed daily in the world, or 31.500. These figures are enormous (victims of attacks, organizers, accomplices, candidates for suicide, etc.), but for such a long-lasting planetary war, the figure should be put into perspective.
In the civil wars of Lebanon, Algeria, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Afghanistan, Yugoslavia, Chechnya, etc., the toll is never less than 200.000 dead. It is even sometimes much higher: more than 400.000 dead in Syria in five years. In this light, international terrorism is for its sponsors a very profitable war in terms of terror, notoriety, media and ideological impact, political communication...
Faced with the attacks, the Arab and Western States are investing gigantic sums: reconfiguring means of transport and defence, hiring millions of security agents (guards, airports, transport, police, intelligence services, armies). Terrorism occupies the front page of the media after the big attacks and it changes the way of life of our societies. However, all of this is achieved by reduced financial and human resources, even derisory, for sponsors rich in billions of petrodollars, and in view of the millions of men available at gunpoint for lack of better prospects. It is deplored that the mentally ill and other fragile people (prisoners, emigrants, declassed, delinquents, drug addicts, etc.) provide the manpower for the attacks. But who were the Nazi SAs? Downgraded people, veterans, victims of war and mass unemployment, delinquents, madmen. Nothing new.
This terrorism also works very well, since it achieves its war aims. Admittedly, the flag of al-Qaeda or Daesh does not fly either over London or Damascus, Israel has not disappeared and France or Saudi Arabia are not on fire and bloodshed. But the French case since the Merah attacks in March 2012 illustrates the winning strategy of terrorists: religious radicalization and acting out, Islamization and conversions, trivialization of crime and horror, frivolity of media elites and notables, compassion and culture of the excuse of the mediatized sociologists, ordinary cowardice of the political elites, everything is there.
Only a handful of Algerian intellectuals, often exiled because condemned to death by their Islamists, moved by the memory of their personal and national experience of the 1990s, warn the European elites against the weakness, the policy of the ostrich, the blindness, good feelings and finally the spirit of Munich, whose only outlet is collaboration.
However, since the attacks in Madrid (March 2004), London (July 2005) and Toulouse (2012), radicalization has not weakened but intensified. France has sent Western Europe's largest contingent of apprentice jihadists to Syria; in three years, the number of "radicalized" there has tripled (19.000 people). Prison as an incubator for Salafist radicalization is only one of the vectors. The "de-radicalization" conducted in improvisation, ignorance of Islam and religion by presumed experts quickly showed its limits, even its uselessness. It would be better to reflect on the regimes of historicity unveiled by the historian François Hartog and on the horizons of expectation of our terrorists and other radicalized people, who do not care about the petty-bourgeois aspirations of the insurance and hygiene society.
There have never been as many veiled women in France or England as in 2017, and in its Salafist or Muslim Brotherhood versions, the veil has exploded since 2015. So many markets, shopping malls, suburbs, even Universities attest to this. The major organizations of the Muslim Brotherhood movement and their spokespersons even present themselves as peacemakers for Muslims and French society, and the CCIF (Collective against Islamophobia in France) intervenes in schools and rectorates! Instead of distancing Muslims from fundamentalism, terrorism seems to widen its circle.
In the France of twenty years ago, when the weapons of war had deserted the cities, only the scenarios of Al Pacino or Coppola presented unthinkable scenes of war. Today, in the heart of Paris, a criminal can slaughter a couple of policemen at home in front of their child, or a middle-aged man blast a police bus on the Champs-Élysées with a Kalashnikov. And on August 17, a van runs over tourists in the tourist area of Barcelona! These images are so inconceivable that the only way to conceal them is to script them, to minimize them, to relativize them. To look them in the face, their consequences are too compelling. So the crime is justified by poverty, exploitation, mental deficiency, drugs, domination, etc.
During the Algerian Civil War, Paris was the capital of “who kills who?”. Out of hatred for the Algerian regime (for whatever reason), "experts" had decreed that this war (cutting the throats, attacks, mass crimes, etc.) was planned by the Algerian secret services and that the terrorists were in fact the victims. Today, the descendants of this strange school deplore the domination which weighs on the shoulders of the exploited of the suburbs and the consequences of our warlike policy in Africa and in the Arab world.
But the facts belie all that. Sweden, which has never colonized and hosts hundreds of thousands of refugees, is hit. Most of the attacks take place in Muslim countries, where ethnic and confessional cleansing (such as the Yazidis) is practiced on a large scale, unrelated to Western imperialism. But nothing helps, the old antiphons are reinforced. In France, terrorism is made a Franco-French affair when it is global. The same is true abroad.
The problem is that terrorism works. It can even change the outcome of elections, as demonstrated by the attack in Madrid in 2004, or even that in Manchester in May 2017. It can even change the outcome of a football match like in Dortmund. And by dint of waiting, new perils are piling up.
- Terrorism: Europe struggles to plug the breaches
- Barcelona: the gray areas of the investigation
- Salafism has largely contaminated Catalonia
* Pierre Vermeren is professor of contemporary Maghreb history at Panthéon-Sorbonne University. He recently published “The Shock of Decolonizations. From the Algerian War to the Arab Spring” (Odile Jacob, 2015).
Source: Le Figaro Premium – Pierre Vermeren: “Faced with terrorism, we must stop the policy of the ostrich”