Terrorist Attacks in Paris: Can Tragedy Bring Change?


The chaos is spreading from the Middle East into Europe.  An endless stream of unidentifiable refugees and migrants trudge through the Balkans toward the promised lands of Germany and Sweden. Fights are breaking out in refugee camps between national groups. Both the migrants massed near Calais trying vainly to enter Britain and the exasperated citizens of Calais are increasingly impatient and angry. National leaders who, with the vision of happy European integration on their minds, embraced and advocated the ideals of open borders and multiculturalism, are rudely awakening to their inability to cope.  And now Paris has suffered the sort of attacks that are familiar to Beirut or to Russia.

Yes, as Chris Floyd wrote, the West is reaping the whirlwind of its support for extremist violence.  But it is not time to tell the victims that they are to blame, especially when the main targets in Paris were young people relaxing on a Friday evening, too young to bear responsibility for the disastrous Western policies that have fostered madness in the Middle East for several decades.

The targeted assassination last January of staff members of Charlie Hebdo led to the slogan of solidarity, “We are all Charlie”. That slogan has become unpleasantly true: yes, we are all Charlie now. Anyone who, say, was enjoying a nice low priced meal in a modest Cambodian restaurant in the unpretentious 10th arrondissement could have been gunned down in cold blood, just like that.  The killers did not go after symbols of power, they went after anybody and everybody.  Their rampage targeted a neighborhood without tourist attractions, just ordinary café terraces known to be popular with young Parisians. It had to have been chosen by people who knew the terrain.

The big question is: what next? Will this fear cause people to wake up to reality and think clearly?

President François Hollande rapidly came on television obviously moved and trying his best to live up to the situation.  But he just doesn’t have it in him.  By stressing that now we are “at war”, President Hollande seemed to be mimicking the US reaction to 9/11.  But at war with whom exactly?  France has been a foremost supporter of the “Assad must go” line. Does France need to change wars?  Should it, could it, possibly change foreign policies?

President Obama went on television with statements of solidarity while the attacks were still going on.  These statements were naturally played up by media wishing to use these attacks to secure and strengthen current U.S. domination of French foreign policy.

Israeli condolences were quickly used by the usual commentators to stress that Israel understands us and stands by us, because Israel is a perpetual victim of such terror attacks, these days with “knife attacks…”

No, the attacks by desperate Palestinians are not the same as the gratuitous murders in Paris.  That claim is familiar: because of 9/11, and now because of November 13, we are all in the same boat with Israel, fighting the same enemy.  But which enemy, after all? The enemy of Israel is Hezbollah, which just suffered a devastating attack in Beirut from the same sort of people who massacred Parisians.  The enemy of Israel is Iran, which is fighting Daech.  Who is our enemy after all, and who is our friend?

More and more people can be heard daring to say: French media are totally Zionized.  The Israeli influence on the media is probably stronger in France than anywhere on earth – perhaps even than in Israel, where there is a critical newspaper, Haaretz, which says things no French newspaper would dare to say.

None of the media commentators observed that the Paris attacks resemble most closely the terrorist attacks that have been experienced by Russia.  Where was their sympathy for the victims of the Sinai air crash?  Or the children murdered in Beslan in 2006?  In Moscow, sympathetic Russians brought flowers to the French embassy, unreported by French media.

The media are stuck with their story of the big bad Putin and the big bad Assad. They are not easily willing to switch narratives and admit they got it all backwards. But events may force recognition of reality.

The big question is, how will France react?

Especially in the United States, it is quickly assumed that French authorities will react as hysterically and belligerently as their U.S. counterparts after 9/11, exploiting the horrendous events to throttle civil liberties and launch foreign wars. But there are reasons to hope that in France, cooler heads may prevail.  The emotional reaction to the tragic fate of the victims is no different.  But emotion need not prevent people from thinking clearly, even though it often does.  One can mourn and still use reason.

There will be a domestic reaction and a foreign policy reaction, closely related.

The Domestic Reaction

The first official reaction, Hollande’s declaration that “we are at war”, accompanied by ordering the Army to patrol the streets of Paris, is not particularly promising.  Soldiers in the streets are evidently intended largely to reassure the public (although not everyone feels reassured in the presence of all those firearms), but they can neither prevent suicide attacks nor get to the heart of the problem.  It is likely that anyone unfortunate enough to “look like” what police think a terrorist looks like will find himself stopped in the street or the train station and asked to show papers.  This may be unpleasant but it is not tragic if it stops there.

