PARIS — At first, there is that horrific sensation like something pushing on your chest with the tears that swell as we imagine the parents trying to reach their children and nobody answering on the other end of the line where a massacre has been committed. Then, there is the anger that becomes a feeling of powerlessness in the knowledge that some monsters, somewhere, will rejoice at this act of evil. But once emotions have passed, after the ceremonies and the minutes of silence, there will remain our collective duty to ask ourselves what we can do.
Nobody can claim they can stop all attacks. In France, intelligence services have learned a lot and the current state of emergency has given them the means to move faster. But the tragedy in Manchester forces us to face the same standing truth.
First, as the investigations on the people close to the suicide bomber Salman Abedi has shown, Libya is now a deadly peril for Europe. The French military has been warning for months that a significant number of senior ISIS members fleeing the allied offensive on Mosul and Raqqa were heading toward Libya, via Turkey. Abedi himself traveled through Turkey. Didier François, a French reporter in the region, recently told radio station Europe 1, "We're evidently witnessing a transfer in know-how, coming out of Iraq and Syria." This new flashpoint allows future commandos to mingle with the flow of desperate migrants thrown onto the Mediterranean by human traffickers.
Second, the history of our own jihadists in France shows that like Salman Abedi, a large part of them were born on European soil and that they've learned to hate who we are in our very own schools. And yet, at no time was this hate met with any kind of appropriate response. What can you say about a young man who attempts to go to Syria twice and who three judges decided to release because he promised that, of course, he'd abandoned his plans and go look for a job? Turns out this young man eventually slit the throat of an 86-year-old priest last July in a small town northwest of Paris. It seems some magistrates still haven't grasped the threat our police officers and soldiers are battling against.
Multiculturalism won't save us from their hatred
But more broadly, what we're lacking is not another piece of anti-terror legislation but an intellectual and moral rearmament of our institutions, of every citizen regardless of their origin or religion, so we can all put up a united front against this hatred.
Finally, something we'll never repeat often enough and that each attack, be it in Britain, Sweden or Germany, reminds us is that multiculturalism won't save us from their hatred. A jihadist who blows himself up in the middle of a group of teenage girls after a concert is not protesting against some form of discrimination. The same goes for the someone who, in cold blood, shoots children at point-blank range because they're Jewish as happened in 2012 in the southern French city of Toulouse. And yet Swiss-born intellectual Tariq Ramadan would write, one week later that the attacker, Mohamed Merah, was "a victim of a system that had already sentenced him."
The jihadist that struck in Manchester was living in a society that tolerates the full veil and that sees the French brand of secularism, laïcité, as incomprehensible. We can try and understand the multiple factors that fuel the frustrations of young men out for revenge. Still, should we go as far as the new French president Emmanuel Macron, who, in 2015, was speaking about the "breeding-ground" that favors such acts and what part might be "our responsibility"? Without denying that there is discrimination, should we really be convincing young people in this country that their failures can solely be explained by the fact that they're being mistreated by the institutions? If there's any breeding-ground that favors terror attacks, you need look no further.
We must, of course, become aware of our own flaws and gaps. We must stop believing we can get away with destabilizing countries and entire regions of the world for the sake of muddled interests. We must stop thinking it is inconsequential to let rich allies infiltrate our neighborhoods, as well as entire regions of Africa, with a fundamentalism and totalitarian brand of Islam. We must stop considering soldiers pervaded with ideology as lost and neglected children. We must stop reducing our civilizational model to its most sordid dimension and then be surprised that it doesn't interest our youth, destined to look elsewhere for motivations to live and causes to die for. We must, finally, stop telling ourselves every time that we need to "get used" to terrorism, which sounds like the worst kind of fatalism.
In short, we must stop lying to ourselves. To feed our reflections and our choices, we must always bear in mind, always remember, that our priority is to protect our children and see them grow up in a world where they won't have to fear that the child sitting next to them at school might wind up killing them one day.