Who is the enemy?

Jeremy Harding

After a busy night for the police, France woke on Monday to news that more than 20 people had been taken into custody and 104 placed under house arrest. In the evening Hollande proposed a raft of measures to the General Assembly and the Senate involving tweaks to the constitution that enable the government ‘to manage a state of crisis’ and deal with the new reality (‘we are at war’). He also proposed 5000 more police and soldiers on the payroll by 2017, 1000 more border staff, 2500 new prison staff. More citizens with dual nationality would have their French nationality removed and be subject to ‘expulsion’.

Through the blizzard of emergency rhetoric, Parisians are going about their business once more. The idea of waging a war without sustaining losses was an odd one. Even losses at home should have come as no surprise. The shock in France is all the more striking because most of the wars it fought in the last century – Indochina is the obvious exception – unfolded on French soil. The Algerian Front de Libération Nationale fought the French in what was technically part of the national territory. FLN bombings in the colony were as shocking then as events in Paris last week, but they signalled the price of colonialism. Then, too, there were attacks in France proper, often against police and strategic targets, and as matters came to a head in 1961, thousands of French citizens from the Mahgreb marching in Paris were arrested and interned: scores of protesters, possibly hundreds, were killed.

Leaders and functionaries know the dangers of asymmetrical conflicts for their own populations, though they’re always guessing the extent. Parts of the French press and the public, however, were genuinely puzzled when, in a war involving more than a thousand sorties and hundreds of air strikes, the enemy responded by inflicting casualties. Until last week the battle zones seemed far away as French combatants bombed the caliphate. For citizens at home, it was as though the sinister missions of non-state actors such as Isis had no more to do with France’s actions in the Middle East than a freak flood or an unfortunate fire in a hostel.

But from Paris, Isis looks less and less like a non-state actor. The idiom of emergency in France – the talk of unrelenting effort, intensification, total destruction – ought, on the face of it, to reinforce the view that Isis is a deadly public health issue, an infestation rather than a state: one state at war with another doesn’t talk of extermination; it talks of victory, defeat and coming to terms. Yet, perversely, the resolute tone of the pronouncements, and the ratcheting up of the airstrikes, enact the classic scenario of one state at war with another on roughly symmetrical terms. And at last there’s the relief of a war declared, more than a year after the event. We inch closer by the day to acknowledging that Isis is what it claims to be: a state with state-like attributes: identity, a jurisdiction, territory and institutions, including an army, and the capacity to project its will in distant places such as Paris.

A child at a toddler’s birthday party in Paris explained at the weekend how she’d looked from her window at the mayhem in the 10th arrondissement and seen ‘a person lying next to a bicycle’ before her mother drew the curtains. Parents have new and difficult stories to tell their children, and themselves. Will it help public morale if the enemy is no longer imagined as a brooding network of undercover cells, or an ‘Islamic’ retread of the American gun artist, primed on an arcane impulse? Some sense of a coherent, identifiable adversary, responding in warlike ways to acts of war, may make it easier for Parisians to adjust, as the British did at time of the IRA’s campaign.


  • 17 November 2015 at 5:37pm
    desteward says:
    Clarity. Thank you.

  • 17 November 2015 at 8:41pm
    deMan says:
    It might be time to watch Haneke's 'Hidden' again.

  • 17 November 2015 at 9:59pm
    omar ibrahim says:
    We should start by recalling that the ENMITY between the Arabs/Islam and the Christian East, Byzantium, and West,,the USA. And W Europe is an old one practically starting with the defeat of Byzantium, reinvigorated with the Crusades and reborn after the fall of the Ottoman Empire as the enmity between the former and the then nascent Judo/Christian alliance .
    The victors of WWI jumped on the opportunity to terminally put out of battle the Arabs and a nascent Arab/Moslem alliance through Arab Fragmentation, i.e. Sykes Picot, and the implantation of a hostile body in their midst, Israel.
    The war between the two has been ongoing ever since via Western J/C officialdoms and , basically popular resistance to the declared enemy and its many agents that were made to head the fragments that came out of Sykes Picot .
    The total failure of Sykes Picot heads of state was pronounced most vocally and undeniably with their total military defeat in Palestine in the 1947/8 war.
    Ever since both the J/C alliance and Arab officialdoms became and remained the ENEMY .

