Yet another wake-up call for France

Since the 1980s France and especially its capital have been the victims of a low scale terrorist campaign led by offshoots of Palestinians, Algerian and other Arab terror movements. From Rue Copernic to Rue des Rosiers and from Saint Michel station to Rue de Rennes, a number of foreign elements linked to Palestinian groups, Hezbollah and the Algerian GIA have waged terrorist attacks against French civilian targets. Due to its foreign policy and its international standing, Paris became in the ‘80s and ‘90s an extension of the Near Eastern and North African battlefields.

If French authorities have been partially successful in countering this set of threats, a new trend has been quickly emerging. It is no longer only foreign actors, with the intent to terrorize the French population to accomplish objectives linked to Middle Eastern conflicts, who are conspiring to hit France. What the Mohammed Merah affair has brought to light is that a generation of young French born and self-radicalized Muslims is developing an ensemble of sleeping cells all over the country.

These groups possess two core specifies: a lack of coherent strategy and an overwhelming will to cause mass casualties among French citizens.

These two characteristics should at no point be dissociated from the drastic rise of anti-Semitic attacks against Jewish communities in Paris and in the rest of the country.

The current Jihadi threat to French security finds its roots into a widespread social acceptance of violence and anti-Semitism. This climate is not only limited to radical environments where fundamentalists fantasize about the destruction of the Jewish State. A general climate of tacit approval has slowly emerged resulting in a shocking 45% rise of anti-Semitic attacks in 2012.

If in the ‘80s and ‘90s attacks on French soil could to some extent be linked to external events such as the civil war in Lebanon or in Algeria, today a self-sustained ideology of socio-political hate is being brewed in the country.

While magazines unambiguously sport on their front pages titles evoking the traditional stanzas of international conspiracy theories, informal conversations regarding politics and public life keep on focusing on which personality is Jewish and which isn’t. A certain degree of complacency is rapidly taking foot as anti-Semitism is becoming a part of normal events in public life.

As dangerous this situation may be, it is now being shadowed by the growing homegrown terrorist threat. The recent arrests and subsequent disruption of a major Islamist cell planning attacks in France should be perceived as a last chance for the French system to change its course.

It is no longer marginalized radical elements or foreign terrorists that plan on bringing death to Paris or other French cities, but integrated actors of the local society.

An example of this dangerous tendency can be found in Yann Nsaku. A young promise of French soccer who following an injury had to renounce to his sporting career, converted to Islam and joined a fundamentalist group planning attacks against Jewish communities.

Statistics also show that an increasing amount of Jihadis are converts recruited by fundamentalist preachers in French jails. This chilling fact underlines a major risk: young criminals sent to jail for non-terrorist related acts are increasingly exiting national detention facilities willing to sacrifice their lives to kill French citizens, to wage attacks on Jewish communities and to destabilize their country.

Apart from the Mohammed Merah intelligence fiasco, major terrorist attacks have been thwarted by French security services; the overall tendency must nevertheless be reversed.

The public complacency to anti-Semitism, the paranoiac need to maintain a politically correct discourse that does not address the core issues of the threat and the Republic’s incapacity to effectively tackle the sources of the problem make of the present climate of hate a high risk environment where fanatics are likely to find in social silence a degree of encouragement to their deviated believes.

It is the government’s duty to address this threat by aggressively limiting the scope of action radical imams and fundamentalist organization can have in prisons and in the civil society. It is the duty of the entire political class to defend religious freedom while providing law abiding French citizens with a certainty of security. It is the duty of the entire nation to rebuke anti-Semitism and conspiracy theories as the bases of a violent and heinous discourse aimed at bringing the country back to its darkest years.

If France keeps on ignoring these wake-up calls and does not change its current policies sooner or later the situation may deteriorate to unprecedented levels of social fragmentation and insecurity. 

About the Author
Riccardo Dugulin is an independant international affairs analyst. He holds a Master in International Security from the Paris School of International Affairs (Sciences Po) and has worked in leading think tanks in Washington DC, Beirut and Dubai and has held the position of security coordinator for a security assistance firm.