The French Nation, or the Perpetual Spirit of Resistance

Photo: AFP

Four French citizens, two women and two men, entered into the Panthéon on May 27th. These four patriots, Pierre Brossolette, Geneviève de Gaulle-Anthonioz, Germaine Tillion and Jean Zay, shared their lives and actions as resistant against the Nazis during World War two. The Panthéon symbolizes French collective memory, the French Nation through its great men and women. Throughout his speech, President François Hollande continuously moved between the past and the present. He used their actions as resistant in order to compare the perpetual fight against extremist violence – Nazism and radical Islamism -.

The selection of the pantheonized is a highly political decision and is directly approved by the President. Initially the Panthéon was built by Louis XV as a church in the honor of St Genevieve. But its role and symbolism changed with the French Revolution. In 1791, two years after the beginning of the French Revolution, that National Constituent Assembly decided to transform the purpose of the Panthéon from a church into a civic temple to host the ashes of the great men of the Nation. For instance, above the entrance, one can read “To great men, the grateful homeland” (Aux Grands Hommes la Patrie Reconnaissante).

The Panthéon plays a central part into the French civic life and can be divided into four distinct civic periods/purposes: the Panthéon of the Revolution; the Panthéon of the Republic; the Panthéon of the State; the Panthéon of the Nation. Each Panthéon solidified the message of the leadership. For instance, the Panthéon of the Republic was used in order to honor the men considered as martyrs for freedom (for example Marat). In the case of the Panthéon of the Nation, it serves as a secular and civic monument centered around the concept of ‘collective memory.’ The entrance of Victor Hugo in 1885 marked the beginning of the era of the Panthéon of the Nation, wherein Great Men are recognized either for their work, life or death.

The four newly pantheonized individuals direclty embody the values of the French Republic in 2015, the values envisioned and promoted by the government of François Hollande. As per the President, each one of them personifies a core value of the French Republic. First, they were all resistants of the first hour and all fought Pétain and the Occupation. The Resistance was an important movement during World War two either as active (force) or passive (intellectual). The current government is trying to maintain the spirit of January 11th ensuing the terrorist attacks. Second, each one symbolizes a core component of the French Nation: Jean Zay is the Republic, Geneviève de Gaulle-Anthonioz, Fraternity, Germaine Tillion, Equality, and  Pierre Brossolette, Liberty.

Watch below the complete speech by President François Hollande.

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).

ISIL and Homeland Terrorism – Is Europe Going to War?

Source: AP
Source: AP

It took 10 days to shift a quiet and reluctant European Union and its 28 Member States from a closed-minded fortress to a group reflecting on the realities of its environment. Ensuing the terrorist attacks in France and the foiled ones in Belgium, the war narratives are emerging in Europe. In the case of France, the political class – in and out of power – has been hammering the same narrative: ‘France is at war.’ At war against radical islamists in Mali, in the Sahel, in Iraq and Syria, and just comes back from Afghanistan. All these foreign military interventions orchestrated by France since 2012 – aside of Afghanistan a multilateral military effort – had gone unnoticed by a French citizenry uninterested about French foreign and military policies as well as geopolitical realities.

Europe at War?

The week after the Charlie Hebdo attack, ‘France is at war’ has become the mainstream narrative of most French politicians. French Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, and Minister of Interior, Bernard Cazeneuve, among others have all talked of war. During his allocution before the National Assembly, Manuel Valls declared “Yes France is engaged in a war, against terrorism, against jihadism and radical islamism” (“Oui la France est en guerre, contre le terrorisme, le djihadisme et l’islamisme extrémiste (…)). Additionally, the taboo in France has been broken, the political elite is finally underscoring on daily basis that French and European citizens ought to be ready to see an increase of terrorist attacks inside the Union. The linkage between the two points, increase of terrorist attacks and the war narrative, is France high level activity in fighting radical islamic groups around Africa and the Middle East. France among the other EU Member States ought to understand the dichotomy of the current fight: on the one hand, the fight against radical ideologies within the EU is not going to end anytime soon and will require serious societal-political debate; while on the other, stopping the rise of ISIL will not end the rise of extremism in Europe.

In the case of France and Belgium, the alleged terrorists have received training in Syria at some point. Both countries hold the largest muslim communities in Europe (in proportion to their overall population); both countries have faced recent attacks such as the killing at a jewish museum in Brussels and the killings orchestrated by Mohammed Merah against Jewish individuals in the South-West of France. Both countries have failed in their models of integration as a segment of their Arab youth has become radicalized or at least sensitized to the radical islamist cause.

