In March 2012 in South West France, Mohamed Merah killed three soldiers and three Jewish children and a teacher. There are many parallels between this and the January killings in Paris.
In both cases the killers were young French Muslims; they killed first people connected with the State, and then people who were Jewish. The killers were themselves killed, and before their death they gave interviews to television stations where they said they were motivated by France’s foreign policy. Each time official reaction was that they were criminals motivated by religious fanaticism and a hatred of civilised values. Each time the government declared a minute’s silence to be observed nationally for the victims. Each time a number of school pupils refused to obey.
Connection with the State
In Merah’s case, the victims were soldiers. In Paris the victims were the editorial board of a magazine. The magazine was connected with the State because it had an aggressively racist and anti-Muslim line which needed and got police protection. Its line of open Islamophobia gave a justification for the government’s aggression against the Muslim and Arab world, which is the reason, presumably, why it got police protection. It was a political choice. In 2012 because of cartoons published by the magazine France was obliged to close embassies, schools and cultural centres in 20 countries. Banning the magazine would have furthered the cause of peace and the cause of France. It’s not as if banning is impossible since a few months later shows of the comic Dieudonné were banned. The government chose to support the magazine instead. Further proof of this state sponsoring is that the government paid for the publication of 7 million copies, complete with more offensive cartoons. The enemy is weak and despicable and not worthy of respect was the message.
Foreign policy motivation
The killer, Mohamed Merah, said that he was avenging the law against wearing the burqa, the participation of France in the war of Afghanistan, and the children killed in Gaza. He said that to a journalist of France 24 television which he had contacted before his flat was surrounded.
One of the Paris killers had given an interview to BFMTV hours before he was himself killed; he said he had become motivated by seeing the American intervention in Iraq in 2003, and the torture of prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison.
France did not participate in the American-British war in Iraq in 2003. But it has since then joined this alliance and contributed to the destruction of several countries in the Middle East and North Africa. How can the about 6 million Arab and Muslim people in France be expected to witness this destruction without feeling involved? The consequences of these wars are felt in France, much more so than in America.
It is easy to forget that there was a time when France had a foreign policy which turned away from attacks on Middle Eastern countries. In 2003 Jacques Chirac refused to join the Americans and British in attacking Iraq. France was vilified then (remember the “Freedom Fries”, the “Cheese Eating Surrender Monkeys”). Today the Iraq war is almost universally seen as an unmitigated disaster and the reason given for starting it (Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction) is now known to have been a complete fabrication.
If others had followed the French lead, we would not be in such a dangerous world today, where one war follows another without an end in sight, and the break up in the world is reflected in the break up of French society. Instead the French joined the Americans and British in their wars. Indeed in the case of Libya, they led the attack.
The attack on Libya created unanimity among all the political parties.
Why this unanimity? Of course there is the unanimity created by an appeal to the emotions: we must save these people in Benghazi from being massacred. These emotions do not last; very soon they evaporate, and a few months later, who remembers what the situation was that necessitated our involvement? The media does not ask if these people we wanted to save were actually saved, and at what cost. There was an extensive inquiry after the Iraq war but it is doubtful if the present roller coaster of urgent aggressions will stop to make time to inquire about the war against Libya.
One worry that lasts on the other hand is the one about the economic and financial crisis. The French are worried that the government seems unable to do anything about it. The bankers receive bailouts and then continue their activities as before. Politicians are also helpless in the face of deindustrialisation. Hollande visits stricken industrial sites, promises to save them, and they promptly close forever.
The one field where the government seems able to act effectively is in foreign policy. Hollande’s popularity, at an all time low, rose by 20 points after the Paris killings. The last time such a jump occurred in presidential popularity was at the time of the first Gulf War.
Thanks to Sarkozy the Chinese were driven out of the Libyan oil fields by French fighter planes. One can but suspect that French people are aware of the material advantage to themselves of this result. Hence the lack of a political movement to protest against the crimes and atrocities involved. We are stronger militarily, so we get the contracts, and there is no more to be said.
And we still justify using superior force towards the providers of raw materials with the same old argument that their civilisation is inferior to ours—they don’t have democracy, they treat women badly, they don’t respect human rights, and they take religion seriously.
The French of almost every description display narrow self-interest when it comes to foreign policy. Owning the resources of Algeria was once too precious to abandon just because the Algerians wanted independence, after fighting with France for democracy in WW2.
When Algeria was a colony, “part of France”, when people said that “the Mediterranean flows through France like the river Seine through Paris”, the Algerian post war struggle for independence found no support even among the virtuous WW2 Resisters, Communists or Gaullists. They were only brought round when the war was almost won and the terrorist group fighting to keep Algeria French (the OAS) intensified a bombing campaign in Paris.
At the time of the Merah killings, Froggy hoped that if France will not return to a peaceful foreign policy, weaker countries would find someone to defend them. Russia and China might help return us to a more pacific situation; they might play a role as brake on war mongering by acting as protectors for weaker states who are potential victims of aggression. Otherwise we will continue in a war-infested world, and a Europe where acts of violence mirror those committed by Europeans and Americans in the Middle East.
