Sometimes when the Blood of the West is Up and we've got wogs in the gunsights, it's good to sit back a moment and read.
I remember a lecture I received from a bespectacled scholar of about 11 one morning when I was splitting firewood for his family in return for a night's lodging in the hills out of Grenoble. My little professor, a Sartre in short pants, with great dignity and extreme seriousness, told me all about Charles Martel and the Battle of Tours, which stopped the Arab advance into France in the 8th century. I have again been reading about the grandfather of Charlemagne tonight, more than 50 years later.
I suppose it was on the minds of all the French in 1963, de Gaulle having just pulled the troops out of Algeria, ending if not finishing that war.
Although there was a Summer of Love going on in Paris among students from all over the world, one didn't have to go far to find extremely angry French soldiers, including the Paras who had been starting small revolts for several years in France. And if you could see beyond beautiful Youth, on the edges of Paris and at night, conflict between police and Arabs continued.
Yet, lest we look back to Algeria for answers, let us also remember the French Mandate in Syria and Lebanon, which was French colonial control of that region from 1923 to 1946. But we could also circle back much farther to the relations that developed between Maronite Christians of Lebanon and the 11th-century crusaders.
When was the last time we stepped into a French colonial war? -- wmh
And until Paris confronts its deep historical legacy of colonialism and prejudice, violence will continue.
· BY GORDON ADAMS
Once again, a violent jihadi terrorist attack has hit France, this time with at least 450 victims, 129 of them fatal. Rallying around the French flag, even pasting it over our Facebook avatars, follows, because an attack on European soil somehow “exports” the war in the Middle East to our front doors. We remember and mourn Berlin, Madrid, London, and New York. But deaths at the hands of terrorists in Beirut on Nov. 12 (43 dead; 200 wounded), or Baghdad the day after (26 dead; 46 wounded); Dhaka on Oct. 24 (1 dead; 104 wounded); or in Ankara on Oct. 10 (95 dead; 246 wounded) have not brought the same outpouring of grief and flag-draping. Even the killing of 224 passengers on a commercial Russian passenger plane, brought down by a terrorist bomb over the Sinai Peninsula, pale by comparison to the outpouring of emotion following the attacks in Paris.
The war against terrorists, especially the Islamic State — reputed sponsor of all those non-European attacks — has “come home,” we say. In reaction, French politicians, like former President Nicolas Sarkozy, demand “total war.” Republican presidential candidates thump the tub to escalate a ground war in Syria.
There’s something fundamentally disturbing, even dangerous, about the responses to terrorist violence in Europe and America, especially the French response. As we scramble to deal with the latest outrage, we need to keep in mind that this war was never far away or distant, certainly not from France. The outrage, shock, and grief needs to be tempered by a realization that our selective attention about the violence is rooted in denial. It ignores the long history of conflict, empire, religious war, colonial intrusion, disrespect, racism, and invasion that has characterized the relationship between France and the Muslim world. If we fail to come to terms with fundamental historical realities, we are condemned to repeat the cycle of violence for years to come.
Upon hearing the horrific news on Friday, this history came back into view. I was reminded, once again, as I was during the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January, of the legacy of France’s ancient confrontation with Islam and of more recent French colonial history, and how it influences today’s violence and the response. For France, the origins of the Islamic State attacks (and the French reaction to them) aren’t just about the French air force’s role in Syria. They go back much further.
Back in January, I wrote a column telling the story of my drive with fellow American students through Bordeaux in 1961, when our car was searched twice as part of then-President Charles de Gaulle’s drive to roll up an irredentist French-Algerian paratrooper invasion brought about by the president’s decision to abandon the colonial war in Algeria. It may seem like ancient history, but the Algerian war and the revolt of the French colonialpieds-noirs is well within the memory of both countries today.
Indeed, France has been a central arena for the confrontation between Islam and political-religious Christian Europe for 1,300 years.
Indeed, France has been a central arena for the confrontation between Islam and political-religious Christian Europe for 1,300 years. When we were searched in Bordeaux, we were returning to school, in Tours, near the town of Poitiers. Students of French history know those city names well, for they are a significant historical marker. It was in the Battle of Poitiers (also known as the Battle of Tours) in A.D. 732 that Charles Martel, the Frankish military leader (and Charlemagne’s grandfather) defeated the Umayyad Caliphate and its leader, Abd-ar-Rahman, who ruled the Iberian Peninsula, and part of what today is southern France. This victory permanently halted the expansion of Islam into Europe and began the expulsion of Islamfrom the continent.
