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France v. ISIS, What This Kind Of War Requires

French President Francois Hollande has declared that his nation is at war against jihadist terrorism. But how do those words translate into action?

A French soldier patrolling the Eiffel Tower on Monday
A French soldier patrolling the Eiffel Tower on Monday
Nicolas Barré

-OpEd-

PARIS â€" Elodie, Marie, Mathias, Nick, Emmanuel, Mathieu. There is inexpressible grief for these stolen lives, and anger in the face of senselessness. But there's also the belief that, despite this overwhelming tragedy, the cowardly ISIS soldiers will never be able to take from us our love of life and happiness, will never silence the music or quell the joy of being together on a Friday night or force this country to its knees.

We will not forget these faces, these smiles, these moments. The jihadists will not break down our values, or all of what builds the spirit of a nation, and especially of this France that represents everything they hate: freedom, reason, the culture that lives in every little recess of our lives, the appetite for endless debate, the capacity to joke about God and mock churches while deeply respecting the place of religion in our republic.

But to preserve these values and this identity inherited from history, we will have to fight. It is one thing to say we are at war, and these words have long been used in many ways, indeed including the most warlike. It is yet another thing to actually wage war â€" and that changes everything.

We didn't want this war. ISIS has designated us its enemy and is dragging us into its fight. By all means, we must face it. There may be tragedies on an even larger scale because the madness of its leaders is limitless and their reserve of soldiers of hatred, ready to "sacrifice" themselves amid an innocent crowd, is growing bigger every day.

Radical Islam is totalitarianism, just as Nazism and fascism were, that must be fought directly. It has long exploited the weakness of democracies, which are torn between resisting the "war trap" and the courage to take on the challenge.

Waging war requires knowing your enemy, which has been one of the major difficulties of such an asymmetrical conflict. The barbarians aren't just at the gate. Many of them are actually from here, raised on our soil, ever more often French citizens brainwashed by radical imams in mosques from which the moderates have long since been driven out.

Clarity and limits

Islamism is a gangrene that's gaining ground, from places of culture to places of worship, helped by increasingly better organized networks and backed by revenue generated from human and drug trafficking. These barbarians were armed here, they became ISIS soldiers right outside our windows, and it is here that their pathetic brains accumulated the images that fed their destructive madness. Their aim is to "Lebanonize" France by turning communities against each other, to destroy what we are.

Waging war also implies clarity as to the limits of the rule of law. Detaining all the suspects will not lead to much, except to reinforce the appeal of ISIS to its recruits, which relies precisely on a mechanism of victimhood. Guantanamo produced more terrorists than it destroyed.

What must be absolute priorities now are reinforcing tracking systems, constantly cross-referencing the files of suspects, closing down radical places of worship, and putting the most extreme preachers where they can't do harm. We can go much further in the fight without putting our principals in danger, so what are we waiting for?

Finally, waging war implies striking the enemy in its heart â€" in other words, in Iraq or Syria â€" in the regions where it's spreading its sinister "caliphate." The world has made the serious mistake of allowing ISIS to become a terrorist power that controls large swaths of territory. We must now come together to fight.

For Elodie, Marie, Mathias and the others, for our values, we must wage this war, whatever the cost.

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Geopolitics

How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.


But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Activist in front of democracy monument in Thailand.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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