How serious is France about the war against Muslim terror?

The whole of France -- and by extension Europe – its population and culture, is under attack.  There needs to be a master plan.

Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld

OpEds Manfred Gerstenfeld
Manfred Gerstenfeld
Manfred Gerstenfeld

Many tough words have been used by President François Hollande and other French leaders after the terrible massacres in Paris on November 13. "Even if France is wounded, she will rise," Hollande said. "Even if we are in grief, nothing will destroy her.” He also called the massacres an “act of war.”[1] Prime Minister Manuel Valls said “we are at war.” The government has also called a state of emergency which it now wants to extend for three months.

The French government gives the impression that it is going to undertake a huge program to fight the Islamic State. French planes have already bombed the Syrian city Raqqa, the de facto capital of the organization. As an aside one might mention here that a summer 2014 poll found that 16% of the French population viewed ISIS favorably at that time.[2] 

France or indeed any other country going to war, has to assess the battlefield. In a post-modern society this is radically different from classic warfare, as it is not limited to a geographically defined area. The battlefield includes a disparate collection of many individuals with seditious intentions. Radical Muslim ideology is widespread in France and elsewhere in Western Europe. The Islamic State variant is just one among several others.

Some of the terrorists came from the Molenbeek quarter, a radical Muslim hotbed in Brussels. The Belgian government has admitted that it has lost control over the area.[3] France has temporarily closed its borders.  However, instituting permanent border controls is a prerequisite in any effective fight against radicalized Muslims. Such a measure will inevitably undermine the Schengen open borders agreement, one of the major achievements of the EU.

France’s leaders have given no indication, in what we have heard from them thus far, that the country intends to deal with the entire battlefield. On the contrary, after the January 2015 murders of the Charlie Hebdo journalists and the Jews in the Hyper Cacher supermarket,
Hollande nonsensically claimed that when a Muslim with intent to murder shouts “Allahu Akbar” as a battle cry it has nothing to do with Islam
Hollande stated: “these fanatics have nothing to do with the Muslim religion.”[4] He thus nonsensically claimed that when a Muslim with intent to murder shouts “Allahu Akbar” as a battle cry it has nothing to do with Islam. Valls spoke more truthfully when he commented on the minority ghettoes at the time. He said that there is a “territorial, social, and ethnic apartheid” separating these neighborhoods from the rest of France.[5]

These attacks pose a problem far greater than that faced in January this year, as the target is clearly no longer limited to journalist and Jews. The whole of France -- and by extension Europe – its population and culture, is under attack.  

Problems in the French Muslim community have multiple aspects, as for instance pointed in a study by Gilles Kepel.[6] It is probable that only a small percentage of the anti-democrats among the Muslims in France currently harbor terrorist intentions. However, many more are susceptible to radicalization, and therefore must be seen as potential terrorists. Convincing a few more French Muslim leaders to condemn the murders is not going to help much. The real postmodern war against violent and other antidemocratic Muslims requires a master plan that goes far beyond interim measures such as the closure of radical mosques.

This means reclaiming the lost territories in French cities and society, a move tantamount to the elimination of defined urban areas currently ruled, to all intents and purposes, by Sharia law, where French law has been marginalized. It would mean the end of “no go zones” where the police can only enter in large numbers on an ‘ad hoc’ basis.

To state explicitly that government control would have to be restored in self-contained Muslim enclaves would verge on the sacrilegious for a socialist politician in France. This is not the result of a conspiracy of silence on the part of the French government and politically correct media. Such avoidance has its origins in something more insidious: a sanitization of public expression encouraged by the establishment’s main actors, both social and political.

The absence of any clear mention of problems specifically related to the French Muslim population and to Islam, allows for the fallacious belief that such problems are not major.  

In order to fight the war it has declared against terrorism, the government has to define the battlefield. This requires statements which, within the French context, would be extreme. They boil down to: ‘In order to effectively fight the Islamic State, we have to reassess systematically what is wrong in French society, with a strong emphasis on its Muslim component. We are going to deal with these problems come what may, and however long it takes, in a systematic way. We know that if we don’t do so we are asking for even more trouble.’  

In France there are important forces which are not part of the establishment, which may have been propelled forward by the massacres. The main one is Marine le Pen’s right wing National Front party. Its leaders have no problem in pointing out their very different and sometimes racist views of what is wrong in French Muslim society.

It may still be too early to see a further popular swing toward the party in the upcoming regional elections at the beginning of December. But even shortly before the massacre, Le Pen was leading in the polls for the first round of the 2017 presidential election, ahead of the Republicans’ Nicolas Sarkozy. Hollande was behind in third place, and according to the polls, would not make it to the second round.[7] This is an additional incentive for him to take matters far more seriously in the current crisis than he has done so far.

By observing whether the battlefield has been correctly addressed, as time passes political observers will be able to judge the extent to which the French government is serious about dealing with and preventing terrorism. As far as Israel is concerned: if France acts as it should do for its own security, then it should be more difficult for its government to come up with further disturbing posturing in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and condemnations of Israeli actions against terrorists.

If France does not act, Israel can only emphasize that France’s policies have led to a far greater Muslim-perpetrated massacre in Paris, than has ever occurred in Israel. If Hollande is serious, the French intelligence services would do well to come to the only democratic country in the Middle East for more sophisticated advice. Israel has successfully developed detailed intelligence methods over the years to avoid such massacres, dealing with a constant threat of many willing Palestinian and to a lesser extent local Muslim perpetrators.


[1] “Hollande : "C'est un acte de guerre commis par une armée terroriste, Daech",”  France 24, 14 November 2015

[2] Madeline Grant, “16% of French Citizens Support ISIS, Poll Finds,” Newsweek, 26 August 2014

[3] Von Christoph B. Schiltz, Brüssel, "Hier fallen islamistische Terroristen nicht auf," Die Welt, 15 November 2015

[4] “12-French forces kill newspaper attack suspects, hostages die in second siege,” Reuters, 10 January 2014.

[5] Sylvia Zappi, “Manuel Valls, l’apartheid et les banlieues”, Le Monde, 26 January 2015. [French]

[6] Luc Bronner, “La place croissante de l'islam en banlieue”  Le Monde, 4 October 2011. [French]

[7] Raheem Kassam, “Marine le-Pen Tops Another French Presidency Poll,” Breitbart , 13 November 2015.