A bit worse is a demand being voiced to loosen the tight limits on policemen’s use of firearms.  In France, it is legally impossible for police to get away with murder as they do in the United States, and it is ardently to be hoped that things stay that way.

In the population, one predictable reaction is that anti-Muslim or even anti-Arab hostility may take the form of attacks on mosques or even on individuals. But Johnstone-Queen-Cover-ak800--291x450apprehension of that reaction, and measures to forestall it, are even more widespread.  Contrary to the impression often given by reports in US media, persons of Arab descent or Muslim persuasion are not all stuck in miserable suburban ghettos.   They are part of French society, and they were among the victims of the November 13 murders.  For all their faults, French media will join with French schools in efforts to prevent Islamophobia from rising dangerously.  It is obvious that mistreatment of Muslims would be the best possible gift to the extremists. As a practical matter, French investigators will need the help of the loyal Muslim population to help thwart terrorist attacks.

This latter task is indispensable.  It requires the attempt to understand what is behind the phenomenon – which does not mean finding excuses for it.  A certain leftist tendency to sympathize with every possible rebellion, regardless of its motivation or results, to see it as a justified reaction to oppression, is an unfounded, sentimental assumption that is going out of style.

Even if the Paris terrorists were as downtrodden as is claimed (which is questionable), there are many ways to react to inferior social status other than indiscriminate random massacres.  Afro-Americans can bear witness to that, and their oppression has been incomparably worse than the (illegal) discrimination suffered by French Muslims.   Unemployment, resulting in large part from economic policies imposed by the European Union, is affecting the entire youthful population, but especially persons with poor education and no connections.  The absence of decent work opportunities inevitably increases petty crime, and many of the eventual Islamic extremists were converted in prison.  These are social ills that need to be addressed by a radical return to the social policies that are being systematically eliminated by the current “Socialist” government.

Even so, comparison with many other periods of hard times should make it clear that outbursts of fanatic Islamist violence cannot simply be attributed to economic factors. The fundamental source of the murderous rage exhibited on November 13 is to be found in the Middle East. Daech, or Islamic State, or whatever you call it, acts as a beacon to young men, many of whom had already crossed the line into criminal activity, who need a justification for their lives and a channel for their feelings.  The justification is provided by images of people with whom they can identify: Palestinians in Gaza, families wiped out during wedding festivities by U.S. bombs, the humiliation of whole countries by arrogant Westerners.  Joining the Jihad against “the Western Crusaders” to establish a new “Caliphate” has a grandiose ring that appeals to both the best and the worst in certain susceptible individuals.

Those who have been branded as criminals and served prison sentences can feel redeemed by the illusion of ascribing to some transcendent virtue.  Just as Allah’s paradise sounds appealing, contemporary Western society – based on its commercial self-representation rather than on its reality, which these people scarcely know – can appear to be a cesspool of sin. The ideology of these Jihadists is a fanatic puritanism: they could coldly assassinate young people on café terraces or in a theatre because they had adopted an ideology that saw them merely as “sinners” against their almighty Allah.

This illusion is far from being restricted to the margins of French society. France, with its tradition of secularism and enlightenment, should be well equipped to combat this madness with reason and argument.  Instead, the recent trend has been to adopt the American habit of “not arguing about religion”, not even in the classroom when Muslim students reject evolution as contrary to the Koran.  True, France is noted for efforts to restrict certain Muslim customs, but leaves the ideas alone. The ideal of multiculturalism has become the enemy of reason.  It is forgotten that disputing an individual’s ideas is not a personal attack. Intellectual relativism, intended to foster brotherly love, leaves the door open to fanaticism.  Some things are true and some things are false, and the postmodern notion that each individual has “her own truth” means that in the end, not reason but force must prevail.

But again, the source of the murderous ideology behind the terrorist attacks lies in the Middle East and the dramas that have shaken the region for decades.

The International Reaction

The course of France’s reaction to November 13 in terms of foreign policy is uncertain.  Despite the momentary show of “national unity”, sharp divisions within the political elite are already visible.

President Hollande is a prime example of a current European leadership which has long since abandoned any effort at realistic strategic thinking, wrapped up as it is in budgetary woes and the obsession with “building Europe”, that is, the European Union.  International issues have been left to the Great Protector (Remember D-Day!), the United States, who is expected to save us from whatever chaos it creates.  Now is time to wake up.

The situation is complicated, but not at all impossible to understand, even though it makes no sense.

