by John J. Metzler
Weirs Times Contributing Writer
PARIS –“Terrorism: the Shockwave of Bloody Friday,” headlined the French daily Le Monde, after a series of deadly, coordinated, and barbaric attacks by radical Islamists on three continents. The massacre of twenty-eight European (mostly British) tourists in Tunisia at a beach resort, the grisly beheading of a plant manager near Lyon, France, the senseless sectarian slaughter of twenty-six Muslim worshipers at a Shiite mosque in Kuwait, and the killings of 150 civilians in Kobane, Syria by Islamic State, are the latest sanguinary statistics in a war which many people choose to politely forget.
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls put the matter succinctly, “we are facing a major terrorist menace,” and for the first time, he called the threat a, “war of civilizations.”
Ironically the Socialist Prime Minister Valls, after all, is now using the terminology of the previous conservative government of Nicolas Sarkozy.
As ironic, the left- leaning Le Monde, stated in a front page editorial, “Unity in Face of Barbarism,” in which the paper wrote of “carnage without borders,” coming from Islamic terrorism. Surprising but not really a surprise after the horrible start to the year with the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris back in January.
After the attack on the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, as well as the assault on a Jewish supermarket in Paris, the facts were stunningly clear, for a least a few weeks. Thus six months ago, people of all political stripes proclaimed “Je suis Charlie,” (I am Charlie) in a gesture of solidarity with a free press.
But let me analyze the recent attacks. First, in Tunisia where a weak post-Arab Spring government has been the target of Islamic jihadis precisely to destabilize the moderate largely secular country surrounded by an arc of crisis. Thus Tunisia, and its economic lifeline tourist industry has been specifically targeted. In March many Europeans were murdered in an attack at the Bardo Museum in Tunis. In 2010, before the Arab Spring which actually began in Tunis, 1.4 million French visited Tunisia annually; last year the number was halved. Since the recent attacks in Sousse, tourist cancellations have soared.
Hosni Djemmali, a Tunisian entrepreneur told the French daily Le Figaro that the attacks may have proved a “Fatal blow to Tunisian tourism.” Yet he warned that stability in the North African country was important to the West; a failed Tunisia at the gates of Europe, only 45 minutes (by air) from France would be a bigger disaster.
Yet radicalization has moved quickly even in this once placid haven of North Africa; over three thousand Tunisian jihadists have been attracted to fight in Iraq and Syria.
Thus in the past few years such attacks have become more common precisely to destabilize a weak but moderate Arab country and push it into the abyss along with neighboring Libya.
Second in Lyon; this attack was carried out near one of France’s largest and prosperous cities. Of course, there’s always the surrealistic side to the terror; the old adage it can’t happen here disappears in a wisp, as we hear of unimaginable horrors.
The beheading story near Lyon had a yet more bizarre twist of both the medieval and the modern when the killer, Yassine Salhi a local with close ties to the Salafist sect, decided to be modern and take a selfie to post a picture of himself with the severed head of his boss. This case rises to a level of pornographic evil.
The Sunni fundamentalist Salafists are surprisingly active in many mosques throughout France, according to the security services. Some of these clandestine networks go back 25 years. Commenting on the issue, Frederic Lefebvre, a parliamentary deputy for the Republicans, representing French in North America stated, “We must protect young Muslims from radical Islam. I would close the 25 prayer rooms which have been identified by the intelligence services in Ile de France, the 22 in Lyon region, and the 13 in Marseille which have fallen into the hands of extremists. The Tunisian government courageously closed 80 Salafist mosques recently.” Violence prone Salafists were apparently celebrating the first anniversary of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
Fundamentalists also actively recruit in the French prison system where many jihadis are formed.
Third, Kuwait. The attack on the Shiite mosque is aimed to ignite a intra-Islamic war as is going on in Iraq and Syria and to use sectarian fissures to destroy Islam. Here too the Muslim countries must be vigilant to the enduring threat from within.
Bloody Friday reminds Europe and the Arabs that the threat of jihadi terrorism is on their doorstep or inside their country. For the U.S. the threat is no less severe. We can’t wish it away.
John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism The Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014).