It is time for the French government to consider all options to confronting terrorism.
The war seems lost. What happened on the French Cote d’Azur on Bastille Day—the day that sparked the French Revolution and the formation of a Republic based on liberty and freedom—seems to highlight France’s hopeless security frailties.
The images of bodies sprawled across a mile of the promenade in Nice as the last of the fireworks came to an end were some of the most disturbing I have ever seen. France has a serious problem, and one that now needs significant leadership and a substantial dose of reality.
The death toll currently sits at 84 and may well rise with 50 still in critical condition.
France has been subject to three significant attacks within the last 18 months that have claimed over 230 victims. Over the coming days, French authorities will continue to piece together the events leading up to 31-year-old Tunisian-born Mohamed Bouhlel driving a truck into the crowd and brutally executing individuals, families and children.
The national state of emergency, which French President Francois Hollande announced was due to end on July 26, has been extended by a further three months and 10,000 soldiers are to return to the streets.
Holes in Intelligence
Once again, experts will point the finger at the government and intelligence services, describing their lack of ability to protect the French population from terrorist attacks. These cheap and theoretical arguments are deeply out of sync with the enormity of the problem faced by the threat to the country.
There are currently 11,000 individuals on the watch list in France; there are 4 million Muslims living in the country, many of whom live in the poorest areas; borders with highly-radicalized countries like Belgium; borders on the Mediterranean with numerous former North African colonies; and an ongoing influx of migrants from Syria and Iraq—the problem is simply impossible.
More funding and more manpower have already been poured into tackling the holes in intelligence. We saw the huge effort that went into the 2016 UEFA European Championship with the 100,000-strong security operation, which ended without major incident.
The brutal truth is that France is both a soft target and is actively engaged in fighting back against terrorism at a time when the rules have been turned upside down by the so-called Islamic State (IS). While France has seen vehicles used previously in attacks in Dijon and Nantes in 2014, they were not close to the scale of Nice.
Early indications are that the driver was known to authorities for petty crime, nothing more, and that he wasn’t known by security services. IS, unlike al-Qaeda, has a very simplistic raison d’être—to recruit everyone it can and kill all who do not buy into its ideology. Sleeper cells and loners are becoming more and more deadly with every inch of land that IS loses in Iraq and Syria, and as its numbers dwindle within these held territories, the global punch of the ideology seems to intensify. With major attacks spanning France, Belgium, Tunisia, the US, Iraq, Bangladesh, Turkey and the Gulf all within the last two years, it is edging toward becoming the norm.
Time to Reconsider
France now must seriously consider its position in the War on Terrorism. It is becoming clearer day by day that there is no single road to radicalization, and France has in many ways taken on the baton from the United States in leading the fight against Islamist extremism with conflicts in Mali, Libya and the continuing fight against IS.
It is impossible for France to keep its guard up continuously as the ideology and teaching of IS encourages its followers to kill non-believers by any means possible—a gun, a knife or indeed a vehicle will suffice.
It may be time to take a view that only the eradication of the source of the ideology can truly reduce or even end the bloodshed in France and the wider world. France now has the mandate to take on IS with troops on the ground—an unpopular idea without a doubt, but the danger of becoming paralyzed by sentiment is proving most dangerous of all.
If France cannot cope with the scale of the threat that would leave any nation struggling, then it must consider all options. Otherwise, the country stands in danger of becoming a nation that is used to mourning the victims of religious, ideological terrorism: more flags at half mast, more hashtags, more candles and more tears, but seemingly no end in sight—and the reality that it will all happen again all too soon.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.
Photo Credit: MarekUsz