Source: Pew Research Center
Source: Pew Research Center

Additionally, more and more individuals – most of them are indeed European citizens – are coming back to their homelands after receiving a military training in Syria and/or Iraq (look here at the excellent interactive map by Radio Free Europe). The numbers fluctuate in the case of France from 700+ (as described below) to roughly 1000 in January 2015. Ultimately, EU Member States are confronting a complex challenge connecting foreign war endeavor and homeland terrorism-radicalization of a segment of Muslims communities.

Source: Statista
Source: Statista

With the increasing numbers of European citizens fighting in Syria/Iraq under the ISIL umbrella, should the Euro-Atlantic community wage war in Syria and Iraq against ISIL?

The war narrative in France is interesting for one simple reason: Is France trying to get domestic support to a military intervention in Syria? Or is France trying to mobilize its European allies and the US for a military intervention in Syria? The current bombings over Iraq and Syria led by France (principally over Iraq) and the US seem insufficient in maintaining the rise of ISIL. As argued in a recent ECFR analysis, “months into the armed strikes, it is clear that the existing approach can only go so far. Western political leaders, thrown into a state of panic by the mesmerised media coverage of the beheadings of Western hostages, launched extensive military action against IS that has been heavily dominated by the US, in spite of the participation of regional actors who spend tens of billions of dollars on weapons each year.”

Scenarios to Addressing the Root Causes of ISIL:

Ultimately, in the aftermaths of the January terrorist attacks, how could the EU address the realities of the threat?

First, mobilization of the Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). NATO may be the way to go for the military phase at first followed by a credible CSDP mission of state-building. The NATO-CSDP couple did work in the Balkans and has stabilized the region since the late 1990s (read here a volume on the Security Sector Reform). Certainly some states in the Balkans are more stable than others; and problems of corruptions, lack of rule of law, and other societal and economic problems remain a reality. Nevertheless, it is a more stable region than ensuing the fall of the Soviet Union. In the case of Syria and Iraq, both NATO-CSDP could be the instrument to first, use credible military forces on the ground and in the air, followed by a long-term reconstruction process overtaken by the CSDP. Inside the EU, the question of a credible CSDP mandate and operation will be a tough one to get. Large EU Member States, like the UK, Spain, Italy, Germany, may be reluctant to invest large amount of money, to provide credible military capabilities and soldiers. France and Poland cannot be the only two large Member States providing the bulk of the CSDP mission. The destruction/containment of ISIL is not an end in itself; but it is the re-construction and eventual creation of nation-states in the region. The reality is that 15 years later, starting with the 1998 bombing campaign over Kosovo, the CSDP and NATO are still present in the Balkans. Europeans and Americans must be consciously willing to commit to several decades of reconstruction in the Middle East.

Second, Russia and Turkey are the key to the future of the region. Russia was the state protecting Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad when France and the US were ready to sanction Syria following the use of sarin gas against civilians. President Obama did not

Photo: Lefteris Pitarakis, AP
Photo: Lefteris Pitarakis, AP

want to start another war in the Middle East and was certainly satisfy to find the best-worst short-term option in his playbook, an international supervision and destruction of the Syrian chemical arsenal. Since then Russia and the West have not been agreeing on the course of event in the region. Russia ought to understand that the current situation in the Levant is not aligned with its interests. The second key player is Turkey. Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has been reluctant to use military force against ISIL. Turkish army is deployed at the borders with Syria monitoring the ongoing war in Syria. Both players are crucial for the future: Russia in order to get a military operation with international legitimacy, a Resolution by the UN Security Council; and Turkey, as a neighboring state and NATO member in leading the war effort in Syria.

Third, Arab States, especially Qatar, Saoudi Arabia, Iran, ought to play a credible role as well. Their contributions is greater than simple financial and military supports, it holds strong religious and symbolic dimensions. The involvement of Arab States would demonstrates that the war against ISIL is not a clash of civilization between the West and the Arab world as it has been framed, but rather as a war between radical islamism and the world. Without the inclusion and the assistance of these three regional powerhouses, the fight against ISIL will not be fully realistic, at least in the aftermaths of the military phase.

A New Regional Order?