This victory is still celebrated; all French students are taught its history — in depth — and are aware that the line of demarcation between Muslim and Christian Europe was drawn, in part, in their own country. A sense of cultural, military, and political conflict with Islam and a fear of Islamization have never been far from French consciousness, as a result.
That feeling of historic conflict and threat was amplified by the more recent, 200-year-old pattern of French colonialism in North Africa and the Middle East, France’s “near abroad.” What French colonialism added was the brutal confrontation between French settlers and their heirs and the people of Algeria, beginning in the 1830s and ending with Algerian independence in 1962. Add to this rich, conflict-laden history the French colonial role in Morocco and Tunisia, with whom there are still deep and continuing cultural and economic ties. Many Moroccans and Tunisians also migrate north to France. Add to all that the French mandate, after World War I, in Lebanon and Syria, which left a legacy of cultural and economic ties between modern Syria, Lebanon, and France.
Given this history, it is hardly surprising that there has been a long experience of Muslim migration from North Africa and the Middle East to France, giving it the second-largest Muslim population — 4.7 million — and the largest Muslim share of its national population (7.5 percent) of any western European country. (Some 4.8 million Muslims constitute almost 6 percent of the German population, the 3 million in the United Kingdom about 4.8 percent of the population). Equally, that history goes a long way toward explaining the ambivalence of the French toward Islam and this migrant population.
France has accommodated its almost 5 million Muslims badly. The result has been tension, violence, and radicalization — both among the French right, and among Muslim activists. Today, France experiences that clash across the board: from the economic isolation of Muslim families; to the episodic upsurge of street confrontations between authorities and young men in Muslim neighborhoods, especially on the north side of Paris; to the legal battles over the veil. The two populations — France’s secular and Christian, and France’s Muslim — scarcely mix. When they do, the consequences are explosive, as the New Yorker’s George Packer recentlydocumented.
This history helps us understand why France represents a particular target for the Islamic State. These extremists aren’t simply trying to send a general message to President François Hollande about ending the French campaign against the Islamic State. It is now clear that some of the Nov. 13 attackers had lived in France, or even were French citizens. The revulsion that follows the attacks is understandable, but draping one’s face in the tricolor is not a very meaningful response. Total war would be fraught with downside risks. Islamic extremism, in France or in the Middle East, is a catastrophic response to history, not just a near-term response to the use of French fighter-bombers in Syria.
A more nuanced response than total war is needed to deal with the underlying rage that fuels this confrontation. And that is almost impossible to imagine in the current atmosphere. Islam has not been welcome in France, and the hostility of non-Islamic France is only growing.
Conflict with the Islamic State may be inevitable. The West — the French and many others, including the United States — are already at war with radical jihad, so certainly the Islamic State will see the battlefield as global. Indeed, it seems to relish the opportunity to confront the non-Islamic world in a cataclysmic struggle. But attack and response, attack and response, are not enough. And given the history, tit for tat will prove counterproductive as a long-term strategy. Total war will only breed resentment and recruit more terrorists, while fomenting instability and cultural and political conflict at home. Creating more fear and division will not win this battle.
Alongside what may be necessary violence against the Islamic State, we need a renewed focus on addressing this historically rooted conflict. There needs to be much more understanding of the history — and, for the French, the role that it has played in exacerbating the clash. In particular, France needs to undergo a deep self-examination, and a fundamental revision of the current practice of sidelining its large Muslim population, leaving them disaffected, poorly educated, underemployed, and ripe for recruitment to terrorism. We may all be French for a day, but stepping through the anger and fear, we all need to become Muslim as well, and begin to build the lines of communication and integration that are the only sure hope to end the cycle of violence.
France’s unresolved Algerian war sheds light on the Paris attack
The French-Algerian identity of one of the attackers demonstrates how France’s savage 1956-62 war in Algeria continues to infect today’s atrocities.
· Robert Fisk
People weep as they gather to observe a minute-silence at the Place de la Republique in memory of the victims of the Paris terror attacksGetty
It wasn’t just one of the attackers who vanished after the Paris massacre. Three nations whose history, action – and inaction – help to explain the slaughter by Isis have largely escaped attention in the near-hysterical response to the crimes against humanity in Paris: Algeria, Saudi Arabia and Syria.
