By Luc Debieuvre
March 1, 2015
Terrorist violence spreading across Europe has reignited a debate about Islam and democracy in the worst possible way. In castigating “Islamic terrorism”, which soon became “Islamofascism” and then a bunch of beliefs opposing “Judeo-Christian values and democracy”, analysts make two significant mistakes: confusing the people, and nurturing self-deception on what is actually taking place in the Middle East — more precisely in Iraq and in Syria.
It is a fact that those who have carried out terrorist acts these past few weeks claimed to be Muslims. But what kind of Islam they practice is another story. The religious competence of the cruel people who burn alive captives in a cage, not to mention zombies who only know of Islam through the teachings of unqualified “imams” may certainly be questioned by other Muslims, who see Salafism as heresy. One can look forward to having enriching debates about religions and relationship with state institutions etc. But calling for heated debates about “Islam and the [French] Republic”, as some magazines do, at a time when those responsible for terrorist attacks pretend to talk as representatives of a monolithic religion, will only lead to mutual distrust and social chaos. Just look at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calling on European Jews “to flee to Israel, which is safe from Islamic terrorism”.
Ensuring Law and Order
For sure, it is not the responsibility of a western democracy to say what ‘true’ Islam is, and what it is not. This is something that Muslim clerics, other than those like Yousuf Al Qaradawi, should express more loudly. But it is the state’s responsibility to ensure law and order and in a democracy, to allow everyone to have his own beliefs and practice freely his or her religion.
One can try and establish a ‘French’ Islam, check the contents of sermons by some preachers and ultimately bring together as many people as possible in a community of shared social values.
However, the burning issues today are security and policing: gathering more information about who has gone abroad to wage war or is willing to do so; monitoring identified dangerous individuals more strictly; being on guard more than ever on all potential fronts. Right now, security must prevail over religious matters.
Having a more farsighted policy towards peripheral areas where unemployment and violence prevail, and being more proactive towards democracy’s own values, including freedom, education and integration of immigrants made feasible thanks to regulated flows is important. But it is a long shot. Let’s not confuse priorities.
As for the Middle East, whilst scary events develop in Libya, Iraq and Syria, they also show how insufficient the West’s policy can be despite an apparent willingness to act. A decision to treat Daesh’s threat seriously in Iraq and to launch air attacks has had two positive effects: stopping the territorial conquest in the country and saving surrounded Kurdish populations. But should the next step be to leave unchanged a sectarian government that goes on refusing any kind of fair integration of all segments of Iraqi society? Or leaving the tribes ‘liberated’ from Daesh without any arms to protect themselves against sectarian militias?
The West initially decided not to send ground troops; yet, experts say no war was ever won from the air alone. This is why it should assist those states in the region that understand the threat of Daesh, and others, since they genetically all come from the Muslim Brotherhood. It shouldn’t do the job itself, if one wants to win ‘hearts and minds’, but it must help those willing to do it.
In Syria, the role of the West has been abysmal. First, it ‘discovered’ in 2011 that President Bashar Al Assad’s regime was a dictatorship — it had been so for long, yet with a major new angle in 2005, with a series of major reforms leading to a better life for the civil society groups.
Second, the West supported a so-called ‘national coalition’ which only existed on paper, and banking accounts generously funded by the West’s ‘best allies’.
Last, it allowed all kinds of extremists’ militias to grow. When it did not openly support them, ‘trustworthy ally’ Turkey did. Contrary to neocon thinking, Al Assad today is no more ‘the problem’ but a ‘solution’ to it, simply because he’s still part of the picture, and one cannot get rid of Al Assad and Daesh at the same time.
Furthermore, who is France’s worst enemy: Al Assad or Daesh? “Both!” answered President Francois Hollande, who could not differentiate “between the two barbarisms”. But the population can. It is enough to ask it, instead of sheltering behind wishful thinking.
While Egypt is facing its responsibilities against an expanding Daesh in Libya, and Turkey carries on with its duplicity, the West must give the calibrated means on the field to those countries that see beyond the tip of their nose, and force itself to understand local realities better. Former US president George W. Bush’s ‘global war against terrorism’ never led to anything.
Luc Debieuvre is a French essayist and a lecturer at Iris (Institut de Relations Internationales et Strategiques) and the Faco Law University of Paris.