Never in its history has France experienced in a single evening such a deadly attack on its soil. A first assessment reported more than 125 dead and hundreds injured in the series of coordinated attacks in Paris on November 13.
Unlike the attack against the Charlie Hebdo weekly and against the kosher store, these attacks targeted public places, chosen not for their symbolic character, but because it was a Friday night and they could claim a large number of victims. While it is normal in such circumstances that emotion dominates, this should not prevent us from analysing what happened.
Many commentators have pointed out that such attacks were expected and feared. On the morning of November 13, the daily Le Parisien reported that terrorism had become a major concern for the French. So why, despite all the proclamations on the “merciless fight” against terrorism, were we not able to prevent this massacre?
If France is a main target of such attacks, this is because it is (along with the United States) the country most engaged militarily abroad, from Mali to Syria, from the Central African Republic to Iraq. But its policy is incoherent and often aggravates conflicts, resulting in fuelling the phenomenon it says it is fighting.
For instance, French arms sales to countries in the region neither take into account their human rights record nor the fact that those countries contribute to the war.
Failure is obvious
Beyond that, we should make an assessment of the so-called war against terror launched after the September 11, 2001, attacks and relaunched after the capture of Mosul by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in the summer of 2014.
The failure of this war is obvious; never before have so many attacks been committed, often in Muslim countries. In recent weeks alone, there was a bombing in Ankara, an attack against a Russian plane over the Sinai and suicide attacks in a popular Beirut suburb.
Never have so many people, especially young people, been engaged in extremist groups, whether al-Qaeda or ISIL, convinced that they are taking part in a resistance against perceived international aggression against the Muslim world.
Never have so many people, especially young people, been engaged in extremist groups, whether al-Qaeda or ISIL…
Is it not time to think about the military dimension of this war? If it is necessary to eradicate ISIL, then we must move beyond ineffective bombing campaigns and prioritise political action to rebuild the Middle East which is caught in a spiral of chaos, especially since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
It is time to push all regional powers which, in their own way, have compounded the Syrian conflict. The Vienna talks, which saw the participation of all these powers, may mark a step in the right direction.
Risk is great
It is also high time to really push for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by putting an end to the Israeli occupation. Priority must be given to politics and diplomacy rather than bombs; this should be France’s strategy.
But the risk is great as Friday’s attacks will no doubt aggravate the rejection of the population perceived as “Muslim” and reinforce the country’s far-right party, the National Front, which has already been on the rise.
Other leaders are also capitalising on the rising sentiment of Islamophobia. Philippe de Villiers, president of the Movement for France, did not hesitate to attribute this “immense drama in Paris” to what he called the “mosquéisation” (the construction of many mosques) of France.
In the same vein, the mayor of Nimes, Jean-Paul Fournier, evoked a “civil war”.
There is no doubt that ISIL’s objective is to cause a split in French society and it is important not to fall into the trap.
Alain Gresh is deputy director of Le Monde Diplomatique and a specialist on the Middle East and editor of the magazine online OrientXXI.info.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.