Ashgabat, 16 November 2015 (nCa) — This is the ‘with us or against us’ moment. A ruthless dagger in the heart of Europe. Six coordinated attacks in Paris in a span of less than two hours. 130 dead and the toll likely to rise as dozens are critically wounded.
What is important to note is that it was not an attack on freedom of speech, or French values or French way of life. — It was ATTACK ON FRANCE.
No matter how sincere and profound our condolence, it would be inadequate without practical demonstration of solidarity. No matter how strong our condemnation, it would be hollow if not backed by solid and well-considered action.
Even before ISIS accepted responsibility for this atrocity, its hand was obvious in the crude symbolism for which its ideological parent, Al Qaeda, is known: Friday the 13th as the chosen day.
What we are confronted with is now new. The phenomenon of Khwarij in the earliest days of Islam was the first manifestation of ISIS.
For France, and for the rest of the world, for everyone’s heart is with France at this critical juncture, there is the need for dispassionate analysis.
This cannot be done without sounding disrespectful to the dead because Paris Carnage is so fresh. This cannot be done without appearing callous because we are still in shock and mourning. But do we must if we want to begin the decisive end of the ISIS curse.
The introspection must begin from within. — Why does France get hit hardest among the European countries?
Muslims account for about 7.5% of the population of France. Proportional to total population, France has the largest number of Muslims in Europe. Marseille is at least 20% Muslim but up to 35% according to some sources. Paris is about 15% Muslim.
Most of the Muslims are of African or Arab descent, from the lands colonized by France. The French colonies included Algeria (1830-1962), Morocco (1912-1956), Tunisia (1956-1963), parts of Libya (1943-1951), Ivory Coast (1843-1960), Benin (1883-1960), Mali (1883-1960), Guinea (1891-1958), Mauritania (1902-1960), Niger (1890-1960), Senegal (1677-1960), Burkina Faso (1896-1960), Togo (1918-1960), Chad (1900-1960), Central African Republic (1905-1960), Congo (1875-1960), Gabon (1839-1960), Madagascar (1896-1960), Mauritius (1715-1810), Djibouti (1862-1977), Seychelles (1756-1810), Comoros (1866-1975) and Réunion (1710 till today).
This is a partial list, just to show the diversity within the non-native population of France. They are not evenly distributed in the cities and towns. Most of them live in Banlieues.
Banlieues are the suburbs around the major cities. They are mostly autonomous administrative entities, not a constituent part of the city proper. About 80% of the population of Paris lives in these suburban Banlieues. These can be rich, middle class or poor but since the 1970s the phrase le banlieues is used to describe the suburban low-income housing projects where the main dwellers are the immigrants and the French nationals of foreign descent. The banlieues are considered poverty traps, and thus the breeding grounds for anger. They are also the fertile recruitment pools for the likes of ISIS.
The second factor to consider is Laïcité, the official policy of secularism. Secularism should be the mainstay of a progressive state but it cannot be true secularism without certain degree of flexibility. For instance, prohibition of headscarves in the educational establishments doesn’t serve any useful purpose except for fueling the resentment among the disadvantaged segments of the population. In fact, if used tastefully, headscarf can be a good fashion statement, rather than a religious symbol.
Yet another factor is the stress on the purity of culture and language. For example, there is a government department dedicated to keeping the French language pure, which has objected to the growing use of the word ‘hashtag.’
Whether it is official policy of not, but what is expected of everyone is absolute, total assimilation. At least that is the impression one gets. There seems no tolerance for the overlap areas.
The ensuing sentiment after the Paris Carnage is that ‘if you don’t like it here, go elsewhere.’
But, where should they go? Many of these troubled segments of the population came generations ago and were not actually immigrants as France’s colonies were legally a part of France itself. By moving to France they were just moving from one area to another in the same country. It is their home and they have nowhere else to go. Their familial and linguistic roots are in France though their cultural makeup still retains some features of the past.
As the ongoing investigations into Paris Carnage show, some of the perpetrators came from the banlieues. The logical step here would be to screen the suspects and preempt the repetition of such incidents. But for that to happen, the community elders would have to play a pivotal role. However, the community elders and leaders cannot take up the job of de-radicalization of the community on their own because the sources of radicalization such as the frequent invasion of Muslim lands, the ongoing attempts to violently overthrow the sitting governments, and the hard approach to impose alien culture and systems on the Muslim countries are beyond their control.
Both the macro and micro dynamics must move simultaneously for mid- and long-term solutions. As long as the clumsy reshaping of Middle East remains in motion, the banlieues will keep churning out more recruits for ISIS.
The French premier has said that it is an act of war. Sure it is because ISIS has said that France will remain Target No. 1.
President Hollande has said: We are going to lead a war which will be pitiless.
Yes, France is at war and it must be a pitiless war. Nevertheless the pitilessness should be that of a surgeon with scalpel. Any reckless adventure will give quick boost to political popularity at home but lead to blowback.
For now, the whole world is with France and this moral capital needs to be spent wisely. France can lead the world efforts to start the process of extinguishing ISIS and whatever approach is followed, it must be based on the three principles of firefighting:
Yes, cool, smother and starve this inferno but in such a way that new fires don’t start.