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A French police officer during Wednesday's standoff in Saint-Denis
A French police officer during Wednesday's standoff in Saint-Denis
Farhad Khosrokhavar*

-Analysis-

PARIS — The Nov. 13 attacks that saw jihadists slaughter at least 129 people in Paris raise two crucial questions: Who ordered these attacks? And who carried them out?

The answer to the first is ISIS, the so-called Islamic State that spreads terror, slaughters Muslims and non-Muslims, destroys treasured monuments inherited from centuries and millennia past, and presents a hodgepodge of obscurantist totalitarianism and mythological Islam that has no historical basis, even among the most extreme sects.

The threat of this new entity was, until Nov. 13, routinely underestimated. But the lesson is clear: ISIS must be destroyed in Syria and Iraq before it contaminates other parts of the world, from Libya to Afghanistan and Central Asia.

Al-Qaeda is a mere dwarf in comparison. ISIS enjoys a territorial base, a multi-billion-dollar war chest, the contribution of some 25,000 young fighters from around the world and, most importantly, the stability of an administration and a propaganda apparatus that al-Qaeda never had.

Until now, the Americans, discouraged by their unfortunate interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq, have refused to send ground troops. And Europe, ever the in role of supporting actor, has no unified policy against this thug-state. We should overcome this feeling of collective impotence and take draconian measures to annihilate ISIS' territory.

Jihadist reserve army

But even if we know who ordered the attacks, the second question is just as crucial, and no less thorny. Those who have actually carried them out are Europeans, Belgians and French. They grew up in France's banlieues,its suburban ghettos, and their Belgian equivalent. They are driven by an unquenchable hatred against this Europe that raised them and educated them, more or less well.

There is, at the heart of Europe, a jihadist reserve army made of young dropouts from the suburbs and poor inner cities. In a perverse way, they're more European than the Europeans. They've created a European Union of Jihadists, whereas European nations are struggling to adopt a single police and intelligence service capable of taking on the cross-border terrorist scourge.

In the short term, we will be able to fight against this reserve army with arrests and incarcerations. But in the long run, we will have to neutralize it with social and economic measures, to bring these youths out of the ghettos and invent a new form of urbanism and socialization.

These youths identify with jihadism less for religious reasons than for questions of identity and social inclusion. They see Islam as a symbol of resistance because no other creed, due to the exhaustion of far-left ideologies, can bring them that extra bit of soul and support of the sacred.

Since 2013, departures to Syria for jihad from France (the highest number of jihadists in Europe) and Belgium (the highest proportion of jihadists in Europe) are the background of the current European malaise. Among these volunteers, there are a growing number of members of the middle class.

But the dominant jihadist model, that of youths from the banlieues, continues to function, equipped as it is with a formidable anthropological instrument: hatred of society, sanctified under the catch-all expression of jihad, which has been perverted and emptied from all religious content in the strict sense of the term.

Thirst for revenge

This hatred is taking a new form: it includes the whole of Europe, knows no national borders and targets all Europeans (including those who are Muslim). It is a desire to punish, to take revenge against a society that, in their minds, tries to dehumanize them by parking them in ghettos and denying them the dignity of the average citizen.

But this unhealthy victimization, founded on half-truths about racism and islamophobia, doesn't hide its mythologized character and its Manichaeism that denies all the possibilities that a democracy offers to its citizens, starting with the instrument that voting represents.

Jihadism has benefited from two extraordinarily resonant inventions that these youths literally embody: the neo-martyr, this sacred death in the subjectivisation frenzy; and the neo-Umma, an agitated community that has never existed historically speaking, and that unsettled European youths are trying to achieve as a cure to their identity crisis.

A desire to die and to kill by totally dehumanizing those on whom they unleash their hatred is a phenomenon that dates back to the Iranian revolution of 1979 and that later spread into the Sunni Muslim world, fueled by humiliation and the thirst for revenge against the evil West. What's extraordinary is that this love of death is combined with enthusiasm for this neo-Umma, both macabre and jubilant, which becomes the focal point of youth angst. These are youths who killed other youths (for the most part) on Nov. 13, believing they were acting with divine legitimacy.

France combines several factors that makes its case look even worse to jihadists: Fanatics identify it as the "land of debauchery," the land of antireligious ideology and political ambition. France is also home to the largest Muslim community in Europe, an overwhelming majority of whom have nothing to do with extremism.

As for intelligence, security services and the police, they're equipped to fight against a few hundred, but not against thousands of terrorists that can roam freely due to the free flow across borders. They're overwhelmed and flooded by the extension of this new form of terrorism. Europe must act quickly to match the jihadists' sense of unity and purpose, relying on the core structures of a federal system to fight terrorism. Otherwise, the destiny of Europe itself is on the line.

* Farhad Khosrokhavar is an French-Iranian sociologist, author of the 2014 book, Radicalization.

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