To Call This Threat by Its Name

Marine Le Pen, New York Times, January 18, 2015

“To misname things is to add to the world’s unhappiness.” Whether or not Albert Camus really did utter these words, they are an astonishingly apt description of the situation in which the French government now finds itself. Indeed, the French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius no longer even dares pronounce the real name of things.

Mr. Fabius will not describe as “Islamists” the terrorists who on Wednesday, Jan. 7, walked into the offices of the newspaper Charlie Hebdo, right in the heart of Paris. Nor will he use “Islamic State” to describe the radical Sunni group that now controls territory in Syria and Iraq. No reference can be made to “Islamic fundamentalism,” for fear that Islam and Islamism might get conflated. The terms “Daesh” and “Daesh cutthroats” are to be favored instead, even though in Arabic “Daesh” means the very thing to be hidden: “Islamic State.”

Let us call things by their rightful names, since the French government seems reluctant to do so. France, land of human rights and freedoms, was attacked on its own soil by a totalitarian ideology: Islamic fundamentalism. It is only by refusing to be in denial, by looking the enemy in the eye, that one can avoid conflating issues. Muslims themselves need to hear this message. They need the distinction between Islamist terrorism and their faith to be made clearly.

Yet this distinction can only be made if one is willing to identify the threat. It does our Muslim compatriots no favors to fuel suspicions and leave things unspoken. Islamist terrorism is a cancer on Islam, and Muslims themselves must fight it at our side.

Once things are called what they are, the real work begins. Nothing has been done yet. Whether from the right or the left, one French administration after another has failed to size up the problem or the task to be accomplished. Everything must be reviewed, from the intelligence services to the police force, from the prison system to the surveillance of jihadist networks. Not that the French security services have let us down: They proved their courage and determination again during the Jan. 9 hostage crisis in a kosher grocery near the Porte de Vincennes in Paris. However their actions have been hobbled by a series of mistakes committed by the powers that be.

These mistakes must also be called by their names. I will mention only three, but they are of crucial importance.

First, the dogma of the free movement of peoples and goods is so firmly entrenched among the leaders of the European Union that the very idea of border checks is deemed to be heretical. And yet, every year tons of weapons from the Balkans enter French territory unhindered and hundreds of jihadists move freely around Europe. Small surprise then that Amedy Coulibaly’s machine gun came through Belgium, as the Walloon media have reported, or that his partner Hayat Boumeddiene fled to Syria under the nose of law enforcement.

Second, the massive waves of immigration, both legal and clandestine, our country has experienced for decades have prevented the implementation of a proper assimilation policy. As Hugues Lagrange, a sociologist at the French National Center for Scientific Research (C.N.R.S.), has argued, culture has a major influence on the way immigrants relate to French society and its values, on issues such as the status of women and the separation of state and religious authority.

Without a policy restricting immigration, it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to fight against communalism and the rise of ways of life at odds with laïcité, France’s distinctive form of secularism, and other laws and values of the French Republic. An additional burden is mass unemployment, which is itself exacerbated by immigration.

Third, French foreign policy has wandered between Scylla and Charybdis in the last few years. Former President Nicolas Sarkozy’s intervention in Libya, President François Hollande’s support for some Syrian fundamentalists, alliances formed with rentier states that finance jihadist fighters, like Qatar and Saudi Arabia–all are mistakes that have plunged France into serious geopolitical incoherence from which it is struggling to extricate itself. {snip}

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For now, one emergency measure can readily be put into action: Stripping jihadists of their French citizenship is an absolute necessity. In the longer run, most importantly, national border checks must be reinstated, and there should be zero tolerance for any behavior that undermines laïcité and French law. Without such measures, no serious policy for combating fundamentalism is possible.

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