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France’s Doomed War on ‘Islamist Terrorism’

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(Photo: Nino Jose Heredia, Gulf News)

By Ramzy Baroud

Days after a truck ploughed its way into throngs of people celebrating Bastille Day in Nice, France, the Los Angeles Times reported that “[Daesh or the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant] later claimed indirect responsibility for the attack”. The clearly deliberate act killed 84 people, many of whom were children, and a third of whom were Muslims.

But knowing what we know about Daesh and its appetite to promote global violence, ‘indirect responsibility’ likely means that they had no direct involvement in the attacks or links to the attacker, Mohammad Lahouaiej Bouhlel.

In fact, Bouhlel’s profile doesn’t exactly fit the typical profile of ruthless ‘jihadists’, as is so often repeated in the media and by ‘terrorism experts’.

The 31-year-old Nice resident of Tunisian origin was already known to the local police, if only for petty street crimes. However, he was not even on the French intelligence’s terror watch list. In fact, till now there is no evidence to link the July 14 attacker to Daesh or to any other militant group.

Since that is the case, what is one to make of French Prime Minister Francois Hollande’s remarks that he will “strengthen [his country’s] actions” in Syria and Iraq?

If the deadly Nice attack is clearly an outcome of internal French societal dynamics, why should Iraqis and Syrians pay the price of France’s vengeance? Clearly, the correlation lacks evidence or even logic.

Hollande’s statement that “all of France is under threat from Islamist terrorism,” is as hate-mongering as it is ambiguous. It is eerily similar to statements uttered by former US president, George W. Bush, and other US officials who also declared their “war on terror” 15 years ago — a war that engendered yet more terrorism and chaos, and destabilised the entire Middle East region, and which continues to bear the remnants of this destabilisation to this day.

There is still much we do not know about the deadly events in Nice. But what we do know is that Hollande, whose popularity is at an all-time low, is following in the same mis-steps that the American administration took after the attacks of September 11, 2001. We know all too well the negative effects of those actions, and witnessed military strategy which backfired.

Alas, reports already speak of France’s misplaced retribution.

News media speak of a massacre resulting from French air strikes on July 19 on an area near the Turkish Syria borders. Estimates vary, but all speak of dozens of civilians dead. This cannot possibly solve Hollande’s home-grown violence, which is clearly positioned within social inequality and political alienation felt by millions of French citizens from North African descent.

What good did France’s military adventurism achieve in recent years anyway? Libya has turned into an oasis of chaos — where Daesh now controls entire towns. Iraq and Syria remain places rampant with unmitigated violence. The fate of Mali is certainly no different.

Writing for Al Jazeera, Pape Samba Kane described the terrible reality that Mali has become following the French intervention in January, 2013. Their so-called Operation Serval turned into Operation Barkhane and Mali did not become peaceful neither did French forces leave the country. The French, according to Kane, are now occupiers, not liberators.

“The question,” Kane wrote, “that Malians have to ask themselves is: Do they prefer having to fight against [extremists] for a long time, or having their sovereignty challenged and their territory occupied or partitioned by an ancient colonialist state in order to satisfy a group allied with the colonial power?”

Yet the French, like the Americans, continue to evade this obvious reality at their own peril. By refusing to accept the fact that Daesh is only a component of a much larger and particularly disturbing course of violence that is rooted in foreign intervention, is to allow violence everywhere to perpetuate.

I visited Iraq in 1999. At the time, there were no so-called ‘jihadists’ espousing the principles of jihadism, whatever the interpretation of that may be.

Iraq was hardly peaceful then. But most of the bombs that exploded in that country were American. In fact, when Iraqis spoke of terrorism, they mostly referred to Al Irhab Al Amriki — American terrorism.

Suicide bombings were hardly a daily occurrence; in fact, never an occurrence at all, anywhere in Iraq. As soon as the US invaded Afghanistan in 2001 followed by Iraq in 2003, all hell broke loose.

The 25 years prior to 2008 witnessed 1,840 suicide attacks, according to data compiled by US government experts and cited in the Washington Post. Of all these attacks, 86 per cent occurred after the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. In fact, between 2001 and the publishing of the data in 2008, 920 suicide bombings took place in Iraq and 260 in Afghanistan.

A fuller picture emerged in 2010, with the publishing of more commanding and detailed research conducted by the University of Chicago’s Project on Security and Terrorism. “More than 95 per cent of all suicide attacks are in response to foreign occupation,” it emerged.

“As the United States has occupied Afghanistan and Iraq… total suicide attacks worldwide have risen dramatically — from about 300 from 1980 to 2003, to 1,800 from 2004 to 2009,” wrote Robert Pape in Foreign Policy.

It is easy — perhaps, convenient — to forget all of this. Connecting the proverbial dots can be costly for some, for it will unravel a trajectory of violence that is rooted in foreign intervention. For many Western commentators and politicians it is much easier — let alone safer — to discuss Daesh within impractical contexts, for example that of “Islamist terrorism’, rather than take moral responsibility.

Daesh is but a name that can be rebranded without notice into something entirely different. Their tactics, too, can change, based on time and circumstances. Their followers can mete out violence using a suicide belt, a car laden with explosives, a knife or a truck moving at high speed.

What truly matters is that Daesh has grown into a phenomenon, an idea that is not even confined to a single group and which requires no official membership, transfer of funds or weapons.

Defeating Daesh requires that we also confront and defeat the thinking that led to its inception, that is, defeating the logic of the George W. Bushes, Tony Blairs and John Howards of this world.

No matter how violent Daesh members or supporters are, it is ultimately a group of angry, alienated, misguided and radicalised young men seeking to alter their desperate situation by carrying out despicable acts of vengeance, even if it means ending their lives in the process.

Bombing Daesh camps may destroy some of their military facilities but it will not eradicate the very idea that has allowed them to recruit thousands of young men all over the world.

They are the product of violent thinking that was spawned, not only in the Middle East, but initially, in various Western capitals.

The war option has, thus far, proved the least affective. Daesh will remain and metamorphose, if necessary, as long as war remains on the agenda. To end Daesh, we must end war and foreign occupations.

The French need to keep this in mind before thrusting more into this great war gamble, one that not only the Americans and the French, but in fact, the whole world, have already lost.

– Dr Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for over 20 years. He is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. His books include “Searching Jenin”, “The Second Palestinian Intifada” and his latest “My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story”. His website is www.ramzybaroud.net.