The French-Algerian identity of one of the attackers demonstrates how France’s savage 1956-62 war in Algeria continues to infect today’s atrocities. The absolute refusal to contemplate Saudi Arabia’s role as a purveyor of the most extreme Wahabi-Sunni form of Islam, in which Isis believes, shows how our leaders still decline to recognise the links between the kingdom and the organisation which struck Paris. And our total unwillingness to accept that the only regular military force in constant combat with Isis is the Syrian army – which fights for the regime that France also wants to destroy – means we cannot liaise with the ruthless soldiers who are in action against Isis even more ferociously than the Kurds.
Whenever the West is attacked and our innocents are killed, we usually wipe the memory bank. Thus, when reporters told us that the 129 dead in Paris represented the worst atrocity in France since the Second World War, they failed to mention the 1961 Paris massacre of up to 200 Algerians participating in an illegal march against France’s savage colonial war in Algeria. Most were murdered by the French police, many were tortured in the Palais des Sports and their bodies thrown into the Seine. The French only admit 40 dead. The police officer in charge was Maurice Papon, who worked for Petain’s collaborationist Vichy police in the Second World War, deporting more than a thousand Jews to their deaths.
Omar Ismail Mostafai, one of the suicide killers in Paris, was of Algerian origin – and so, too, may be other named suspects. Said and Cherif Kouachi, the brothers who murdered the Charlie Hebdo journalists, were also of Algerian parentage. They came from the five million-plus Algerian community in France, for many of whom the Algerian war never ended, and who live today in the slums of Saint-Denis and other Algerian banlieues of Paris. Yet the origin of the 13 November killers – and the history of the nation from which their parents came – has been largely deleted from the narrative of Friday’s horrific events. A Syrian passport with a Greek stamp is more exciting, for obvious reasons.
A colonial war 50 years ago is no justification for mass murder, but it provides a context without which any explanation of why France is now a target makes little sense. So, too, the Saudi Sunni-Wahabi faith, which is a foundation of the “Islamic Caliphate” and its cult-like killers. Mohammed ibn Abdel al-Wahab was the purist cleric and philosopher whose ruthless desire to expunge the Shia and other infidels from the Middle East led to 18th-century massacres in which the original al-Saud dynasty was deeply involved.
The present-day Saudi kingdom, which regularly beheads supposed criminals after unfair trials, is building a Riyadh museum dedicated to al-Wahab’s teachings, and the old prelate’s rage against idolaters and immorality has found expression in Isis’s accusation against Paris as a centre of “prostitution”. Much Isis funding has come from Saudis – although, once again, this fact has been wiped from the terrible story of the Friday massacre.
And then comes Syria, whose regime’s destruction has long been a French government demand. Yet Assad’s army, outmanned and still outgunned – though recapturing some territory with the help of Russian air strikes – is the only trained military force fighting Isis. For years, both the Americans, the British and the French have said that the Syrians do not fight Isis. But this is palpably false; Syrian troops were driven out of Palmyra in May after trying to prevent Isis suicide convoys smashing their way into the city – convoys that could have been struck by US or French aircraft. Around 60,000 Syrian troops have now been killed in Syria, many by Isis and the Nusrah Islamists – but our desire to destroy the Assad regime takes precedence over our need to crush Isis.
The French now boast that they have struck Isis’s Syrian “capital” of Raqqa 20 times – a revenge attack, if ever there was one. For if this was a serious military assault to liquidate the Isis machine in Syria, why didn’t the French do it two weeks ago? Or two months ago? Once more, alas, the West – and especially France – responds to Isis with emotion rather than reason, without any historical context, without recognising the grim role that our “moderate”, head-chopping Saudi “brothers” play in this horror story. And we think we are going to destroy Isis...
Paris attacks: No security can stop Isis – the bombers will always get through
Only the total destruction of the terrorist group, through US air support for Assad’s ground forces, can keep Europe safe
Apocalyptic press coverage and predictions of further attacks in Paris play into the hands of Isis AP
The “Islamic State”, as Isis styles itself, will be pleased with the outcome of its attacks in Paris. It has shown that it can retaliate with its usual savagery against a country that is bombing its territory and is a power to be feared at a time when it is under serious military pressure. The actions of just eight Isis suicide bombers and gunmen are dominating the international news agenda for days on end.
There is not a lot that can be done about this. People are understandably eager to know the likelihood of their being machine-gunned the next time they sit in a restaurant or attend a concert in Paris or London.
