Following last January’s Charlie Hebdo attacks France and the whole of Western Europe has been on edge, fearing new Islamist terror attacks. Now that the end of the year is nearing a whole swathe of terror attacks is rocking the world anew, from the Middle East to the heart of Paris, ISIS (or the Islamic State) has made its bloody mark anew.
The Charlie Hebdo attacks marked a turning point in the way in which Europe’s population looks at the rise and threat of Islamist terrorism and from a faraway problem located in the Middle East and primarily targeting and killing hapless Muslims, the danger suddenly became clear and dangerous and very very real. At the time I wrote that the “chickens have come home to roost” now and that the unholy alliance of Zbigniew Brzezinski’s groundwork and then-NATO head Willy Claes’ identification of “radical Islam” as the new enemy of the West has finally come full circle. Now the West’s meddling in the Middle East and its mobilization of Islam as a weapon against the threat of Communism has been reversed. Whereas previously, the West (as in the U.S. and its NATO allies) killed (extremist or merely civilian) Muslims with impunity, now the new bogeyman that is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and his Islamic State (IS or ISIS) have taken the fight to the aggressors’ home turf, killing and maiming Europeans (or if you will, Christians and/or secularists) with impunity and even relish.
France as a Primary Target for Blowback
The “spectacular attack on the office of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and the double hostage crisis” has now been outdone by a whole series of attacks in the city of Paris, even directly affecting the figure of the French President François Hollande. The BBC reports that “[e]ighty people were reported killed after gunmen burst into the Bataclan concert hall and took dozens hostage”, and in response the French Security Forces stormed the concert hall. At the same time, five other sites in the French capital were also targeted by the terrorists. The terrorists attacked the Stade de France by means of two suicide missions and a separate bombing. At this venue France played Germany in a football friendly, attended by the French President himself accompanied by the German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. In this way, the terrorists made the attack very personal indeed, as Hollande as recently as late September authorised French cooperation with the U.S. in its air campaign against the Caliph and his IS. At that stage, the French President publicly stated that “France struck in Syria this morning an Islamic State training camp which threatened the security of our country”. And, in this way, one could argue that Hollande all but invited the terrorists to strike at the heart of the French nation. The other locations that were struck by the terrorists were bars and restaurants. In total, more that 120 people ended up dead, while eight terrorists have in turn been killed, seven of them actually detonating their own suicide belts. Furthermore, about 200 individuals have been wounded, with eighty in a critical condition.
The French President has since come out in a fighting mood, telling the press that “[w]e are going to lead a war which will be pitiless. Because when terrorists are capable of committing such atrocities they must be certain that they are facing a determined France, a united France, a France that is together and does not let itself be moved, even if today we express infinite sorrow”. In fact, Hollande has been acting as a hawk for many years now, as France stood on the verge of a military intervention in Syria as long ago as 2013. Back then, U.S. President Barack Obama’s famous remarks regarding the use of chemical weapons and red lines had primed the French to become an imminent military actor in Syria. The subsequent peaceful resolution of the chemical weapons’ issue as a result of a seemingly offhand remark by Secretary of State John F. Kerry and Sergey Lavrov’s subsequent swift actions thwarted Hollande’s war plans. As a result, the war-hungry Hollande was left wanting, until last September that is. And now, France is actively participating in Obama’s war on ISIL (or ISIS or the IS) and has thus become a legitimate target for a caliphal campaign of terror. As a direct outcome now the French capital is living under a state of emergency for the first time since 2005. And that means that “the authorities [are able] to close public places and impose curfews and restrictions on the movement of traffic and people”, as reported by the BBC. For all intents and purposes, France is now in a state of war with the Islamic State, a seemingly stateless terrorist actor that controls vast swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq where it nevertheless appears to fulfill all the requirements of a functioning state.
