Third Wave Jihadism?

Jeremy Harding

Gilles Kepel, a specialist on 'Islam and the Arab world', wrote last year in Terreur dans l'Hexagone – a study of French jihadism – that the Charlie Hebdo killings were 'a sort of cultural 9/11'. The jihadism that we're now confronted with, he argued, is a third wave phenomenon, superseding the mujahidin in Afghanistan (the first) and emerging in the long twilight of al-Qaida (the second). The latest wave is specifically targeted at Europe, with its significant Muslim population (about 20 million in EU countries): the approach is 'horizontal', favouring networks rather than cells; disruption, fear and division are the tactics; the radical awakening of European Muslims, many already disaffected and marginal, is the immediate objective. The murders at Charlie Hebdo’s offices and the kosher store in Paris brought the third wave 'to a paroxysm', in Kepel's view, just as 9/11 brought the second 'to its pinnacle'. At the time of writing, no one has laid claim to the atrocity in Nice: more than eighty dead, fifty hospitalised ('between life and death', in President Hollande's words, earlier today).

Third wave or no wave, the journalists in France who reported on the murders last year, in January and then November, knew that before long they'd be treading again the same dark paths, strewn with flowers and lapidary messages in felt tip, as another period of mourning was written into the national calendar. France knew it too. And here we are, repeating ourselves: first the indignation and pity, then the low incantation, more like a self-enchantment than a prayer.

Hollande, who saw his national football team go the final in Euro 2016 and argued that things were on the mend in France, is now promising to increase air strikes in Iraq and Syria. Impossible, then, to fault his prime minister, Manuel Valls, when he says that the French must learn to live with events of this kind. Bombing the remains of Arab states does not drive terrorism beyond France's borders; on the contrary. Why it doesn't make politicians unelectable is a mystery: even Marine Le Pen has spoken half-heartedly in favour of France's air strikes in Syria. But what use are they against an armed man in a truck on the Promenade des Anglais?

Seething beneath the new horror are deep doubts about France's intelligence services. Did they let their guard down after the tense security challenge of the football? Hollande had announced an end to the long state of emergency, which he planned to lift after the Tour de France: now it's going to be in place for a further three months.

A parliamentary commission recently published the results of a five-month inquiry into the security agencies, prompted by the killings in 2015. Today the chair of the commission, George Fenech, a magistrate and centre-right MP, is railing against the government for ignoring the questions his report has raised about their ability to forestall terrorist attacks. He's told the media that neither Hollande nor Valls summoned him to discuss the findings and that when Bernard Cazeneuve, the interior minister, deigned to see him, it was to say that none of the commission's proposals for carving a broad path through the labyrinth of different intelligence agencies would go into effect. Cazeneuve described the report to Fenech as a 'plum pudding'.

Since 2012, many of the terrorists who have taken part in attacks were known to one or another arm of the French security apparatus, but no fluent communication exists between the various departments: a failing in a country whose enemies will survive bombardment and territorial conquest. As for its friends, solidarity and reason are the best we can offer.


  • 15 July 2016 at 8:59pm
    streetsj says:
    Is it specifically Muslims who are disaffected and marginalised or are there just significant numbers of Muslims in the general disaffected and marginalised within France?

    • 18 July 2016 at 10:05am
      Greencoat says: @ streetsj
      'Disaffected', 'marginalised', 'radicalised' - we are told these savages are all these things.

      But there us one thing they continue not to be - destroyed.

  • 16 July 2016 at 4:50pm
    IPFreely says:
    For years, the European security gurus have been complaining that there is not enough coordination between the 'intelligence services' around the continent. In Germany, which has eighteen or more such services it is often said that they don't even talk to the service in the next state, let alone chat to the French or Belgian authorities. Theories about the motives that caused the bombings in Paris are not hard to find. The 24/7 surveillance systems that they all use don't seem to have helped at all and now Hollande has vowed that France will step up the bombing of the IS strongpoints. Time for some radical rethinking on all three - motives, surveillance and responses.

  • 16 July 2016 at 7:10pm
    Timothy Rogers says:
    “ . . . the radical awakening of European Muslims . . .” is the large object in the room which people, except for Islamophobes, seem reluctant to discuss. (For the sake of this discussion, let us assume that all immigration of Muslims stopped tomorrow).

    The first question about which it would be nice to have even a rough answer is: do most of the 20 million cited consider themselves to be Europeans (“nationality” of your pick, including one, two or none) who just happen to be Muslims, due to historical circumstance (most religion is inherited, not chosen)? Or is their primary identity (religious and cultural, intertwined) Muslim, and they just happen to have wound up in Europe, which they find difficult to accept as a true home? I don’t have foggiest idea what the facts are with respect to this question.

    But it’s not a misleading or “false contrast” question. Christian Europeans went through a long and bloody phase of religious warfare for almost a hundred years in the 16th and 17th centuries, when questions like, “are you a Catholic, or a Protestant Frenchman?” were important, with only one of the two answers accepted as a token of your “real Frenchness”. And so on in Spain, Italy, the numerous German lands, and the Slavic regions in which Orthodoxy also entered the lists as a primary self-identifier. Is there a substantial number of Muslims in Europe who are replicating this identity struggle? Even if that were the case, the implication would not be a repeat of the old internecine religious wars, but there would be implications with regard to the internal stability of many European nations. How to handle them is the next question.

