ISIL and the danger to ‘French values’

Calls for a renewal of ‘French roots’ are tantamount to opposing a multicultural, transnational and progressive society.

An alleged jihadist is escorted by French police onto an airplane bound for Paris [EPA]

Maxime and Michael beheaded Abdulrahman, not the other way around. The news that two French citizens were among the ISIL fighters who killed a US aid worker in Syria, Abdulrahman (Peter) Kassig, created a shock that still resonates in French public opinion. France woke up with the faces of Maxime Hauchard and Michael Dos Santos, both 22 years old, both radically different from the traditional cliches of terrorists constructed by extreme right movement advocates such as Eric Zemmour and diffused by French media over the last decade.

Maxime Hauchard was born in Bosc-Roger, a small city in Normandy, like so many other small French cities. He was raised in a traditional French family far from the largely immigrant-populated banlieues regularly pointed at by the Front National as a danger for “French values“.

Michael Dos Santos was a devout Catholic who attended mass regularly until 2009. His grandmother immigrated to France half a century ago. Before he fell for the sectarian YouTube propaganda, Michael was a street dance adept and a tectonic music fan like many French teenagers. Neither Maxime nor Michael fit the simplistic description of the “dangerous Muslim immigrant” that Marine Le Pen enjoys stigmatising in her populist speeches.

Overblown and multiplied

According to the French government, 376 French citizens are currently among ISIL ranks in Syria and Iraq, and twice as many have either been involved or willing to participate in this movement. While those numbers are high, they should be compared with the estimated 15,000 “foreign fighters” from 80 countries within ISIL ranks according to the United Nations. France is not particularly more impacted by the phenomenon than its neighbours.

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Yet those numbers have been regularly overblown and multiplied fourfold by Marine Le Pen. In order to legitimatise her short-sighted calls for protectionism and nationalism, the Front National leader also claims that most jihadists are recent migrants and dedicated Islamists, brainwashed by local mullahs in the French mosques that she would immediately close if she were in power.

This simplistic and erroneous discourse is aimed at gathering support by blaming any societal and economic distress on the specific features of a minority, a tactic already used several times by fascist movements throughout the 20th century.

Unfortunately for Le Pen, Hauchard and Dos Santos do not fit that description. As most ISIL recruits, they did not follow predatory mullahs in local mosques but instead they naively followed propaganda videos online. They were neither bi-nationals nor raised in the Muslim faith, thus undermining Le Pen’s theory of a correlation between immigration and terrorism.

Jihadists like Maxime and Michael are instead representatives of the failures of a Republican model that struggles to survive the recurrent attacks from populist parties such as the Front National. The brand of nationalism promoted by Le Pen has constantly undermined and weakened the capacity of the French process to integrate minorities.

Acts of terror committed by ISIL fighters must not be interpreted as Muslims waging a war against other religions. Much like ISIL, the Front National refuses cooperation between civilisation, diversity or interbreeding.

Community antagonism

Far from fighting groups such as ISIL, Le Pen’s oft-repeated rhetoric contributes to the development of extremist behaviour. Not only did the extreme right contribute to societal radicalism by blowing on the ashes of community antagonism, but a closer look at the Front National’s recent history underscores the tacit links with radical Islamic movements. Dieudonne, the infamous French stand-up comedian who was charged several time for anti-Semitism and radicalism since he converted to Islam, is so close to the Le Pen family that he chose Jean Marie Le Pen to become the godfather of his daughter.

Acts of terror committed by ISIL fighters must not be interpreted as Muslims waging a war against other religions. Much like ISIL, the Front National refuses cooperation between civilisation, diversity or interbreeding. Nationalism and religious sectarianism share a common structural perspective: The temptation to remain isolated and to impose one’s vision over all others.

According to Le Pen, immigration fuels global terrorism but this is pure nonsense. The reason why nationalistic movements struggle to capitalise on sectarian terrorism is because both stem from the same ideological cradle. When the Front National leader calls for a renewal of French roots and traditions, she is also advocating against the development of a multicultural, liberal, transnational and progressive order.

When a US-born Muslim convert was executed by his jailers, it was this very multi-identity that was shattered by obscurantism and sectarianism. Similarly, when an immigrant who crosses the frontier with the hope of contributing to the growth of a society is rejected by nationalistic hatred, it is the same ideal that is overshadowed. Le Pen’s strategy is to condemn ISIL’s actions while framing the conflict into a religious war. But in truth, whether nationalistic or sectarian, the structure and beliefs of this sectarianism are very similar.

Remi Piet is Assistant Professor of Public Policy, Diplomacy and International Political Economy at Qatar University.

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