A Caliphal Reign of Terror
The Paris attacks came at the end of the day, when vast crowds of people were congregating in an effort to enjoy themselves and forget the troubles of the working week. On the same day, two other cities were also targeted by the Caliph’s henchmen in a bloody display of their determination to bring about Caliph Ibrahim’s reign of terror, turning Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi into a bearded latter-day version of Robespierre whose own Terror had been proclaimed in September 1792 leading to his own downfall and death on 28 July 1794. In Iraq’s capital Baghdad, a suicide bomber attacked the Al-Ashara al-Mubashareen mosque in the Amil area of the city. This caliphal suicide mission attacked the funeral of a member of the Popular Mobilisation units, a volunteer paramilitary force fighting ISIS backed by Iran. Whereas in Lebanon’s Beirut two motorcycled suicide bombers killed at least 43 people and wounded more than 200 others in the predominantly Shia Burj el-Barajneh area of the city. The area is a Hezbollah stronghold and thus an equally legitimate target for ISIS in its war against aggressors and unbelievers, as Hezbollah has been fighting alongside Assad’s forces against various Islamist terror groups active in Syria.
Last October, the Caliph and his IS apparently also targeted “unbelievers” in a twin suicide attack in Ankara (Turkey). These twin blast hit Turkish and Kurdish demonstrators attending a peace rally in the run up to Turkey’s second elections in five months’ time. Pro-Kurdish observers and commentators easily accused Turkey’s Islamic AKP-led government for the attacks, linking them to the deadly suicide attack in the Turkish border town of Suruç last July. The Kurds, meaning the KRG in Northern Iraq and the PYD in northern Syria, supported by the Kurdish PKK active in Turkey, are also enemies of the Caliph and his IS. Some even describe the Kurdish forces as the only effective fighting unit opposing ISIS in the region. And the Kurds’ ideological leanings also turn them into sworn enemies of the Caliph, particularly Syrian as well Turkish Kurds who are self-avowed leftist supporters of the ideas put forward by Murray Bookchin.
War-on-Kuffar or the Clash of Civilizations Redux
The apparently unexpected yet clearly coordinated appearance of ISIS on the international scene was all but a confirmation of the “Clash of Civilizations” thesis put forward by Samuel Huntingdon, harking back to the work and ideas of the Arab- and Islam-hating Orientalist éminence grise Bernard Lewis, loved by the Neocons and other Zionists alike. Still western leaders have been at pains over and again to claim that the West is not at war with Islam. Even Willy Claes made such claims when he declared “Militant Islam” to be the new chosen enemy of the West and its civilization. At the moment though, the current bogeyman of the West all but relishes in this dialectical narrative that pits “believers” against “unbelievers” (or Kuffar). As I have explained elsewhere, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s interpretation of the faith of Islam is very close if not identical to the Wahhabi school of thought practiced in Saudi Arabia. As such, on a purely theological plane, Wahhabi believers even regard other Sunni Muslims as apostates and thus the caliphal campaign of terror directly targets “unbelievers” who are anathema to Abu Bakr’s followers. And now, the terrorists’ campaign of religious cleansing has been turned into an all-out war on apostates foolhardy enough to challenge the Islamic State on its own terms. The truly spectacular Paris attacks have made plain that the whole world has now become a legitimate battlefield, a battlefield where civilians constitute the main target in a reversal of the West’s War-on-Terror that has been making life all but impossible for many inhabitants of the Middle East and beyond for years now. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has made his public war declaration, turning the West and its urban centres into a battleground no different from the wider Middle East and its population hubs. France as an active participant in the bombing campaign in Syria was an obvious choice for an initial attack of spectacular proportions. The Reuters news agency claims that the Al-Hayat Media Centre, the IS’ propaganda machine, released a video calling on French Muslims to carry out attacks.
Since then the French police have carried out 168 raids across the whole of the country, in an attempt to apprehend key suspects. And the death toll has now also risen to 129. In response to this civilian death toll in the city of Paris, on Sunday night (15 November), President François Hollande has reacted by carrying out bombing raids on the IS stronghold of Raqqa in Syria., arguably leading to a rising number of dead civilian Arabs. Now the leaders of the supposed free world have risen to Baghdadi’s bait and appear willing to fight his reign of terror in kind.
Dr. Can Erimtan is an independent scholar residing in İstanbul, with a wide interest in the politics, history and culture of the Balkans and the Greater Middle East, , especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.