Two years later America and Europe have brought war to Russia’s immediate neighbour, and created an even more dangerous world.
France has changed its foreign policy since 2003; but those who upheld a policy of alliance with the Middle East and Russia are still there and there is still a modicum of discussion
Froggy will end with a summary of these discussions in order to give a more positive idea of France, rather than mention the absurdity of ‘the defence of free speech’ (Raif Badawi, Dieudonné, Alain Michel) and the defence of ‘civilised values’ (childish salacious cartoons mentioned in the same breath as Voltaire).
Because the state sponsored the Charlie Hebdo provocation, the state stepped in when the provocation had the expected result. (The magazine had tweeted days before the killings: ‘2015: No attacks yet!’). The state stepped in to say: “We were right to sponsor this stuff, and we will continue to do it” and it called on the population to approve.
The population approved. Obviously not the part of the population that suffers anti-Islam abuse; they were told clearly that they would have to continue suffering it, several million times over. Not just in 60,000 copies of a little read magazine, but in 7 million copies of blasphemous cartoons, and more to come.
The state stepped in quickly and with massive force, all media were mobilised and Western and other leaders invited. It did this in order to stifle public discussion of possible reasons for these attacks, and to impose one reading: forces of evil were at work against Western values.
Other possible interpretations
There were other possible interpretations, which had to be kept out of sight and mind.
The National Front, credited with the support of 30% of the population, says that the attacks (and other more minor ones last December) are due to uncontrolled immigration and to French foreign policy. The National Front General Secretary, Nicolas Bay, said (16.1.15, after the events, but similar things were said before):
“By following the irresponsible chaos strategy dictated by the short term interests of the United States, our leaders have methodically eliminated or weakened all those who in the land of Islam still managed to contain fundamentalism. It is the price of these irresponsible policies that we are paying today.”
The National Front was therefore excluded from the Paris march, which had been called by the Socialist Party. Marine Le Pen marched in a small provincial town instead.
Besides the National Front other personalities had voiced similar opinions on major radio stations. For example after three more minor incidents in December when several people lost their lives, Alain Marsaud, ex judge of terrorist cases and now MP for the French abroad in Africa and the Middle East, said on December 23 on Europe 1 (one of the popular radio stations), that French policy in Iraq would lead to attacks on French soil. Mentioning the forthcoming vote on 13 January for the continuation of French intervention in Iraq, he said he would vote against, and predicted he would be the only one to do so. (In the event he was absent that day, and another UMP deputy was the lone voice against.)
Marsaud said also that jihadist sites would have an appeal as long as France offered nothing to its young people to aspire to. He refused to vote a law to stop these sites, saying that this was not the way to go about reducing their popularity. France had to stop bombing in Iraq, and offer a future to its young men.
The lone ‘no’ voter on the 13th January, Jean-Pierre Gorge, interviewed on Europe Matin two days after the vote, asked the question, why the young French were attracted by fundamentalism, and what was France offering them as an alternative? Gorge said France should stop playing the gendarme of the world.
Before the march, on 10 January, Europe 1 in its usual Saturday lunchtime debate between journalists discussed the negative consequences of France’s interventions in the Middle East. One journalist said:
“When you talk with young Muslims, whether in Beirut, Damascus or Baghdad, they say to you, when you have gained their confidence: “You come here, you destroy our system, you shouldn’t be surprised if we come to your country to destroy your system.”
The journalist continued:
“Some heads of state allied to us feed international terrorism, like Saudi Arabia. We die, but who else dies before us? Other Muslims, Shiites or Sunnis, and they die by the hundred, not a dozen. Some say we shouldn’t be in the Middle East. Some say Chirac was right; he said, if we remove Saddam Hussein we will open a Pandora’s box and create terrorism. This is what has happened. Al Qaida did not exist when the US invaded. We have continued to destabilise the Arab world with our intervention in Libya. We are paying for this intervention. We had prepared nothing for what would happen after the bombing, and now it’s chaos and a breeding ground for terrorism. The present situation is the result of very grave mistakes committed.”
The journalist is not anti-government however; his conclusion is that in 2015 we must intervene, in places where 15 years ago we should never have gone. The Saturday debate the following week made similar points.
Given that these ideas, both from journalists and from the National Front, are expressed and heard, how come so many people supported the government march?
They supported it because they were giving way to their emotions, rather than thinking. The only political party that consistently opposes aggressive foreign policy is the National Front, and they were silenced on that occasion, and many don’t want to agree with the National Front as a party, even if they agree with part of what they say. There are no other significant political parties challenging the government on foreign policy.
There are individual voices. François Fillon, a possible presidential candidate for 2017, gave an interview to Le Monde on 21 January saying that Western policy in the Middle East was a failure, and that France must talk with Russia and Iran if it wants to solve its problems. We can only hope his voice becomes dominant.