Dr. Walid Phares
France's War with Jihadis
October 16, 2008
France's war with the jihadis is more intense than most Americans or even
most Europeans would imagine.
With French troops engaging the Taliban in
Afghanistan often coming under attack, jihadist cells have started
targeting France as well as French presence in the Sahel, the north
In a recent interview with Parisian daily Le
Figaro, French Interior Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie, provided
During a recent lecture tour of Europe I had
the opportunity to meet with French defense and counterterrorism
officials as well as with legislators, particularly members of the
French National Assembly serving on the Afghanistan's committee.
According to Alliot Marie members of a
terrorist group in Central Asia have recently been arrested in Mulhouse,
in the east of France, where they were apparently undergoing military
This shows that active jihadist cells are
indeed deploying inside France as they are inside many other Western
European countries. The minister said: "I can tell you that 89 Islamic
activists were arrested in France in 2007."
Asked about the recruitment factories Alliot
Marie said, "French prisons are a place of privileged recruitment for
Islamist radicals. It's one of my concerns. I come moreover to propose
to my European counterparts to develop a handbook on Islamism in prison
to inform security professionals on how to detect and prevent this type
France's prison system is not that different
– in terms of incubator – from the United Kingdom or the United States.
The minister also indicated that "Certain
problem areas in our suburbs also remain choice target for Salafist
activities. The youth are then sent to theological education in the
Muslim world and attend Koranic schools, like the madrassas of Pakistan,
Egypt and Yemen."
Again, we can see clearly the nature of the
international system established by the jihadist Salafists which applies
in France, other European countries and in America as well. This
undermines the theories that the bulk of jihadist indoctrination system
is not unified nor is it universal.
For France, having the largest demography of
jihadist Salafists is revealing that the recruitment-indoctrination
process is somewhat comparable. Obviously, the language, local realities
are always different.
On another level, Alliot Marie listed names
for five countries described "at risk."
"Like Pakistan or Yemen, we do communicate,
in agreement with the airlines, the names and dates of departure and
arrivals of passengers reported as dangerous. We want to extend this
watch to other countries and to flights with a stopover, which would
prevent for example going through Switzerland when coming from Pakistan
in order to cover up tracks. Finally, we would like to know if
passengers travel alone or accompanied. It's important to prevent
hijacking of planes."
Such a statement is surprising as many
critics in the United States blast Washington for establishing lists of
passengers from countries at risk while claiming that Europeans do not.
Now we hear the French minister of interior clarifying that these lists
exist and that they are part of the French national security apparatus.
This demonstrates that the prevention policy in a country very sensitive
to civil liberties such as France, can work as a component of counter
Two other areas of confrontation with
al-Qaida are the Sahel in Africa and on the Internet.
The French minister said: "AQMIM threatens
today French interests throughout the Maghreb and its influence extends
to the Sahel."
She continued: "[A] more important danger is
that the terrorists have changed tactics. Several leaders of the Gulf
countries have confided in me that attacks organized well in advance are
yielding to opportunistic attacks, unplanned and committed by
individuals indoctrinated through the internet. These wannabe jihadists
are sometimes often don't even belong to. This new threat is therefore
much more difficult to identify and follow up on."
Here again, another ingredient calling for
attention internationally: what I have coined "Mutant Jihad" in my 2005
book "Future Jihad", which has been described as "homegrown terrorism,"
once again presents the feature of indoctrination as a root cause.
This finding by the French government should
give the counter terrorism community across the Atlantic more indicators
that the jihadist ideology remains in the center of the movement
globally, even if regional interests are signaled here and there.
But I must admit that the most indicative
statement made by Alliot Marie is her call to create a "handbook on
Islamism" to be used inside the prison system to allow authorities to
detect the growth of jihadist or Salafist ideology.
If anything, this bold move shows the
precariousness of the recently developed assertions - both in Brussels
and in Washington - that words that detect the ideology shouldn't be
used. Here we have the minister of interior of the French Republic - a
country that has more experience with Salafism than any other Western
nation - urging just the opposite: that is the production of a manual
that would precisely find and use all words possible that would help in
finding the radicals.
This comes as greater evidence that the
architects of the so-called Lexicon disseminated across the U.S.
bureaucracy is not only counterproductive, but is actually dangerous for
the efforts in counter terrorism to detect the enemy ideology.
While one of Europe's largest democracies is
heading toward winning that battle of words by actually using them and
understanding them, the most powerful democracy in the war on terror has
abandoned one of the most efficient tools to "see" the enemy, and to
educate its own public about it.
Note that the French minister uses these
terms in a very precise way. She used "Islamists" when needed and
Salafists when she wanted to be more specific about the doctrine.
In France, as I noted through my discussions
this summer and as we can read widely in the media and academia, the
terms jihadists, Islamists and Salafists are used with confidence and on
solid academic grounds.
Furthermore, French-Muslim intellectuals and
officials use these terms very naturally as these words are well
understood in the Muslim community of France, the largest in Europe,
unlike what some apologists claim in the United States: that these
words, allegedly, touches the sensitivities of the community. However,
the French use of these words is very focused and avoids the
hyphenations and generalizations, which can indeed have a negative
impact on the cultural dialogue.
conclusion, the French battle with Salafist jihadism is widening, though
not well publicized overseas. In the next months and years, it is
expected that escalation would covers the areas mentioned by the French
minister: Afghanistan, Sahel and North Africa as well as France itself.