But the apocalyptic tone of press coverage is exaggerated: the violence experienced hitherto in Paris is not comparable with Belfast and Beirut in the 1970s or Damascus and Baghdad today. Contrary to the hyperbole of wall-to-wall television coverage, the shock of living in a city being bombed soon wears off.
Predictions of Paris forever trembling in expectation of another attack play into the hands of Isis.
A further disadvantage flows from excessive rhetoric about the massacre: instead of the atrocities acting as an incentive for effective action, the angry words become a substitute for a real policy. After the Charlie Hebdo murders in January, 40 world leaders marched with linked arms through the streets of Paris proclaiming, among other things, that they would give priority to the defeat of Isis and its al-Qaeda equivalents.
But, in practice, they did nothing of the sort. When Isis forces attacked Palmyra in eastern Syria in May, the US did not launch air strikes against it because the city was defended by the Syrian army and Washington was frightened of being accused of keeping President Bashar al-Assad in power.
In effect, the US handed Isis a military advantage which it promptly used to seize Palmyra, behead captured Syrian soldiers and blow up the ancient ruins.
The Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said at the G20 meeting in Turkey that “the time for talking is over” and there must be collective action against “terrorism”.
This sounds like an impressive Turkish stand against Isis, but Mr Erdogan has explained that his definition of “terrorist” is wide-ranging and includes the Syrian Kurds and their paramilitary People’s Protection Units (YPG) whom the US has found to be its best military ally against Isis.
The world mourns Paris attacks - in pictures
Mr Erdogan’s enthusiasm for attacking Kurdish insurgents in Turkey and northern Iraq has turned out to be much stronger than his desire to attack Isis, Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham.
There is little sign that the G20 leaders gathered in Turkey have understood the nature of the conflict in which they are engaged. Isis’s military strategy is a unique combination of urban terrorism, guerrilla tactics and conventional warfare. In the past, many states have used terrorism against opponents, but, in the case of Isis, suicide squads focusing on soft civilian targets at home and abroad are an integral part of its war-making strategy.
When the YPG captured Isis’s border crossing into Turkey at Tal Abyad in June, the group retaliated by sending fighters in disguise to the Kurdish city of Kobani where they slaughtered over 220 men, women and children.
When Russia started its air campaign against Isis and extreme jihadists on 30 September, Isis responded with a bomb planted on a Russian plane leaving Sharm el-Sheikh that killed 224 passengers.
Another mistake made by G20 leaders is to persistently underestimate Isis. David Cameron said it should not be dignified by the name “Islamic State”, but unfortunately it is a real state and one which is more powerful than half the members of the UN, with an experienced army, conscription, taxation and control of all aspects of life within the vast area it rules.
So long as it exists, it will project its power through suicide operations like those we have just seen in Paris. Because the potential target is civilian populations as a whole, no amount of increased security checks or surveillance is going to be effective. The bomber will always get through.
The only real solution is the destruction of Isis: this can only be done by a US and Russian air campaign against it in partnership with those on the ground who are actually fighting it.
The US Air Force has done so effectively with the YPG, enabling them to defeat Isis at Kobani, and with the Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga, who captured the city of Sinjar last week. But the US baulks at attacking Isis when it is fighting the Syrian army or the Shia militias in Iraq. Given that these are the two strongest military formations fighting Isis, America’s military punch is being pulled where it would do most good.
Given the international sympathy for the French after the massacre in Paris, it is inevitable that there is almost no criticism of France’s muddle-headed policy towards the Syrian conflict.
Earlier this year, in an interview with Aron Lund of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, one of the leading French experts on Syria, Fabrice Balanche, who is currently at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said that “in 2011-12 we suffered a kind of intellectual McCarthyism on the Syrian question: if you said that Assad was not about to fall within three months you could be suspected of being paid by the Syrian regime”.
He noted that the French foreign ministry took up the cause of Syrian opposition, while the media refused to see the Syrian revolt as anything other than the continuation of revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt. They were blind to sectarian, political and social divisions which meant that there were always two sides to the Syrian civil war.
With the state bureaucracy, army general staff and security services packed with Alawites, it is almost impossible to get rid of Mr Assad and his regime, whose leaders come from the Alawite community, without the state collapsing, leaving a vacuum to be filled by Isis and its al-Qaeda counterparts.
Despite the latest terrorist attacks, there is still no long-term policy to prevent it happening again.