Shock, anger, fear, mourning and tears… The deadliest attacks in peacetime France since the WWII and the deadliest in Europe since the 2004 Madrid bombings – the 9/11 à la française – took the lives of more than 130 innocent people on November 13. Innocent people who went out on Friday night for dinner, a drink, a concert or a football game paid with their lives for the insanity of the global war against terrorism. But why France? Why was France targeted again, less than a year after the Charlie Hebdo shooting?
The attacks in Paris are shocking, but it appears that they are not surprising to counterterrorism experts in France and other Western countries. French Judge Marc Trévidic warned in a recent interview for Paris Match that an attack in France comparable to 9/11 should be expected, since France became “enemy number one” of the so called Islamic State (IS): first, because geographically it is situated close to Syria; second, because French citizens going to Syria are not restricted to return legally to the Schengen zone.
By some estimates, nearly 3,000 Europeans have travelled to Iraq and Syria or other conflict zones since 2011 to fight and gain experience with various extremist organisations, including IS and the Al-Qaeda affiliate, Al-Nusrah Front. According to a recent report, amongst the top 10 countries of origin for those foreign fighters, France is ranked fifth with 1,550. Apart from the geographical explanation, however, there are ideological reasons as well.
Despite the fact that many in France opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the French Republic supported the US-led war against terrorism. Now, it is intervening in Syria. According to Judge Trévidic, in the eyes of the radical Islamists, France is a colonial nation, sometimes claiming its Christian roots, openly supporting Israel, and selling arms to countries considered “misbeliever and corrupted” in the Persian Gulf and the Middle East. It is a nation considered as deliberately oppressing its large Muslim community, one of the largest in Europe. As pointed by Trévidic, the latter is an axis of essential propaganda used by IS.
“France is under attack, we must defend ourselves,” announced French President François Hollande on November 13 and declared a state of emergency, for the first time since the Algerian War in 1961. Last week, President Hollande announced its country will deploy an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf to assist the fight against IS. Today, France bombed the IS capital Raqqa.
Years have passed since the war on terrorism had been officially launched. Leaders, strategists, and recruiters have been eliminated, operations have been launched. Yet, isn’t it clear that the grand strategy against terror has been ineffective at preventing terror attacks in Western countries. On the contrary, it appears that the targeted groups, under different names, led by newly appointed leaders, gain strength and followers, become more organised, better equipped, tactically innovative, and ferociously ruthless. Whatever measures France or any other country takes on its own soil, it is hard to imagine that security services can be deployed in every café, market, or restaurant. What then?
Instead of infighting and bombings, a constructive political strategy is needed, which combines efforts between all actors intervening in Syria against IS, and reconsideration who is who. So far, it remains unclear who is supporting whom in the strategic game that goes beyond the war on terrorism. If only interests and double standards are what drive foreign policies, then we may expect spending another Friday night wondering who is next…
Katarina Koleva is a PhD student at NPSIA and Managing Director at iAffairs.
Featured Photo From Wikimedia.