They are more European than the European Union, and by taking full advantage of a continent without borders, and blighted by poor coordination on law enforcement and intelligence, they have created a monster: the Europe of jihadists.
The very nature of Europe has been brought into question by the Paris attacks, and this morning’s deadly anti-terror raids in Saint-Denis, the epicenter of the French capital’s troubled immigrant-populated suburbs.
Suddenly the French and their European neighbors are realizing with disbelief that the terrorists behind last Friday’s carnage in central Paris, and the failed attempt to create a spectacular scene of mass murder at the Stade de France, are homegrown mass killers, who have been merrily criss-crossing the continent between Belgium and France, or Greece and other countries on the way back from Syria.
If indeed , the so-called ‘brains’ behind the November 13 attacks, a psychopath who revels in spilling the blood of ‘infidels’ and possibly is responsible for a series of fatal assaults before and after the Charlies Hebdo massacres, was holed up in Saint-Denis this morning, the question asks itself: how did one of the world’s most wanted terrorists slip in to France undetected?
“The perpetrators of the attacks are Europeans, Belgians and French,” says French-Iranian sociologist Farhad Khosrokhavar, author of ‘Radicalisation’, and director of studies at Paris’s EHESS (Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales).
“They come from the “banlieues” (suburbs) in France and their equivalent in Belgium. They are motivated by an unquenchable hate for the Europe that has given birth to them, and more or less badly educated them.
“This is the Europe of terrorists and in a perverse sense these terrorists are more European than the Europeans: they have created the Europe of Jihadists when Europe cannot even equip itself with a police force and a unified intelligence agency.
“This hate encompasses all of Europe. It knows no national borders, making all Europeans a target in their will to punish.”
Khosrokhavar, who makes these arguments in an article in Le Monde available only to subscribers and in French, writes that Europe is home to a “jihadist reserve army whose members are the young underclass of the suburban centers or the poor inner-cities.”
“In the short-term we can fight this reserve army with arrests and prison terms, but long-term we must neutralize them with socio-economic measures, and bring them out of the ghetto to invent a new mode of urban living and socialization….”
These young people identify with Jihadism less for religious reasons than for reasons of identity. Islam has become a symbol of resistance for them when no other ideology can supply the same kind of “soul” or notion of the “sacred” especially when the appeal of other ideologies such as the extreme left’s, has been exhausted.
Despite his critiques of the European model of integration, Krosrokhavar says the fight against ISIL and its global army of 25,000 roaming jihadists must be taken to the source: the territories of Iraq and Syria where the “truant state’’ rules, with its billions of dollars, and an administration and propaganda apparatus that easily beats Al-Qaida’s.
Beaten down by failures in Afghanistan and Iraq, the US has refused to send in ground troops, while Europe, resigned to its “secondary status” has not had the necessary political unity to destroy the so-called Islamic State.
“But we must move past this feeling of collective impotence and take the draconian measures needed to annihilate ISIL on its own territory,” the sociologist insists.
The inescapable suburban origins of the francophone terrorists behind last Friday’s carnage in Paris raised uncomfortable questions about how Europe can have been the birthplace, home, and educator of young people who can be lured by the globalized death cult of ISIL, then make the cross-over to massacring civilians on their home soil.
I covered the French suburban riots ten years ago almost exactly, and in some respects these attacks are the fruit of those riots. This is not to suggest that more money thrown at the suburbs will help. But the ghetto must be blown up metaphorically.
Which brings the discussion to Belgium.
The Belgians, who have been again exposed as Europe’s most dangerous hotbed of jihadism and arms trafficking, have major work to do not just on the policing and intelligence front and their not being capable of sharing information with the French or even the different language groups in their poorly governed nation.
For too long they have turned a blind eye to the most extremist ideologies and practices within their midst. Or as the Belgian writer Pierre Mertens declared today: the Belgium of Molenbeek (the Brussels suburb that has been home and “jihadi base” to several of the Paris attackers and others) has for too long “been servile to the intolerable.”
For years police have ignored juvenile delinquency in disadvantaged Muslim-majority areas like Molenbeek, and how quickly it can be transformed into jihadi crimes. The district has become a haven for fundamentalism, prayer halls where Imams and faithful celebrate only the myths of holy warriors, and even a no-go zone.
Again as with the current refugee crisis, and following the Greek and European currency and economic crisis, Europe has been abjectly incapable of cooperating.
Alain Bauer the French criminologist and close adviser formerly to President Nicolas Sarkozy and now Prime Minister Manuel Valls, said scornfully that France was now caught in a cycle akin to the Maginot line. Before World War II Paris thought it could build a wall across its territory to seal it off from Nazi aggression, without completing the security barrier to seal off the routes between France and Belgium. The strategy spectacularly failed in 1940, when the Germans blitzkrieg approach meant they invaded Belgium then swept downwards to France.
“The French are very good at spying on the French and foreigners in France, but not abroad, and the Belgians evidently have exactly the opposite problem!” Bauer said.
France is absolutely right to insist the Europeans help them to battle the terrorist threat, with funds so they can afford to massively increase policing and intelligence, and also military aid. The Europeans refused to do much to help when France valiantly stepped in to the Sahel region in Africa around Mali to fight terrorist cells there back in 2013, an operation that continues.
When it comes to Assad’s Syria and ISIL, France has been more courageous and hawkish, willing to take risks in trying to destroy the quasi-state than the other Europeans–and of course than the US–thus making themselves more of a target.
We cannot leave them to fight the good fight almost alone.