    As to the immediate response to the Nice mass-murder, nothing with respect to ISIS politics (bomb them to smithereens, ignore them, humor them) seems relevant to dealing with such attacks, including preventing them. Europe, including France (and most nations) is full of bitter and isolated young men who, when they make up their minds to go out with a big bang (a sort of narcissistic romantic trope) can do so almost at will and can hitch their private grudges and hatreds to some convenient ideological vehicle, including a religious one. This remark is not meant to ignore the fact that many Muslims have grounds for resentment (or hatred) of the policies of various Western powers toward their own countries. By the way, they also have similar grounds for resentment toward their own religion/culture, leadership class, and themselves – they’re not puppets, but, like the rest of us they may be the dupes or nasty agents of their own beliefs. Europeans also have to learn how to take these events in stride (horrors, never! some will say). When compared to the daily carnage and social and institutional destruction of the 1914-1945 years, even a very-big terrorist (or just plain old mass-murder) attack seems very small indeed, actually downright miniscule.

    The distinctions should be clear. Jihadism, however defined, is a problem to which the West (and Islamic nations too) have to react, more or less on a case-by-case basis, without losing our heads or our own civil liberties; but it is primarily “a Muslim problem”, meaning that diminishing it falls on the shoulders of Muslims in the areas where it is waxing. I doubt that “we” can do much to help. As to one of the major engines driving this particular conflict, the Sunni-Shia divide, we have neither standing nor even a sensible “preferred outcome”, other than the vague ones of peace, prosperity and stability.

  • 17 July 2016 at 7:40pm
    Graucho says:
    There are many common threads between the Nice attack and the one in the Florida gay bar apart from Islam. Illegal drugs, divorce, alcohol and a history of mental illness. The lunatic claims to be fighting for Jihad as self justification, Isis (or whatever they should be called) chalk it up as one of theirs to appear more powerful and we will never really get at the truth. Doctor patient confidentiality is rightly a very touchy subject and I have no idea how a satisfactory means of monitoring person with this sort of profile can be effected, but it appears to be needed.

  • 21 July 2016 at 3:15pm
    davidnoelgardner says:
    Vast sums of money are given for the solo jihadi acts as in the close to £90,000 sent by the delivery man in Nice to his family just few days before the Bastille massacre.
    Down at heel and nothing to lose are ready front persons for these solo acts. The train shooting in France where the man was overpowered found he was homeless and sleeping rough and says he awoke to find the guns and the other killing apparatus on a bench by his side and instructions on the rest that followed.
    Would we have allowed such acts of war by individuals and groups within Britain as Germany threatened such acts of war and bestowed huge rewards for carrying them out in Britain?
    Would we have gone into complex psychological analysis of those who carried out the massacering?
    The motive is irrelevant, yet we wring our hands in trying to analyse if these are fanatics, radialized persons or down at heel bounty seekers or all the above or some or none of the above.
    There are laws on our statute books to come into place at times of war as now when acts of war are regularly carried out commanded by, ordered by and that obey those orders from those who have declared war and so in carrying out this command, massacre with huge monetary rewards acts of war that massacre hundreds of people within France or any other nation's sovereign borders.
    Few days before the Nice massacre and "act of war", a Jewish centre was violently targeted and a policeman attacked and severly injured.
    These "acts of war" to kill and maim are large, small and regular.
    How long before we see the light of day and institute war time measures to save in the hundreds our babies, children, mothers, fathers, friends, neighbours, loved ones, citizens and the public at large from this open door to go on to be ordered to be brutalized?

  • 22 July 2016 at 7:52am
    Fred Skolnik says:
    It's a shame you are still moderating my post after 2 days. Here is the link. I'm sure it will interest anyone who cares about fighting Islamic terror:

    • 26 July 2016 at 5:49pm
      kiers says: @ Fred Skolnik
      I don't understand why french gendarmerie did not shoot out the truck's tires as they ran alongside the truck in Nice?

  • 22 July 2016 at 10:10am
    Fred Skolnik says:
    Sorry, the Commentary article is for subscribers only. Here's the full version:

  • 26 July 2016 at 5:51pm
    kiers says:
    Pre Obama: No syria crisis. Post Obama = nightmare. Peace prize material.

    • 27 July 2016 at 1:21am
      patrickdallas says: @ kiers
      Pre George W Bush, no 9/11, Afghan War, Iraq War. Post George W Bush, nightmare.

      Pre Reagan, no Beirut Marine Barracks bombing. Post Reagan, over 300 dead in that one event.

      Pre Eisenhower, no Vietnam War. Post Eisenhower, nightmare.

      All Peace Prize material, apparently.

  • 26 July 2016 at 10:58pm
    fbkun says:
    If Fenech is "centre right", then it means that the centre had very much drifted to the right...
    There's not much difference between what he says and what the Front National says.

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