  • 18 November 2015 at 12:02am
    Sal Scilicet says:
    We only have ourselves to blame.

    “Those who fail to learn from history …”

    If only ………

    1. If only the colonial powers [Britain, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Portugal, Italy, Japan, United States, Spain, Denmark] had not so thoroughly neglected for four hundred years the economic development of the peoples they so ruthlessly exploited, so leading to the current multi-cultural, multi-racial mess that is the EU today.

    2. If only antisemitism had not been such a fundamental, unquestioned, inherently pervasive element of every European culture since the fall of the Roman Empire.

    3. If only France and Germany had not always been so suspicious of each other’s ulterior motives, breeding a climate of espionage and intrigue.

    4. If only Alfred Dreyfus had not been the ideal Jew at the wrong place at the wrong time, making him the convenient fall-guy.

    5. If only the infamous Dreyfus Affair had not inspired Émile Zola to write his letter ‘J’accuse’ [1898], lending immediate popular credence to Theodor Herzl’s hypothetical pamphlet ‘Der Judenstaat’ [1896].

    6. If only France had not insisted that the German people should be made to suffer for the devastation perpetrated by those few at the top of the German Imperial Command during the First World War.

    7. If only the hopelessly impracticable terms of the Treaty of Versailles had not, in only twenty years, given Hitler all the democratic justification he needed to build an even more hideous juggernaut.

    8. If only Vichy France had not agreed with quite such alacrity to co-operate with the efficient ‘relocation’ of nearly all Europe’s Jews.

    9. If only the United States had not been required to rescue Europe twice in the first half of the Twentieth Century, lending indomitable legitimacy to subsequent American hegemony, ‘The Military Industrial Complex’, Hollywood spectacle, consumer culture and the greed-is-good corruption of Wall Street. All perceived within the context of traditional Islam as evidence of the degenerate Infidel decadence.

    10. If only the Holocaust had not lent such belated, shamelessly hypocritical, sanctimonious urgency to Herzl’s impossible dream.

    11. If only the native peoples of Palestine had not been so brutally dispossessed and disinherited to make room for ‘The Jewish State’.

    12. Then ‘The Islamic State’ would have been a Red Herring.

    • 18 November 2015 at 11:23am
      Geoff Roberts says: @ Sal Scilicet
      If only politicians and statesmen would stop meddling and just open new bridges or name cruise liners then we would have all of these wars and stuff that fill our history books. I guess that yours is the "ironic interpretation of history" am I right?

    • 18 November 2015 at 12:11pm
      Fred Skolnik says: @ Sal Scilicet
      Dear Sal

      Neither the West nor Zionism created radical Islam. There was no France, Britain, America or Israel when the Arabs came out of the desert in the 7th century and conquered the Middle East in a rampage of rape, massacre and forced conversion. If they hadn't, there also would not have been an Islamic State.

    • 18 November 2015 at 3:24pm
      mhenriday says: @ Fred Skolnik
      In what way, Fred, do the crimes committed by the Arabs during their expansion in the name of Islam, differ from those of the Hebrews in theirs in the name of Judaism or the Christians in theirs in the name of Christianity ? Brutality, murder, and rape on a massive scale have accompanied humanity as far back as we can trace the species' history, and as Jeremy Harding correctly points out, the notion that acts of war abroad would not be responded to with acts of war at home is rather odd. Mr Scilicet merely points out some of the failings committed by statesmen in the last four centuries, myself I'd have included a brief reference to the Thirty Years War. As Axel Gustafsson Oxenstierna famously noted in a letter to his son some 370 years ago :

      An nescis, mi fili, quantilla prudentia mundus regatur ?...


    • 18 November 2015 at 4:58pm
      name says: @ Fred Skolnik
      Dear Fred,

      This is precisely the attitude that leaves Muslims feeling eternally othered in the West. Calling the spread of Islam "a rampage of rape, massacre and forced conversion" is not only flagrantly invidious, it is factually wrong.

