French Identity Crisis: Are We Charlie or Islamist?
By Brett Daniel Shehadey
Special Contributor for In Homeland Security
France is calling for freedom and unity across the country after a brutal massacre of 12 people and a massive manhunt that saw two suspects killed in a hostage situation. After the vigils for the Charlie Hedbo victims, came the peace marches by hundreds of thousands, including world leaders.
The French, all over Paris and elsewhere, were caught chanting: “We are all Charlie Hebdo.” Yesterday there were 5.7 million Twitter messages counted that stated, “I am Charlie.” Headlines followed the massacre by stating that: “Liberty assassinated” and “Parisians will not be afraid.”
Cartoonists are chiming in to pay tribute by drawings that illustrate the deaths by the hands of Islamists and the looming conditions facing France, Islam and free speech.
The Eiffel Tower in Paris went dark in mourning along with the Statue of Liberty in the New York. Many Muslims and leaders around the world condemned the attack.
President Barack Obama, in his unannounced visit to the French Embassy, expressed: “…we stand united with our French brothers…we go forward together knowing that terror is no match for freedom and ideals we stand for…”
Charlie Hebdo magazine said that they will not back down after the massacre. They plan to increase circulation to 1 million for the next issue, instead of the average 60,000.
The latest terror in France is a direct assault on the French identity, which is highly satirical, critical and free in expression. It attempts to suppress criticism is a positive thing in French culture and so the contest becomes one of civil war between the French identify and the Islamists swelling within the ranks of French Muslims. Many experts have for some time anticipated an attack of this nature in France; most specifically in a manner of ideological and cultural civil war: which civilization will survive? Will France move from a position of submission to defiance?
In a counterstrike, it might be more powerful for a majority of the French people to send copies and publish more Mohammad cartoons rather than attend vigils—in a show of defiance. But the French people first chose to hold a vigil and say they stress a resistance of terror. Specifically, this is more than a resistance of terror and suspicion; at issue is the debate by action to the larger acceptance or rejection of the Islamist tyranny and censorship. If France does not publish more satirical Mohammad cartoons, they will have submitted.
Since the search for the fourth suspected female attacker, the French people have tried everything they can to avoid a greater entanglement of tensions with the Muslim communities. But that may not be possible. There are more than 700 Muslim French enclaves and many are cities of Muslim populations devoid of French customs, culture and even law. As the French gather to rally for peace, Islamist terror cells are being activated within the country. Jihadist groups like al-Qaida or ISIS prey on the disenfranchised French youths and many in the French Muslim communities.
An analysis of the French response to the jihadist massacre in France is important on many levels but also how the Western states like France must respond to defy religious threats and encroachments on secular liberal systems. On the one hand, there is the call for peace, but on the other hand, the state must be prepared to fight with an iron fist.
While the French have done the right thing to attempt peace with Muslims, they and the West have failed to preserve and uphold their right to satire against Islam and the Prophet, which is the centerline issue here, regardless of the obnoxious content of the cartoons. The television news media, it seems, continues to display the pictures of the attackers and quoted demands of the Islamist murderers every few hours after the attack, but does not put up the pictures of those that died expressing their freedom of speech or their work that provoked the attack. A better response would have been to air the message of the Charlie Hebdo artists on the hour for several minutes. It would have been better to draw out the radicals and deal with them rather than wait for another surprise attack at some later date. Moreover, the message of defiance should be stronger than the message of mourning. And the television news media has been complicit in sending the exact message that the terrorists murdered for without the message of the frontline cartoonists that were killed.
Positive responses are also seen in the French security efforts to apprehend the suspects. The mobilization of security forces took more than two days and more than 80,000 people to get two murderers. Two suspects were killed and the hostages they abducted were freed with minor casualties. Victory was theirs but at a high cost and one that tempts delusions of perceiving triumph over only a small ambush where a larger war exists. So, on the political and tactical levels, the operations were fairly good but on the sustained planning side of France’s long-term homeland security and counterterrorism, there were, and remain, many problems. In fact, France has so many Jihadists, more than 700 have left to fight in Syria alone. There are so many that the counterterrorism officials have a difficult time screening and tracking them. Just before the Charlie Hebdo massacre, there were several foiled terrorist attacks. They need to work closer with the Americans and allies and after this incident, they likely will. Terrorist cells are activated, according to sources but the problem is determining what strategic targets are vulnerable as well as targets of opportunity. In France, the security environment is such that the jihadists somehow have automatic Kalashnikov rifles were such laws prevent their existence as illegal but the French citizens are unarmed prey.
As for the bigger picture, all that France has proved up to this point is that it supports Charlie Hebdo but does not proliferate its work post-mortem. In effect, the French satirical identity and critical element have been further suppressed while they claim they will not ‘cower.’ Moreover the news does not help by continually showing pictures of Islamist martyrs and their message, which is exactly what they sought to achieve from the latest attack. So in conclusion, at this very day and at this very hour, France has failed to truly retaliate against Islamists and remain true to their core by doing this the French Way. Instead, they seek not to provoke their enemy, at least, not to provoke them too much (which is very un-French).
France’s recognition and participation of the larger jihadist war is clearly be reevaluated and their response to the recent massacre is still pending. To preserve the French identity they will have to fight with words as well as weapons. Like President Obama expressed in solidarity with the French, their culture and way of life: “Vive la France.”
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