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Monday, June 3 2013
France/ Jihadist Critical Mass
A sizable and growing part of the nation is in a state of virtual secession, if not virtual civil war.
On May 25, a 21 years old soldier named Cédric Cordiez was stabbed in the neck at La Defense, a business area in Greater Paris ; he survived, but the agressor’s intention was clearly to kill him (possibly even to sever his head). Four days later, a suspect, refered to as Alexandre D., a 22 years old convert to islam, was arrested. He confessed to having acted « on religious grounds ».
The Cordiez case was quite similar to the public killing and beheading in London of Lee Rigby, a British soldier, on May 22. One of Rigby’s murderers, Michael Adebolajo, 28, a British-African convert to islam, claimed to have acted in order to retaliate against the British military operations « against Muslims » in Afghanistan. « It is an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth », he said before being arrested by the police. « We swear by Allah Almighty that we will never stop fighting you ».
Manuel Valls, the French Interior minister, drew another, even scarier, parallel : he mentioned Mohamed Merah, the deadliest jihadist terrorist to have operated in France so far.
A French citizen of Algerian descent, Merah shot eight people in eight days last year, from March 11, 2012, to March 19 : seven were killed on the spot, one survived as a quadriplegic. The victims were selected according to clear criteria. Merah first targeted « defectors » : young men of North African or Caribean origin, whom he assumed to be Muslims, serving in the French military (and thus likely to fight or to have fought other Muslims in places like Afghanistan or Mali). Then he murdered Jews (since Jews are deemed to be, as a race, enemies of Islam) : three preteen children and a teacher at a Jewish school.
« There are several dozens, perhaps even several hundred, potential Merahs in our country », Valls somberly observed during a press conference on May 29. Investigations linked to the bombing on September 19, 2012 of a kosher shop in Sarcelles, Greater Paris, led the police, one month later, to a ramified islamist network involved in stockpiling weapons and explosive material and in gathering information about Jewish personalities or organizations. Sources say that several other networks have been found since then.
However, some wonder whether the French police and security agencies are indeed « discovering » radical and seditious groups or individuals or just dealing more seriously groups and individuals they already knew. The fact is that both Merah and Alexandre D. had been followed closely for years and identified as security risks prior to their crimes. The police and the agencies were aware that Merah had extensively travelled or stayed in no less than twenty five Middle Eastern, Central Asian, Far Eastern and African countries, including Afghanistan. They even had been briefed negatively about him by the Pakistani and American security agencies. Nevertheless, they had not taken steps against him.
As for Alexandre D. – or Abdelillah, as he insisted on beeing called after his conversion -, Le Monde reports that he was put on file as early as on February 20 by SDIG, the special branch of DCRI (the domestic security agency) that monitors islamist activities. Nothing was done yet to prevent him taking action.
How come ? One answer is that democratic countries are not supposed to arrest or intern citizens on the mere suspicion that they might be involved in crimes in the future. Another answer is that preventive action can be counterproductive, as any police department knows : as soon as you arrest suspects, other suspects, or criminals yet undetected, go into hiding.
There are more in-depth explanations as well. Like many other Western security agencies, DCRI and its twin-sister DGSE (the French equivalent of the CIA) seem to have difficulties adjusting to a new society inside (multicultural, multiethnic) and new geopolitics outside (a multipolar or even apolar world, rather than the Cold War bipolar system). Regarding the specific issues of terrorism and sedition, recent parliamentary reports (1) have pointed to the need for more personnel, including religious experts, translators, psychologists, profilers and computer wizzards. The reports also recommended broader powers of investigation, including electronic investigation, and more interagency cooperation.
The ultimate explanation for the French security agencies shortcomings or inconsistencies may be the extent to which radical islam, a philosophy and a way of life that reject democracy and the open society, has grown among the French Muslim minority. Elisabeth Schemla, one of France’s most respected journalists, just published a thorough investigation on French Islam, Islam, l’épreuve française (Islam, The French Test) (2). According to her, there are at least 7 million Muslims in France, more than 10 % of the global population (other sources may point to even higher figures). But the relevant point, Schemla says, is that, by all accounts, about one third of that community – 2 million people at least – « is embracing radical islam ». And that this subgroup is clearly expanding, either by winning over more Muslims or by attracting converts.
To use the language of nuclear physics, this is very much like a « critical mass » : the point where changes in quantity translate in changes in quality, and where fusion is made sustainable. A democratic governement can handle lots of security issues when it enjoys the near unanimous support of its citizens. Things are much more difficult when a sizable and growing part of the nation is in a state of virtual secession, if not virtual civil war. Radical Muslim preachers indoctrinate scores of young French citizens into the concept of jihad (why may mean either religious militancy or holy war). Transnational networks provide for actual military or terrorist training in terrorist camps and facilities all over the world, from the Mahghreb to Syria to Afghanistan or even further. In the end of the day, « dozens and probably hundreds » of new Merahs come back to France.
Manuel Valls must certainly be praised for bluntly appraising the jihadist threat in his country. However, will the global policies of the socialist François Hollande administration, to which he belongs, be helpful ? The administration is going to pass a law to allow foreign residents to vote in local elections. A reform likely to turn more cities into Muslim enclaves, and to consolidate the grip of radical islam all over the country.
(1) http://www.assemblee-nationale.fr/14/rapports/r0409.asp (2)
© Michel Gurfinkiel & PJMedia, 2013
Michel Gurfinkiel is the Founder and President of the Jean-Jacques Rousseau Institute, a conservative think-thank in France, and a Shillman/Ginsburg Fellow at Middle East Forum.
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