Mosque in Aceh Province, the only which has Islamic Sharia Law in Indonesia
Renaud Girard


PARIS — The Islamic State (ISIS) is like the Hydra, the multi-headed monster of mythology that Hercules alone was able to slay. Whenever he managed to cut off one its heads, two new ones grew back instantly. Likewise, the jihadists — having recently lost Mosul, in Iraq — are already making headlines again, this time far away from the Arab world and Mesopotamia.

In late May, in the southern Philippine archipelago, on the island of Mindanao, militants of the jihadist organization Maute (which pledged allegiance to ISIS in 2015) overran the city of Marawi and its 200,000 inhabitants. And on jihadist websites, the word is out that: "If you can't reach Syria, go to the Philippines!"

For young Muslims swayed by Wahhabi ideology and dreaming of taking up arms to fight, video-game-style, there are a myriad of opportunities for jihadi tourism. They can visit the banks of the Euphrates, and then head to the shores of the Gulf of Sidra, in the Mediterranean Sea, before making their way to the turquoise waters of the Celebes Sea, in the western Pacific.

In the areas seized by ISIS, Christians are targeted for the sole fact that they're Christians. The BBC published a video from a Christian woman from Marawi who was forced to hide with her six children at a compassionate neighbor's for 11 days, panicked whenever they could hear the noisy outcries of the jihadists. Their story is reminiscent of Anne Frank's — the fear of being killed for who you are, not even for what you've done.


Battles to retake Marawi city from Islamists Rebels in Philippines Photo: Sherbien Dacalano/ZUMA

When Nazism was defeated in 1945 and when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, we naively believed that totalitarianism would never appear again on the face of the earth. We had forgotten about Wahhabism, this Muslim puritanism preached in the 18th century by an Arabian peninsula sheik allied with the house of Saud. We didn't understand then what immense lever the addition of petrodollars and of America's obsession in solely fighting against Sovietism would provide to this deadly ideology. As soon as the head of Muscovite Communism was cut, the hideous figure of internationalist Islamism started growing.

Philippine special forces still haven't retaken full control of Marawi. At least 400 jihadists have already been killed, along with about a hundred of the government troops. There is the fear that many Islamist militants will try to leave by sea and head to Indonesia.

Laying down roots

There is, in the West, an intellectual tendency toward seeing Islamist jihadism as just another form of radicalism. A bit like we used to see West Germany's Baader-Meinhof Gang or Italy's Red Brigades in 1970s Europe. The comparison is justified by the fact that, like leftist armed groups of the past in Europe, jihadist movements today have no chance of taking over a country. In Indonesia, the world's biggest Muslim country, jihadists regularly carry out attacks, but no more so really than the former red brigades did. And openly Islamist parties are losing ground election after election.

Authorities demolished churches in 2015 for fear they might be torched by Islamist groups.

Still, the thought leaders of this Western intellectual tendency are dead wrong in that they fail to grasp the immense impact these radical movements have had on Muslim societies for the past 40 years. True, Muslim societies still reject the extreme violence of the jihadists, but not the content of their ideological message. Part of the Wahhabi preaching, in other words, still manages to take root.

In the 1970s, on Java, there were extremely few veiled women. Now, almost all of them are. In the Aceh province, on the northwest tip of Sumatra Island, the authorities demolished churches in 2015 for fear they might be torched by Islamist groups. Many Indonesian students have been offered free studies in universities in the petromonarchies of the Arabian Gulf. They often go back to their homelands to become teachers and, naturally, they preach a Wahhabi doctrine.


Inside a mosque in Aceh province, Indonesia Photo: Fauzan Ijazah/ZUMA

Drastic anti-blasphemy laws were passed during the mandates of Susilo Yudhoyono (between 2004 and 2014), the first Indonesian president elected by direct universal suffrage, pushing the legislation ever closer to Sharia law. Religious tolerance is gradually vanishing in Indonesia, as shown by the electoral defeat in April 2017 of the efficient and upright Jakarta governor, Basuki Purnama, victim of a campaign that targeted his Christian faith.

Sliding toward Sharia law

Officially, the Indonesian state's philosophy still is the Pancasila of 1945, whose five principles are: the belief in one God; a just and civilized humanity; the national unity of Indonesia; democracy dictated by wisdom through deliberation; and social justice. In other words, there is no constitutional privilege for Islam.

And yet, in the minds of both the governing and the governed, there's nothing abnormal in gradually sliding towards Sharia law. De facto, if not de jure, the state's religious neutrality wanted by Sukarno, the father of Indonesia independence, is gone. As a religion of conquest, it didn't take a lot of effort for Wahhabi Islam to devour its minor, and a lot more pacifist, rivals: Buddhism and Christianity.

At a time when Saudi Arabia is accusing small Qatar of sponsoring "terrorism," it wouldn't be unwarranted to demand of Riyadh a little soul-searching regarding its Wahhabi ideology, the very same it generously exported to all parts of the globe, thanks to oil money.

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Boris Johnson tells France — not so eloquently — to prenez un grip

Bertrand Hauger


PARIS — I'll admit it straight away: As a bilingual journalist, the growing use of Franglais by French politicians makes my skin crawl.

Not because I think this blend of French and English is a bad thing in and of itself (it is!), or because the purity of the French language should be preserved at all costs (it should!) — but because in a serious context, it is — at best — a distraction from the substance at hand. And at worst, well …

But in France, where more and more people speak decent English, Anglo-Saxon terms are creeping in everywhere, and increasingly in the mouths of politicians who think they're being cool or smart.

Not that long ago, Emmanuel Macron was dubbed "the Franglais president" after tweeting "La démocratie est le système le plus bottom up de la terre" ...

Oh mon dieu

They call it Frenglish

It is much rarer when the linguistic invasion goes in the other direction, with far fewer English-speaking elected officials, or their electors, knowing more than a couple of words of French. (The few Brits who use it call it Frenglish)

Imagine then my horror last night watching British Prime Minister Boris Johnson berating France over the recent diplomatic clash surrounding the AUKUS submarine deal, cheekily telling UK media from Washington: "I just think it's time for some of our dearest friends around the world to prenez un grip about this and donnez-moi un break."

Cringe. Eye roll. Facepalm.
Here's the clip, in case you haven't had your morning cup of awkward.
Grincement de dents. Yeux au ciel. Tête entre les mains.

First, let me offer a quick French lesson: Sorry, BoJo, you needed the "infinitif" form here: "It's time for [us] to prendre un grip about this and me donner un break."

But that, of course (bien sûr), is not the point in this particular moment. Instead, this would-be bon mot is not just sloppy and silly, it is incredibly patronizing, particularly when discussing a multi-billion deal that sparked a deep diplomatic crisis in the Western alliance.

The colorful British politician is, alas, no stranger to verbal miscalculations and linguistic gaffes. He's also (Brexit, anyone?) not necessarily one who cares about preserving relationships with longstanding partners. This time, combining the two, even for such a shameless figure as Mr. Johnson, only one word came to my bilingual brain: Vraiment?

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