When I was leaving Paris at the end of October 2005 after a visit to France, I had two things in mind: First, I had seen the beginning of the urban intifada, which would soon engulf about two hundred cities and towns. Second, I was able to have my book Future Jihad received by Minister of Interior Nicolas Sarkozy. And as my plane was taking off, I concluded that the jihadi “invasion” of France’s cities would lead to a French popular response. This Sunday’s presidential election epitomized this reaction, and Nicolas Sarkozy embodied it.
This striking electoral victory by the son of an immigrant is the result of the French public’s rejection of a slow decay that has been eroding the foundations of the Fifth Republic for years, some would say even since its inception in 1958. Without any doubt, the country’s economic insecurity and a need for change were among the reasons for Sarkozy’s electoral success. He promised a third path between the rigid left-wing agenda and Chirac’s stagnant economics. Many civil societies in Europe wish to escape the choice between Socialism and capitalism. European voters and French ones in particular, have desperately been trying to communicate this to their politicians since the end of the Cold War.
But Sarkozy’s victory is also a response to another desperate plea from the peoples of Europe, and from the French silent majority in particular: Please resist the rise of terror that is the urban jihad. This Sunday’s vote, and the presidential primaries, were also — even mostly — about this latent worry, even if the political and media elite attempted to ignore it. When given the opportunity, French electors responded to the elite’s tergiversation on the perceived threat to democracy and security.
THE RISE OF TERROR
Since the 1970s, France has been a target for terrorist activities. Left-wing, right-wing, and Middle Eastern-rooted groups attacked the country and were fought fiercely by the government. As of the early 1990s, French urban centers began to witness the rise of radical Islamist networks. Migrating from the Maghreb (northwest Africa) and other regions, Salafi clerics and militants promoted jihadism around Paris and many other cities. By the end of the decade, many suburban zones were practically ruled by powers parallel to the state.
Inaugurated by Charles de Gaulle in the 1960s, the “politique Arabe de la France” (Arab policy of France), meant in practice an accommodation by Paris to the wishes of foreign powers providing cheap natural resources to the country’s industrial complex. Very smartly, the domestic jihadi web positioned itself under the umbrella of the French Oil interest and multinational corporations; radical clerics were financed by Saudi and other Arab regimes, spreading Wahhabism and Salafism across the country. Any interference by French authorities would “hurt” the relations with Petrol-regimes and thus would have a negative effect on the “economic benefits” to the country. Moreover, high-profile politicians, including President Chirac, were accused of becoming personal friends with Middle Eastern financial empires.
The silent majority in France was powerless against the rise of the extremists in the banlieues (suburbs) and throughout the provinces. The average French voter grew frustrated with these two political options and was not willing to support Le Pen’s extreme positions. Popular dismay was exacerbated as the “parallel society” of radicals expanded in urban France. Within those enclaves, the Salafis were profiting from the void. Wherever French police and social workers couldn’t go, jihadi cells would mushroom. The combination of areas ruled by Imams and migrant terror-networks was explosive: In the fall of 2005, it did explode, right in the face of French citizenry.
THE FAILURE OF APPEASEMENT
After the September 11 attacks in the U.S., most Europeans worried that the same could happen to them. The European elite, however, largely dismissed the possibility, arguing that America brought the attacks upon itself by means of its foreign policy. Soon enough, Western Europe felt the ire of al Qaeda and its ilk: the Madrid train attacks on March 11, 2004, the London subway killings on July 7, 2005, and the assassination of Van Gogh on November 2, 2004, in Amsterdam were the most visible of the continental ghazwas (Jihadi raids).