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Geopolitics

The Boomerang Returns

By Jean-François Bayart

The roots of the 13th of November are also to be sought from the foreign policy of both Europe and France over the past forty years. Europe’s withdrawal from the Palestinian question, the missed opportunity with Turkey which could have so easily been brought into the fold of the EU, France’s alliance with the ‘petro-monarchies’…  are all mistakes which have only served to aggravate the calamity and feed rancour and radicalisation in the Middle-East.

Beyond the politically expedient and rather undignified polemics on the security measures taken, or not taken, by the government, the political classes, the media and public opinion ought to examine their own long-standing responsibilities in the disaster which we are experiencing. It is the poisonous fruit of a chain of errors that we committed since the 1970s at least, and which we have democratically validated at the ballot boxes at regular intervals.

Europe’s disengagement from the Palestinian question, in which its diplomacy started at the point at which Israeli interests ended, brought about a sentiment of ‘double standards’ which created the ideal conditions for the instrumentalisation and radicalisation of anti-western, even anti-Semitic or anti-Christian, resentments. The strategic alliance of France with the conservative ‘petro-monarchies’ of the Gulf, notably for commercial reasons, compromised the credibility of its commitment to democracy – all the more since at the same time it classified the Palestinian Hamas as a terrorist organisation, in the wake of its uncontested electoral victory. By virtue of this partnership, France sanctioned, since the 1980s, Salafist propaganda fuelled by petrodollars, at a time when the dismantling of public funds for development in a neoliberal context of structural adjustment programmes, impoverished the populations, weakened the secular-leaning State and opened the way for ‘Islamo-Welfare’ in the areas of health and education in Africa and the Middle-East.

Its alliance with the ‘petro-monarchies’ also led France to support, diplomatically and militarily, the war of aggression of Iraq against Iran (1980-1988), and to ostracise the latter, even though it represents, along with Turkey, the only stable State in the region, one that is part of any solution to the majority of current conflicts, as evidenced today by the situations in Lebanon and Syria.  The same arrogance reigned over France’s policy towards Ankara. Rather than fostering Turkey’s participation in the construction of Europe, Paris snubbed it, at the risk of losing all influence with regards to Turkey, encouraging its ‘Putinisation’ and abandoning it to its dangerous liaisons with Jihadist movements.

Not without cynicism, for decades France endorsed authoritarianism in Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Syria and Iraq, seeing in it a guarantee of stability. Taking advantage of the ethnic and religious polarisation on which these regimes were often based, it hoped that the people would permanently resign themselves to the despotism which was judged to be inherent to the Muslim world, and leaving to religion the monopoly of dissidence, thereby rendering the authoritarian successions inevitably chaotic. The explosion of a pressure cooker is never a pleasant sight to witness.

After cosying up to the dictatorships, France participated with puerility in the democratisation wave, oblivious to the extent to which these societies had been corroded by decades of subjugation, and underestimating the ruthless determination of those in power. Then, as if to resolve with a magic bombardment the problems which it had contributed to aggravating over the years, France entered into war – arousing new resentments without the means to protect itself from them.

The inextricable situations of Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Libya are nothing more than the result of these miscalculations, or errors of short-sightedness. They undoubtedly foreshadow what is in store with the reappearance of authoritarianism in Algeria (as of 1991) and Egypt (in 2014). To the blindness and inconsistency we have added dishonour through the treatment we have subjected refugees to, who were themselves fleeing wars which we (or our allies) have triggered, in Libya and Iraq, and the authoritarian regimes which we have supported.

On the domestic front, the record is equally damning. While our neoliberal economic policies produced mass unemployment and de-industrialisation, we have curtailed public debate and restricted it to fatuous questions of identity while running after the far-right that rejoiced over this godsend. For a long time now, not one politician – with the exception perhaps of Dominique Strauss-Kahn in 2006, during his campaign in the primaries of the Socialist Party (PS) – has held a truthful discourse on immigration. Instead of taking advantage of the terrific asset that is the biculturalism of many young French people, we have excluded and marginalised a large, and very specific, proportion of them – that is to say Muslims – and called into question their belonging to the nation, which many of them have subsequently placed in doubt themselves. Presidents of the Republic, Ministers, high civil servants, have proffered with complete impunity reprehensible and unconstitutional statements, while the media focused its spotlight on racist or ignorant controversy-mongers, hailed as insightful commentators. The financial suffocation of schools, universities, public research and the anti-intellectual ‘Poujadisme’ demonstrated by the Right, having forgotten that the Republic which it so vaunts was that of the teachers and professors, at the end of the 19th century, deprived us of the means to understand what is happening to us.

Countless analysts had, however, long ago warned that we were rushing straight towards a head-on collision with disaster. Here we are, even if it has, as always in history, taken an unexpected form. A serious examination of our conscience is required of all of us, as these errors, which have come back round to us like a boomerang, were made by all those who have succeeded one another in power since the 1970s.  If Sarkozy has been without contest the worst President of the Republic that France has seen, Giscard d’Estaing, Chirac, Mitterrand and Hollande all share the responsibility for the politics pursued. Yet we have the leaders that we elect, and the media that we consume. In short, we are responsible for what is happening to us.

Only a radical turnaround can take us out of the situation: a calling into question of the financialization of capitalism which destroys the social fabric, brings about mass poverty and generates desperados; a security policy based on quality and local human information rather than systematic, yet futile, surveillance of the population; a restoring and reinforcement of the civil liberties which constitute the best response to attacks on our society; a review of our dubious alliances with countries with whom we share only financial interests; and, perhaps above all, fighting the nonsense of the “identity debate” and the idiocy of a proportion of our own political and intellectual class as much as that of the Jihadists. For the Zemmours, Dieudonnés, Le Pens, Kouachis or other Coulibalys are indeed ‘complementary enemies’, to coin a term from the ethnologist Germaine Tillion.

The alternative is clear, with the elections just weeks away, and it is political, in the full sense of the word. Either we continue to allow these pompous beacons of intelligence and their security experts to guide us towards the cliff-edge, and our next President of the Republic will be a Viktor Orban, irrespective of whether he or she comes from the Left or the Right, just so long as he or she makes us regress on the identity front. Or we connect our self-defence with the conquest of new freedoms, just as the National Council of the Resistance managed to do, at an even more tragic moment, during the Second World War. Such would be the real response to buffoons and murderous idiots.

 

This article was originally published in French in Libération on the 15th of November. 

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