Mad Max Scenarios

Jeremy Harding

Last week the French interior minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, announced the total so far of apartment searches (1233), detentions (165) and charges preferred (124) since the state of emergency came into force shortly after the killings on 13 November. Dividing the country’s ‘Muslim’ population by the number of detentions we arrive at a figure of one for every 30,000 or so: this is not an anti-Muslim witch hunt. Nonetheless the emergency has been extended for three months and yesterday the total of arrests leaped, with 200 or more after the COP21 demonstrations in Paris – a big, scheduled march having been banned under the emergency – turned rough.

Among other measures under the emergency, ‘assignation à résidence’, a form of house arrest, is now an available precaution not only against people whose ‘activity’ is known to be dangerous, but for those whose ‘behaviour’ – this surely means internet histories and neighbourhood hearsay – ‘amounts to a threat’. More jihadist websites will be blocked and others closely monitored. At least 100,000 soldiers, national police and gendarmes are mobilised, 4000 said to be deployed in Paris. The creation of more police (5000) and more prison staff (2500) over the next two years is confirmed.

The UN’s climate change conference at Le Bourget, a few kilometres north of the Boulevard Péripherique, aims for binding agreements among participants on greenhouse gas emissions and limits on mean global temperature rises, something previous talks have failed to do. Islamic State and climate change are manmade hazards. Notwithstanding the oil price dip, IS probably makes more than a million dollars a day selling crude at the wellhead in eastern Syria along with thousands of litres of generator-diesel from refineries in its fiefdom. Traders on IS’s books can double or treble their money when they sell on via middlemen in Iraq and Syria, where plenty of people, including Assad’s non-IS adversaries, are starved of fuel. Improvised refineries have sprung up inside IS territory and at destination points on its margins.

This complicated trafficking is taking place far from the Bataclan or the Stade de France and persuasive commentators still see jihadist violence as a domestic phenomenon, rather than a problem whose origins lie outside Europe. In Le Monde last week Olivier Roy reasserted his hard-earned view that the Paris killings have more to do with the nihilism and anomie of the murderers than they do with any claim to solidarity with Islam or dispossessed people in the Middle East. In Who is Charlie? the demographer Emmanuel Todd makes a similar point by describing the chaos in the region as a ‘well of violence from another world and another age’. Their position focuses on hard questions in Europe about assimilation and inequality. Crucially, too, it casts doubt on the wisdom of air strikes.

But there is no ‘other world’ or ‘other age’. This is it. To look at IS managing its aggressive start-up and mustering internet followers in the West is to see something fully modern. In Europe, too, mounting levels of inequality, alienation and race-anxiety have achieved state-of-the-art conditions for the emergence of Anders Breiviks, Kouachi Brothers, Abdelhamid Abaaouds.

COP21 could have done with a bigger boost from the street, but the emergency and IS – which is not much bothered by climate change – have cut off the pass. Plenty of activists who’d hoped to be in Paris argue that UN climate change negotiations have been culpably sluggish. There is more than one Mad Max scenario in this view. France has around 55 nuclear power stations and still requires 230,000 tonnes of crude a day to service its needs. As other members of the political class hesitate, Eva Joly, the Europe-Ecology-Greens MEP, has joined up a few modest dots by saying that France has shown ‘reprehensible laxity’ in its dealings with ‘Wahabbi petromonarchies’. That’s clear. And so is the evidence, after yesterday, that people would rather see radical movement on climate change than bombing raids in Syria and Iraq.


  • 2 December 2015 at 1:14pm
    gkchesterton says:
    Today I was reading "Critical Terms for Religious Studies" and a sentence jutted out at me: "Time is a category of thought which has come under the exclusive control of science." It is a very noble sentiment by the author who is trying to get the reader to rethink linear time, but it is not the case. Our linear conception of time is moral, not scientific. Despite the best efforts of Edward Said, the Middle East remains stuck in time for us: it is perpetually behind, still doing the things we once did, and we cannot fix it even if we destroy the side that we brand with the revealing term "medieval" (are they about to start building cathedrals, or writing Chaucer?). Only the arrival of Middle Easterners in Europe jolts us startlingly into their present.

  • 2 December 2015 at 10:35pm
    Gav says:
    ''And so is the evidence, after yesterday, that people would rather see radical movement on climate change than bombing raids in Syria and Iraq.''
    Bien-pensant or what? The concensus on man-made climate change is breaking down - look at the stats. A majority, at least in the UK, remains in war-mongering mood, even if it is fading. It is completely idiotic to see a link here, beyond the fact that people would rather pay for macho posturing than higher energy prices for questionable gesture-politics.