    • 19 November 2015 at 2:52am
      Sal Scilicet says: @ Fred Skolnik
      But, my dear Fred. Pray tell me, how and where did I ever intimate that I claim to know who or what “created radical Islam”? Please remember that we are all irrevocably bound to respond only to that which only you and I can individually understand of all we see and hear, as only each could see and hear it, according to each our very own unique interpretation. Even as we must remain forever sublimely innocent as to the precise intentions of the other. It was ever thus. The TINA doctrine. As The Iron Lady herself infamously intoned, “there is no alternative”.

      We can never know exactly what the other might have meant by what s/he said, but only what we understood. Your response is appropriate to your unique reading of my post, not what I might have meant to say.

      If, indeed, you understood my words as implying that the realisation of the State of Israel “created radical Islam” when obviously a lot of sanctimonious blood was spilt long before 1948, you seem to be suggesting that, if I did something to provoke your displeasure, it isn’t my behaviour that upset you, but only your natural predisposition to anger.

      Regrettably, what sense the other “gets” from the text, as to arouse such dissension, must remain forever inaccessible to the former. Which, I fear, for what it’s worth, is about as good as the exacting vicissitudes of this contextually ambiguous intercourse will ever get.

      Only, let’s not even presume to contend, whatever teleological explanation du-jour gets its requisite fifteen minutes air-time, that all of what has gone before has had no material bearing on current events.

      Are you at all familiar with E.H. Carr’s ‘What is History?’ [1961] I think it still resonates, its relevance rising unabated. in the current hyper-ventilated climate. We so like to parody the haughty, “Do you know who I am?” But do I even know who I am? Who I am (supposed to be) is not a closed book, correctly catalogued on a library shelf, but an incredibly messy work in progress. And when I die, there will inevitably be those who will claim, fondly one might hope, as the gentle breeze blows my ashes into their faces, to have known me. A forlorn intimation.

      History, like reality, is after all nothing more, nor less, than a product of the imagination. That is to say, what we like to pretend refers to ‘reality’ is nothing more than a linguistic construct, made with words (language), predicated by the rules of grammar and syntax, that are more or less socially and culturally determined as convenient colloquial conventions.

      My understanding of reality is essentially unique, informed as it is by everywhere only I’ve been and everything only I’ve seen and heard. No one else can follow me there. “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen …” As for that “larger society”, we forget (conveniently overlook, more like, as there isn’t time) that we can only discuss our realities (to each our own) with those who share a common language, idioms, dialect, assumptions, traditions, customs. All our elaborately contrived realities are always, specifically, regionally defined, never nationally. And certainly not universally.

      Any history, even of “my life”, cannot be an accurate record of what happened and what happened next. Rather, history must be an account, from one perspective (Weltanschauung) to the exclusion of all others. It’s a story. We never lose our childish fascination with a coherent narrative. With a beginning (once upon a time), a middle (and so it came about) and an end (the denouement, when they lived happily ever after).

      The story of “my life”, like the current version of “who I am”, is never fixed, like fading snapshots in an album on your portable device. The narrative shifts, like sand in the desert, as, from time to time, different facets acquire new significance, as new information, and novel insights to the all too familiar familial material, come to light. (Especially at 3am, when the house sleeps and outside the restless wind weaves uncanny whispers of doubt and certain ‘facts’ acquire strange proportions.)

      Likewise, the story of “the world” is not set in aspic. If the overarching ambition of historians is to write the definitive history of the world, they are, to coin a phrase, relieving themselves into the wind. “The Second World War” is today not what it used to be. “The Industrial Revolution” is now regularly and ever so matter-of-factly taken to mean things that are inevitably very different to what they once meant, or are believed to have meant, to other observers, living under entirely different sets of (just as comfortably taken-for-granted) assumptions from our own.

      It was ever thus. As Dr Johnson famously kicked that large stone, in an indignant effort (and all the more futile, for all that) to refute Bishop Berkeley’s thesis on the illusory nature of the “material world”, the facts of life appear to remain constant, even as all the while we keep struggling to make sense of the overall scheme of things.

