The following column was first published in Asia Times on Jan. 9, 2015
Along with journalists and writers everywhere I mourn our murdered colleagues at Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical weekly that had the courage to poke fun at Islam and paid a horrendous price.
Asia Times has had to bury its own dead: our Pakistan Bureau Chief, the distinguished journalist, was murdered in May 2011. His body, dumped into a canal in northeast Pakistan, showed signs of torture. Human Rights Watch accused Pakistan’s intelligence services; a Pakistan judicial commission attributed the murder to “various belligerents.
in the war on terror which included the Pakistani state and non-state actors such as the Taliban and al-Qaeda”.
We will never forget Saleem, one of the bravest and best journalists of his generation. We will not forget the dead of Charlie Hebdo.
This is a new and terrible step on the part of the terrorists: they have threatened individual journalists for years and forced a few into hiding or witness protection. Paul Berman in his 2010 bookThe Flight of the Intellectuals claimed that European journalists tread lightly on the subject of Islamism out of fear for their lives. But the assault on the premises of a news organization and the massacre of its staff by non-state actors is an entirely new thing. We have never seen anything like this before in the sorry history of terrorism.
How will the civilized world respond? Armed guards at editorial offices are not enough, even if enough money could be found. Terrorists with assault rifles make easy work of lightly armed security guards. We face the distinct possibility that civil society in some parts of the world simply may cease to function. The cancer has spread so far that any cure will be almost as painful as the disease.
Nonetheless, it must be cured, if civilization is to prevail over barbarism. The American trade unionist Joe Hill, executed on a murder charge that the left considered a frame-up, told his friends: “Don’t mourn – organize.” Our task is to consider what might be required to neutralize the threat to news organizations everywhere.
France now faces an existential dilemma. By most independent estimates France now has a Muslim population of 6 million, or almost 10% of its 65 million people. If we assume that just 1% of this population are radicalized to the point of engaging in or providing support for terrorist activities, that is a pool of 60,000 individuals.
We are not speaking of 60,000 potential bombers or shooters, but a support network that will allow a much smaller number of terrorists to blend into the broader population. In the “no-go” zones of France now effectively ruled by Muslim gangs, moreover, the terrorists can intimidate the Muslim population. France already has lost the capacity to police part of its territory, which means that it cannot conduct effective counter-terror operations.
To put that number in context, the whole prison population of France is less than 70,000, of whom 60% are Muslims. It only takes a few dozen trained terrorists with an effective support network to bringing ordinary life to a stop in a major city.
France has had the toughest enforcement policy against radical Islam among the major European nations, as Daniel Pipes has observed. But French security clearly has been overwhelmed. The use of assault rifles by highly skilled gunmen in the center of Paris is a statement of contempt towards the authorities on the part of the terrorists.
The means by which France, or any other nation, could defeat the terrorists are obvious: to compel the majority of French Muslims to turn against the terrorists, the French authorities would have to make them fear the French state more than they fear the terrorists.
That is a nasty business involving large numbers of deportations, revocation of French citizenship, and other threats that inevitably would affect many individuals with no direct connection to terrorism. In the short term it would lead to more radicalization. The whole project of integration as an antidote to radicalism would go down the drain. The effort would be costly, but ultimately it would succeed: most French Muslims simply want to stay in France and earn a living.
There is no good outcome here, but the worst outcome would be the degeneration of France into a hostage state. We refuse to be hostages.
Spengler is channeled by David P Goldman. He is Senior Fellow at the London Center for Policy Research and Associate Fellow at the Middle East ForumHis book How Civilizations Die (and why Islam is Dying, Too) was published by Regnery Press in September 2011. A volume of his essays on culture, religion and economics, It’s Not the End of the World – It’s Just the End of You, also appeared that fall, from Van Praag Press.
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