Monday March 04, 2024

Nightmare in Nice

July 18, 2016

The world in general, mainland Europe especially, and France in particular, are facing a brutal string of repeated terror assaults not seen in recent human history.

France again bears the brunt of being struck by a suspected terrorist. A French citizen of Tunisian origin, rammed a truck into a crowd celebrating Bastille Day in Nice, blood-soaking the pristine picture-perfect French Riviera, leaving 84 dead and hundreds injured.

The attack came at a day – Bastille Day – when the nation, in cruel irony, was celebrating the universal virtues of liberty, fraternity and equality. In 1789, Robespierre instigated a blood-fuelled revolution to win the French citizenry inalienable rights. In 2016, blood is being shed to deprive humanity of those very rights.

Nice’s attack now opens up political Pandora’s boxes – alienation of minorities, increased identity politics and more cultural alienation. It will embolden Far-Right fascists like Marine Le Pen’s National Front who will exploit the Nice attack for political point-scoring and stoking public malaise over migration. With presidential elections in April 2017, President Hollande must prove that he has an iron grip on the terror scourge.

Hollande’s redeployment of the Charles de Gaulle stealth fighter-jet to intensify aerial assaults against Isis and his suggested increase in ground troops to recapture Mosul is an affront to Isis. Perceived measures against Muslims such as the 2010 face veil ban and inflammatory cartoons in Charlie Hebdo also stoked social discontent.

The Nice tragedy threatens to polarise fragile European integration further. This presents a monumental challenge for mainstream moderates and the middle ground, whose voices must be heard.

Such terror pandemonium is to persist until stability in Syria is achieved, Isis militarily defeated, refugees resettled, and the notion of a theocratic caliphate challenged.

France has a tainted imperial history with the Islamic world. With a population of 66 million, eight percent of France is Muslim, settled in the poorest pockets of Lyon and Paris. In post-industrial France, industries faced redundancy spiking unemployment. However, the settlers remained. Subsequent generations bore restlessness due to their social exclusion from the French workforce and society.

The Nice attack highlights the urgency for social inclusion and integration, especially of Muslims who live in the underprivileged underbelly of city outskirt estates (banlieues). These settlements are ripe recruitment pools for Isis and Al-Qaeda. That is compounded by the West’s war against Isis. Extremists are brainwashing unthinking adherents to attack France.

France is a victim of the most sustained terror assault any Western state has faced. This is the third major terrorist attack in France over 18 months. From January 7-9, 17 people were killed. On November 13, 2015, 130 people were killed in the Bataclan attacks. Now the Bastille butchery.

France is rightly on high alert. At least 1400 disgruntled citizens left France to join Isis and are now being glorified, brain-washed, well remunerated and lavishly treated with sex slaves. So more attacks may be imminent. Intelligence also discerned that the March 22 Brussels attack that killed 35 was meant for France.

So France has armed itself to wartime proportions, with street troops and a prolonged state of emergency, allowing Orwellian surveillance and counterterrorism teams to conduct raids without judicial permission.

Chillingly, the Bastille Day attacker showed how much death and destruction is attained by a single determined driver with the heaviest chip on his shoulder and a motor vehicle. That the attack was vehicle based is no surprise. Isis has encouraged followers to “get into vehicles and mow people down, especially in France”. Al-Qaeda has exhorted and echoed the same.

Vehicular assaults have occurred previously in France as well. Two attacks involved motor vehicles in December 2014 in Dijon and Nantes, killing one person and injuring twenty. In January 2016, an attacker rammed into four French soldiers protecting a mosque in Valence.

Some argue that the Nice attack is the first repercussion of invading Iraq under false pretences by the Bush-Blair duo. Many feel that the Chilcot report provided no genuine justice, it is all ‘description’ and no ‘prescription’.

France must improve its social integration. Until minorities feel like genuine stakeholders in the ‘French Dream’, the social schism will continue to escalate. The death toll in Europe, grotesquely unspeakable as it is, still remains a fraction of that in countries like Pakistan which has lost 70,000 civilians since 9/11, Iraq, Syria or Afghanistan.

So measures such as deporting all Muslims from the US, as Newt Gingrich proposes, are deeply divisive. Nor would religious or racial profiling be helpful. The 31-year-old Franco-Tunisian Nice driver was not on any terror watch list.

We cannot deport, legislate, or bomb our way out of terror. It’s ideological premises merits countering. We need long-term civil-society led engagement, inter-faith dialogue, intensified intelligence sharing and in the 21st century, leveraging Artificial Intelligence and Big Data to gain better forecasting models. Prevention always being better than cure.

The battle against radical terrorism is a generational struggle. It is not a struggle for the ‘Western’ civilisation, but for ‘universal secular democracy’ and for the peaceful civilisational co-existence of humanity.

The writer is a freelance contributor.


Twitter: @ozerkhalid