Connecting the Dots in Paris
© 2015 FrontLine Defence (Vol 12, No 6)

“Precisely at the time where one king arises to pillage our possessions and destroy us, another shall arise to protect and save us… This is an important lesson for future generations.” This quote from Nachmanides, a 13th-century Rabbi and physician, was used to introduce a documentary film about Winston Churchill entitled Walking With Destiny. The quote gives hope to many French citizens in the aftermath of the November 13th terror attacks in Paris. What has changed in France, in the weeks after these most recent attacks, is indeed the sudden realization that the country has a clear enemy and that the government must, at last, act to fight it efficiently.

Connecting the Dots on Daesh
Despite the warnings from professionals tasked with ensuring the safety of the population (which can be traced back three decades), and despite recurrent but isolated terrorist actions over the past years, and despite the January attacks and the resulting “Charlie spirit”, the recent mass terror attacks in the heart of the capital totally stunned the French population. Till then, debates about terrorism in France – very much like in the United Kingdom after the 2005 attacks – have mostly dealt with the integration issue and the fear of generating an anti-islam backlash. This concern still remains, however, the discourse has changed and an enemy has now been identified by the French President, François Hollande: it is the “jihadist terrorist army”.

This enemy is both inside and outside France and, for many French people, November 13th has been an eye opener – linking military actions in Syria with the existence of a growing pro-Daesh “fifth column” on French soil.

The word “Daesh” – a derogatory term used by moderate Muslims who assert that ISIS is neither representative of Islam nor is it a “State” – and illustrates the complexity and the challenge of this hybrid threat and how best to define it.

The French are now aware that this is a two-front war which needs to be fought on the domestic front as much as in Syria. Voices differ as to what the best strategy should be regarding the French military involvement: strike harder? Send ground troops? Withdraw? A consensus seems to have emerged, condemning the Minister of foreign affairs, Laurent Fabius’ initial “ni-ni” stance (neither Assad, nor ISIS), and support instead for a broad coalition embracing Vladimir Putin. This is indeed the policy led by the French president, whom the population seems to support so far.

Desperately Seeking Churchill
Despite the current swell of support, the Hollande government is operating on dicey grounds as, behind the solidarity of the population lies a deep feeling of anger and mistrust against the President (and politicians in general). The Paris attacks occurred in the middle of regional electoral campaigns and, even though they were put in parentheses for a few days, the reaction of many voters is to make an “anger vote” in favour of the National Front as a warning to all politicians if they were inclined to go back to “politics as usual”.

French soldiers and police are seen during a police raid in Saint-Denis, in the northern suburbs of Paris, on 18 November, 2015. There dozens of areas in France, and the Saint-Denis area is one of them, which have become “notorious” as enclaves of Muslims who are resisting assimilation into Western values. They are known as “no-go zones” by police. According to Parisiens, a ­culture of political correctness prevented the right police action to contain this alarming trend that has been swept under the rug for many years. In some areas, firefighters could not even intervene because they would be attacked. It is a big part of the problem France is facing now.

This anger comes from a general lack of trust about the way the country is being run economically, and from the feeling that, beyond words, not enough has been done to guarantee the security of its citizens while the demographics have dramatically evolved in the past years.

On the homeland front, the battle the government must fight is three-fold:
Legal: according to most security officials, even though nine out of ten terrorist attacks have been prevented so far, the main hindrance to prevent them all is of legal nature. This is the reason why President Hollande immediately announced the State of Emergency granted by a 1955 law and now extended for three months. This allows security forces in particular to conduct search warrants more freely (this is the reason why the Saint-Denis intervention four days later was a success and resulted in the death of one of the authors of the attacks and the capture of accomplices).

The President has asked for a revision of the Constitution in order to further extend this after mid-February, but such a move is not popular among the opposition. The information and intelligence are for the most part there – and this is where a big part of the government’s effort was placed after the Charlie Hebdo attacks, but too much judiciary tolerance has prevented authorities, in many cases, to act on it.

Financial: the lack of means is of course a key issue, as training thousands of new policemen, gendarmes and armed forces cannot be done with a magic wand. The Hollande government and its predecessors all aimed at saving money by continuously shrinking the defense and security budget. Such a policy is now frozen, but the challenge to rapidly augment and ensure rotations of security and armed forces that are already stretched, is significant.

Educational: the very heart of France is calling out for a rebalancing between freedom and security, between multiculturalism and identity, between generosity and border control. It starts with reminding the young generations what being French means, something too many have been taking for granted far too long.

A man pays his respects outside restaurant Le Carillon the morning after a series of deadly attacks in Paris. (Photo:Christian Hartman)

When listening to survivors’ recollections of these horrible attacks, a common thread has been their astonishment at the calm and methodic determination of the kamikazes when loading and re-loading their kalachnikovs, and to have seen the uncovered face of an enemy they will never be able to forget.

Based in Paris, Murielle Delaporte, is the founder and editor of Opérationnels SLDS, a bilingual magazine that focuses on sustainment and logistics.

© FrontLine Defence 2015