The Arab Spring has transformed the balance of power at domestic and regional levels all around the Mediterranean. The EU, Russia, the US, Arab States may all have diverging political systems, religious beliefs, perceptions of the world, but the reality of the threat is undeniable and common. The long term solution is not military, but political. Behind the walls of its imagined fortress, the EU has thought that it would be immune of all troubles if it just ignores the threats and challenges knocking at its doors. The EU’s neighborhoods are on fire causing mass migrations, rise of terrorism, all sorts of illegal activities and political instabilities. European capitals must now address the problem, ISIL, as it is not only destabilizing the Mediterranean region, but now European societies. It is Europe’s fight. Europe should decide to take the lead on this one.

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).

Nobody Kills Charlie


Credit: Le Monde
Credit: Le Monde

Three gunmen armed with kalashnikov rifles opened fire in the office of the satirical french newspaper Charlie Hebdo killing 12 people, including prominent journalists and two policemen. Four top French cartoonists, Cabut, widely known as Cabu, Stéphane Charbonnier, known as Charb, Wolinksi and Tignou were all killed. Cabu, Wolinski and Charb have been important figures in shaping/mocking French society and culture with the ink of their pens for decades. Since the attack the region Ile-de-France, including Paris, is on its highest threat alert as the authorities are looking for the gunmen, recently identified. Even though, there are still speculation about whether the gunmen acted as lone-wolves or are part of a wider terrorist network, François Hollande, French President, immediately announced that it was an act of terrorism and an assault on freedom of the press. President Hollande and the Minister of Interior went to the location of the shooting and addressed the press (here is his evening allocution on the act of terrorist).

A combination of file photos shows (from L) French cartoonist of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo Georges Wolinski; cartoonist Jean Cabut, aka Cabu; newspaper publisher Charb; cartoonist Tignous. (AFP)
A combination of file photos shows (from L) French cartoonist of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo Georges Wolinski; cartoonist Jean Cabut, aka Cabu; newspaper publisher Charb; cartoonist Tignous. (AFP)

Since 2001, the European continent has been struck by two large terrorist attacks, 2004 in Madrid and 2005 in London. Both terrorist attacks were planned by members of Al-Qaeda and were of large amplitude. Since 2005, Europeans have been better prepared, and in some instance lucky, in stopping attacks before their phase of implementation. But a new trend has emerged on both sides of the Atlantic, the lone-wolf syndrome. In the last years, attacks have been perpetuated in London (2013), Ottawa (2014), Sydney (2014) and other failed ones in the US like in New York (2010).

Marks of Radical Islamic Terrorists?

Even though all the proofs haven’t been gather to confirm such attrocity as a terrorist attack, world experts seem convinced of its terrorist nature. Now, the question is: is it an attack of lone-wolves? or a terrorist attack planned by a wider terrorist network?

Radical Islamic terrorism figures as one of the many terrorist threats facing the EU today. EU Member States have encountered over the years different sorts of terrorist groups like the IRA in the UK, ETA in France and Spain, individuals like Carlos the Jackal, the Red Brigades, so on and so forth. However, a new emphasis has been placed on radical Islamic terrorism in Europe starting in the 1990s and especially since the deadly attacks of September 2001 in the US.

On the European continent several key terrorist attacks have led to tentatively deepen cooperation between EU Member States and increase vigilance domestically. However, counter-terrorist experts are witnessing a shift in the origins of alleged terrorists. For example, the cell in Hamburg linked to the 9/11 attacks was composed of foreign students; Moroccan immigrants were behind the Madrid train bombings; but the killing of Dutch filmmaker, Mr. van Gogh, in 2004 was initiated by a European-born individual (Leiken, 2005: 125). European experts argue that the radical Islamic terrorist threat in Europe is entering a new phase, the emergence of “Middle East-style political assassinations as part of the European jihadist arsenal and disclosed a new source of danger: unknown individuals among Europe’s own Muslims” (Bures, 2010: 62-63).

This previous distinction underlines the two existing categories of jihadists in Western Europe: insiders and outsiders. The Outsiders are legal aliens such as asylum seekers or students. Oftentimes they move to Western Europe in consequence of a crackdown against Islamists in the Middle East. The other category, Insiders, is composed of second- or third-generation immigrants, who were born in Europe (Leiken, 2005: 126-27; Laqueur, 2006). This second trend, of home-grown Islamist terrorists, has considerably increased since 2006 as reported by Europol. In the case of the Charlie Hebdo attack, it will be interesting to find out if both men were insiders or outsiders. Additionally, France has been in recent months a country with over 1,000 men deciding to leave Europe in order to join the fight with ISIL fighters in Syria and Iraq. Ultimately, a segment of French population, nevertheless minimal, have decided to follow a road towards radicalization.

