On November 16, 2015, French bombers continued their assault on the Islamic State’s capital of Raqqa in Syria, retribution for the terror attacks that killed at least 129 people and wounded over 350 in Paris on Friday, October 13.
“This is an act of war,” French President François Hollande said of the massacre in Paris. “An act committed by a terrorist army, [ISIS], against France, our values, who we are, a free country that speaks to the entire planet.”
But what Louis Caprioli, former head of DST, France’s retired anti-terrorism unit, said of the attacks was more accurate: “This attack is linked to our engagement in Syria and Iraq, to our engagement in the Sahel [Africa],” as reported in a Bloomberg article titled “France Pays Price for Front-Line Role From Syria to West Africa.” Further,
This isn’t the first time France’s involvement abroad has led to terrorism at home. In 1995, Algerian Islamists set off eight bombing attacks that killed eight people and wounded 200 in Paris to punish France for supporting the government in that country’s civil war…
“For 20 years we have fought this Salafist doctrine,” Caprioli said.
France began bombing ISIS in September of 2014, launching over 200 airstrikes, mostly in Iraq. Even before this, France was supplying violent Islamic groups with weapons to fight Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. In October 2015, France bombed Raqqa and other targets in Syria. 3,000 French troops are also active in Africa to counter Islamic militants with allegiances to ISIS and Al-Qaeda.
This is in stark contrast to the French refusal to join the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, for which many Americans vilified France.
ISIS claimed responsibility for the Paris attacks, leaving no question that French military intervention was its inspiration. It called France a “crusader nation”:
Let France and all nations following its path know that they will continue to be at the top of the target list for the Islamic State and that the scent of death will not leave their nostrils as long as they partake in the crusader campaign, as long as they dare to curse our Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him), and as long as they boast about their war against Islam in France and their strikes against Muslims in the lands of the Caliphate with their jets, which were of no avail to them in the filthy streets and alleys of Paris. Indeed, this is just the beginning. It is also a warning for any who wish to take heed.
The ISIS statement also touched on the well-established fact that Islamic extremists view Western military intervention as part of a broader religious war, calling Paris “the lead carrier of the cross in Europe” and saying the attackers were “hoping to be killed for Allah’s sake, doing so in support of His religion, His prophet…”
The statement parallels what Osama bin Laden wrote in his 1996 “Declaration of War Against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places” (which refers to the U.S. military in bin Laden’s home nation of Saudi Arabia): “The people of Islam awakened and realised that they are the main target for the aggression of the Zionist-Crusaders alliance.”
Yet both bin Laden and U.S. military officials stated plainly that U.S. military intervention in the Middle East in the 1980s and 90s (not American freedom, democracy, or religion) was the direct impetus of the 9/11 attacks. U.S. leaders even recently warned Russia that bombing Syria would “only fuel more extremism and radicalization,” creating more terrorists and terror attacks, a truth that these leaders would like to pretend doesn’t apply to either the U.S. or its ally France.
As with the American experience after 9/11, only a few dissenting voices in France, drowned out in the screams for more war and revenge, push for a deeper understanding of why the Paris attacks occurred and warn that more war will only create more terrorism.
France’s NPA (New Anticapitalist Party) is one such voice. Its statement after the Paris attacks said:
This contemptible cruelty in central Paris responds to the equally blind and even more fatal violence of the bombings by French planes in Syria following the decisions of François Hollande and his government… Imperialist cruelty and Islamist cruelty feed each other.
The NPA called for “the withdrawal of French troops from all countries where they are present, in particular in Syria, in Iraq, in Africa.”
This is not to say that an attack within a certain nation is without fail the direct result of said nation’s foreign policy. While the French Islamists connected to Al-Qaeda in Yemen, who killed 12 people at the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in January, struck after French involvement in the Middle East and Africa began, they had been radicalized against the United States long before, inspired by American torture of Muslim prisoners at Abu Ghraib.
They had been planning for a long time to join jihadis in Iraq, attack American interests in France, or kill French Jews to do their part in the old Jewish-Muslim conflict. When Charlie Hebdo published a cartoon of Muhammad, an act considered blasphemous by many Muslims, these terrorists took their revenge.
But the knowledge that religious hatred (or other causes, like oppression) also sparks violence, or is used as justification for violence, does not mean that terrorism cannot be greatly reduced by refraining from further military intervention.
Whether one supports further French bombings against ISIS, it will, if the American experience is any indication, breed more terrorism and draw France into a cycle of violence without end.
Bin Laden declared war on the U.S. after bloody American military intervention in places like Somalia, Lebanon, and Iraq. Al-Qaeda attacked American embassies, a warship, Washington, D.C., and New York. After 14 years of America’s “War on Terror,” Al-Qaeda has spread out to a massive geographic area, its numbers significant, as dead terrorists are replaced by new members radicalized by the war, and global terror has increased fivefold. The chaos of war in Iraq birthed new terror groups, one of them ISIS, whose founders the U.S. originally supported. Boston saw a terror attack, as did nations that joined the U.S. interventions in the Middle East, such as Spain and Britain. And now France.
In its rush to vengeance and its escalation of its war, France will know the American experience of endless war: the massive destruction of innocent Arab and Muslim civilian bystanders (Raqqa is a city of hundreds of thousands, and strikes have already hit electricity grids, clinics, a museum), an increasing French death toll of both soldiers and civilians, more Muslims radicalized by the war, more terrorist attacks on French soil, perhaps the erosion of the French soul by way of torturing enemies, and the elimination of freedoms at home. Indeed, there are already calls in France to extend the state of emergency provisions that allow
French authorities to impose curfews, carry out arbitrary searches of private homes at any time, censor the press, impose military tribunals, order the house arrest of individuals without trial, close public places, and collect private weapons.
After the attack, a musician played John Lennon’s “Imagine” on a piano in the streets of Paris, a song that calls for an end to religion and nations to establish peace. Perhaps it would be wise to find long-term, nonviolent solutions to war and terrorism.
Elsewhere, Lennon said: “If you want peace, you won’t get it with violence.”