The chaos began in two places: Israeli conquest of Palestine, and U.S. exploitation of Islamic fanatics in Afghanistan to undermine the Soviet Union.  In order to combat Arab nationalism, considered its primary regional enemy, Israel was ready to welcome the growth of political Islam as a force to undermine the Arab nationalist, modernizing States of Iraq and Syria and, in its own way, Libya.  The United States duly undertook the destruction of these states, using “humanitarian” pretexts, urged on by Israel’s ardent supporters in the U.S. policy establishment, who sold government on media on the notion that Israel’s enemies were the enemies of the United States.  The Israeli role in these disasters is clear as day to just about everybody outside the United States itself.  By being exploited for U.S. or Israeli purposes, latent extremist tendencies were encouraged by victories, grew strong, and came to represent, in the eyes of many, the appropriate way to reject Western domination.

To make matters worse, Saudi Arabia joined in the fray, using its vast money surplus to build mosques and spread Wahhabi ideas from the Balkans to Nigeria. Saudi money supports various Sunni fanatic with the purpose of eliminating Shi’ite Islam and weakening its rival, Iran.  Since Israel also sees Iran as a major regional enemy, Saudi Arabia and Israel have become de facto regional allies, both with the support of the United States.

France is bound to Israel by the “bad conscience” fostered and promoted by media, personalities and politicians under influence of such organizations as the CRIF (Representative Council of French Jewish organizations).  It is bound to Saudi Arabia not only by oil but even more by the Saudi market for French military hardware.

To make a long story short, this screwed up system of alliances between opposites has led to a situation where “the West”, meaning the U.S., Britain and France, are at war against both sides of the conflict in Syria.   They are at least pretending to bomb the Islamic fanatics intend on destroying the Syrian State.  At the same time, they have themselves been trying to destroy the Syrian State by proclaiming that “Assad must go”.  They seem to imply that if Assad goes, Syria will still be there.  But in reality, Assad is above all the symbol and the unifying element in that Syrian State, whose army has kept fighting foreign-backed forces for four years despite heavy losses, and which still carries out its government functions.  Assad commands the respect and adherence of the Army and of the majority of the citizens remaining in what is left of that beleaguered country.  The war in Syria is simply the latest in a series of wars eliminating enemies of Israel and of Saudi Arabia, thanks to U.S. support.. Calling for Assad to “go” means calling for Syria to fall into pieces.

And who would pick up the pieces?

The country’s three hostile neighbors, of course: Turkey would take the North, Israel would take the Golan Heights (permanently) and perhaps more, while Saudia Arabia’s client fanatics would try to hand on to the rest, as conflict continues in Yemen and elsewhere.

Only Russia is acting clearly and rationally. It has intervened, legally, on the request of the Syrian government.  Russia is trying to save an existing state and block the further expansion of the Islamic fanatics, who are a known threat to Russia itself.

U.S. and Israeli leaders are hastening to envelop France in a “solidarity” intended to prevent the shocked country from escaping the embrace of its destructive alliance.  But sometimes a catastrophe can signal a turning point.

So what next?  France is already at war in Syria, but which war? After calling on President Hollande to show “national unity”, former President Nicolas Sarkozy called for alliance with Russia against Daech.  “There cannot be two coalitions in Syria”, he said.  Like Marine LePen, Sarkozy had already visited Moscow and called for better relations with Vladimir Poutine.  What this would mean for relations with NATO and the United States is unclear at this moment.

The European Union is also shaken by the spread of chaos from the Middle East. The Paris terrorist attacks are certain to dampen whatever enthusiasm there was about taking in masses of unidentified migrants from the Middle East.  Like Hungary and Austria, France has now closed its borders. Schengen (the EU agreement on borders) is kaput. What to do about the refugees is a question without any good answer.

The French left, in its present form, is on its deathbed.  Too much doctrinaire reliance on the EU and the euro, too much betrayal of the working class, too much pro-Israel influence, too much obedience to Washington, too much empty incantations about “multiculturalism”, too much censorship of debate and silencing of controversy, too much self-satisfaction in its own virtue.

The arrogance and dishonesty of the left is moving France inevitably to the right. But attention: the French right is still far to the left of the U.S. right, and even to much of the U.S. left in many key respects. Americans concerned with world peace should withhold their judgment of a country finally on the verge of challenging its foreign policy “made in USA”.

Diana Johnstone is the author of Fools’ Crusade: Yugoslavia, NATO, and Western Delusions. Her new book is Queen of Chaos: the Misadventures of Hillary Clinton. She can be reached at diana.johnstone@wanadoo.fr