      And so we do. Eminently well. Each making our own unique sense of each account anew, according to at least three levels of cognitive perception. The pretext is all the foreknowledge only I can have assembled during a lifetime, insofar as my selective memory allows me to recall. The context is all the constantly shifting, culture-specific, circumstantial, environmental background noise surrounding every account of how what was became what is – and how what is explains what was. And finally there’s the subtext, all the grand assumptions and obscure implications that each of us is inevitably obliged to “read between the lines”.

      Like fresh bread, history is made, every day anew. Not given from on high.

    • 19 November 2015 at 2:54am
      Sal Scilicet says: @ Geoff Roberts
      Hey, Geoff. Would you mind referring to my lengthy response to Fred, below? Ta.

    • 19 November 2015 at 4:42am
      Fred Skolnik says: @ Sal Scilicet
      This is really great, Sal. You must have a tremendous amount of time on your hands to produce something like this and a great many half-digested and incoherent ideas in your head. Thank God for Blogland. If pressed I would say that it is the culture of the desert along with the Koran that created radical Islam.

    • 19 November 2015 at 10:23am
      Fred Skolnik says: @ name
      It is neither invidious nor factually wrong. It is precisely correct.

      As for Hebrew crimes, Henri, I honestly don't know. It may well be that Israelite tribes acted like everyone else but no one can say for sure since the Hebrew Bible is not a work of history.

      There is a tendency on the left to blamw Western sins for the spread of radical Islam. This view reflects a very superficial understanding of the Arab world, or rather none at all, since it is promoted by people who have never been to the Middle East, certainly have never lived there, and do not speak any of its languages. It is a little like someone from China without a word of English "explaining" America to Chinese blog readers.

    • 19 November 2015 at 7:24pm
      Sal Scilicet says: @ mhenriday
      Thanks Henri.

      And for those who somehow missed the bus to Eton:

      “Do you not know, my son, how little wisdom the world is governed by? …”

    • 21 November 2015 at 4:37pm
      name says: @ Fred Skolnik
      Simply stating it is correct doesn't make it so, I just wish you would apply the same epistemic vigilance to "Muslim crimes" as you do to their Hebrew counterpart.

      On the other hand, I agree that some level of engagement with the Arab world is needed to cut through all the misinformation (and the distrustful attitudes it led to on both sides) that has been left unexamined (e.g. "a rampage of rape, massacre and forced conversion" sounds like it was taken straight out of a medieval European source). I have spent over 25 years in the Middle East, and can read and write classical Arabic quite well. I speak it with a muddled Levantine accent, and can understand colloquial Arabic accents as long as they come from east of Libya (which is where the influence of the Berber languages starts seeping through quite heavily).

      I do not want to blame Western "sins" for anything. I just want it acknowledged that it is not their religion that radicalizes muslims, it is their specific life experience. What else would explain (literally) over a billion muslims who are peacefully reconciled with modernity? Radical Islam emerged out of war-zones and areas where human suffering has been left unchecked. In the West, its only sympathizers are young muslims who feel entirely alienated by the culture they find themselves in, and fantasize about a hero's return to a culture where they find all the connection and respect they desire. Vile and misguided to be sure, but understandable.

      I like how we're discussing this over a post entitled "Who is the enemy?" Islam is not the enemy Fred.

    • 21 November 2015 at 7:07pm
      Fred Skolnik says: @ name
      The enemy is whoever takes up arms against you. For countries attacked by Arab or Muslim terrorists the enemy is Arab or Muslim terrorists and it is against these terrorists that these countries wage war. It is true that under such circumstances people develop negative feelings about Arabs or Muslims as such. This is unfortunate but natural. When a declared enemy is nationally or ethnically or racially or religiously identifiable, people do tend to project their anger or animosity onto the entire group.

      The Muslim religion is certainly a factor in the Muslim's response to his condition or circumstances. If you understand Arabic then you should know what is being said in the mosques every Friday by the preachers or the terms in which the conflict with "heretics" is being represented by radical leaders. As for circumstances, in their own countries it is their own leaders who are responsible for their condition. That is presumably why there was an Arab Spring.