An Attack on French Democracy and Values

Such action is a direct attack against the French democracy and its values. Charlie Hebdo is a extensive satirical newspaper mocking everything, anything and everyone. The New York Times described Charlie Hebdo extremely well when writing that “Charlie Hebdo is part of a venerable tradition in France, deploying satire and insolence to take on politicians and the police, bankers and religions of all kinds.” French citizens have remained divided on the work produced by Charlie Hebdo as “some saw them as powerful stands for free speech, and others as needless provocations.” The editorial director, Charb, was consistent in his understanding of freedom as he not only criticized anything even under foreign threat and national pressures (he has been under police protection for some time), but also called for the respect of criticism and expression by the others. François Mouly, the art editor of the New Yorker magazine was quoted saying “To have cartoonists slaughtered for publishing cartoons is something we haven’t seen since the 18th century,” and added that “They were troublemakers for my entire life” (listen here her interview on the issue).

The weekly newspaper, created in 1970, has a complex history. It emerged from the newspaper Hara-Kiri banned for mocking the death of General de Gaulle. From 1981 to 1992, Charlie Hebdo ceased to be printed for lack of funds. In the 1990s, it was resurrected and become highly visible after the publication in 2006 of cartoons representing the Prophet Mohammet priorly published by a Danish newspaper. Since 2006, Charlie Hebdo has faced threats for its publications and repeated criticisms of Islam. Ensuing the publication of the cartoons, French President Jacques Chirac called for greater responsibility by the press. Charlie Hebdo responded by claiming: “We, writers, journalists, intellectuals, call for resistance to religious totalitarianism and for the promotion of freedom, equal opportunity and secular values for all.” In 2011, the offices of the newspaper were under attack and damaged by a firebomb.

The symbolism behind this terrorist action is direct attack against French democracy and values, and overall France as a whole. The freedom of press and expression is a basic and central pillar of democracy in most Euro-Atlantic countries. Mockery, criticism, and self-criticism of the world, political systems, religion are necessary for fostering debate and pushing the limits of democracy. Mockery and satire have historically been a core component of French democracy and political life (see Les Guignols de l’Info, Le Bébête Show, Le Canard Enchaîné, and others).

Where does France go from here?

The spontaneous reaction by French citizens around the country and even the world has been the best one possible: spontaneous street meeting demonstrating the spirit of French unity behind its press and principles. Even though terrorism will never end and cannot be ‘killed,’ these attacks should be seen as a starting point in order to address the failures of French society and political environment and trying to reform them. France has been on the verge of a breaking point for quite some times. The society seems broken between the true-French and the rest (see the problem in this use of words). The true-French are unwilling to accept a reform and the opening of French values and cultures in accordance with the new realities; while, the rest feels rejected and sidelined in the booming French suburbs/ghettos. The society is divided into these two groups so intrenched in their narratives, beliefs and ideologies creating a environment propitious to such type of violence.

In addition to a broken society, the French political class is far from being exemplary. Political courage is needed in order to unite and once and for all ending the vitriolic and xenophobic tone present this last decade in mainstream political narratives. Unfortunately, these attacks are taking place at a time of breaking point for French society. The rise of populist and xenophobe parties like the Front National, scoring so highly at the recent European elections, and the vitriolic narratives of the mainstream right trying to attract the voters from the extremes has transformed the national debate. On the one hand, political parties and political leaders have created a dangerous amalgam linking terrorism, immigration, islam, integration altogether when the realities are much more complex. For instance, France hyper-activity in the fight against radical islamic networks in Africa, Sahel and Middle East has increased its vulnerability. While on the other, a taboo about the evolution of French society and the failure of its model of integration, through assimilation, have never been addressed properly. Last, mainstream political parties ought to reject/alienate the extremes and their attempts in normalizing their agendas.

Today France is mourning the death of its talented cartoonists. Tomorrow, France ought to face its realities and weaknesses. Combining a broken society and a toothless political class, the challenge seems considerable. The starting point is an obvious acceptance of the failure of the model of integration, the assumption of its standing as a leading democracy, and finally comforting the need to reform  its broken society.

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).