      It is preposterous to claim that over a billion Muslims are "peacefully reconciled with modernity." That is not how I would characterize the hundreds of thousands of Muslims living in repressive Islamic societies like Iran or Saudi Arabia, for example, or in countries like Egypt and Sudan with their rural majorities. Even in Israel, which has I think the most strongly Westernized Muslim population in the Middle East, I would not think to characterize it, from the grandparents on down, and certainly not among the religiously observant, as peacefully reconciled with modernity. That is not my impression and I have lived intimately with this population for over fifty years.

    • 23 November 2015 at 3:50pm
      Robert says: @ Fred Skolnik
      Oh Fred! Personal abuse just when the discussion was interesting. Have you read Mahmood Mamdani on the issue of " modernity" and all those backward Muslims of your belief? It makes a good read, but perhaps, in the light of your comment, you don't have the time.

  • 18 November 2015 at 9:04am
    rmurphet says:
    Thanks Jeremy for telling it like it is in the face of the rhetoric of hysteria. The performed outrage that ignores culpability (This is an act of war!), the moral sentimentality that assumes superiority (an attack on the free nations of the world etc) are trotted out as pretexts for ramping up state terror against its own citizens. We've seen it all before (9/11 ad nauseam). We in Australia do it by proxy: 'threat levels' are now constantly at high alert. It's a boon for politicians wishing to remain in power. Meanwhile hopefully Parisians will find ways of going about their lives, mourning their dead, and putting it all in some sort of context.

  • 18 November 2015 at 9:19am
    tarheelchief says:
    It is unfortunate historians ignore the Irish Rebellion and the success of the IRA.
    This became the model for most of the revolutions against European hegemony.
    Modern Cold War violence never included the use of Nuclear Weapons since delivery systems existed which negated the solid accomplishment of Hiroshima.
    Thus, we are entering a long lasting series of uprisings by minorities within the Middle East,Africa,Asia,and obviously Central and South America.
    Many Europeans should look instead at the successes of minorities in Slovakia,Bosnia,Serbia,Croatia,Slovenia.
    The Middle East,Asia,and Africa should disintegrate into tribal territories recognized by the UN.Ridding ourselves of the present ironclad national boundaries might provide impetus for new confederations based upon economic ties.
    No one can create enemies like England,France,the US,China,Japan,and Russia for they lack public support for suppressing isolated,poor,and possibly irritable groups.
    The same should be said of the modern claims against North American countries by tribal units.They should be declared independent,untaxed,units. Then they could exist inside the middle of a centralized system of US tariffs, duties,and immigration laws.

  • 18 November 2015 at 6:35pm
    martyn94 says:
    "primed on an arcane impulse"?

    You expect that the comments will be garbled,and often in CAPITALS, but it would be nice if the stuff from your own people made some sense.

  • 21 November 2015 at 9:15am
    philippeg says:
    As a Frenchman I can't disagree more with this post.
    France is shocked today, not only because it has been hit hard, France is completely shaken because its society is at stake.
    France is dealing with the integration of the third and fourth generation of immigrants, whom a substantial part of them have decided to link back with their roots and revive their religiosity while French society expected them to simply dilute in the non-practicing majority.
    France is dealing with areas where the minorities have become the majority and where social order is not enforced: areas where every kid may become a drug dealer, will riot with the police etc etc.
    France is dealing with the hatred of these kids for the society.
    France is dealing with the hatred of the other French people for them.
    Even though French are not racist, as the number of multi cultural families show, most French are upset with what these populations have brought in terms of disrupting the peaceful society. Every single French girl and boy knows what is it to be bullied by a group (band) of these kids. We all have been. Nowadays, people are saying its enough.
    The you have to consider that most of the terrorists were part of these kids before. You have to consider that thousands have left France to fight abroad and now implement terror in.
    It's not ISIS striking France, it's sons of France striking their Nation under the banner of ISIS.
    That is very difficult for a society to deal with. Yet it is the biggest opportunity France has been given to heal its wounds and unite its different populations under the French flag. Many of these people who were not feeling French before have expressed how they realized that they belong to this Nation after the attacks. France has lost the Charlie Hebdo momentum, it may not waste this one.

    The Charlie Hebdo attack was a wonderful strategic choice to put French society on the brink. Attacks on the Jewish community, the militaries at home could have been good target. Mass random killing is a political suicide because they are losing any sympathy among the French muslim.

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