PARIS — The scene repeats itself. On the ground, bodies in blood, inanimate, unconscious or already dead, others staggering around frightened and haggard. Soon after, the sounds of sirens, as rescue workers and emergency medical care arrive. Later, we see the first faces of the victims, the identities of the killers. At the scene, as flowers, candles, and speeches arrive, messages of support and compassion flood in from around the world.
Meanwhile, Islamic terrorists issue threats, demands and proclamations of victory, as security policy is criticized in the nation attacked. Sadness and anger mix with resignation and courage.
The scenario plays out, in a more or less similar way, across the map: from Paris to London, from Baghdad to Manchester, from Nice to Kabul and beyond. The modus operandi is always evolving. Of course, the difference is notable between the planes that were diverted on September 11, 2001 and the knives being used today, and even a hammer, recently, at the Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris.
Jihadists have shifted from massive attacks with sophisticated preparations, to street actions that are undetectable in advance. But something bigger endures: the repetition of the deaths, the undeniable resolve of the attackers, a diffused sense of insecurity. But what consequences are we up against, in the long run? In what direction are we heading? It is time to ask these questions.
It goes without saying, nobody has the answers. Still, certain hypotheses exist. For the attacks will not cease, they can even multiply, intensify, for years to come. Announced by the battle of Raqqa, the next crash of the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) will again fan the vengeance. And, above all, Islamism is a fanaticism: its fighters kill and die for God. They massacre innocents in submission to His word, in the name of His will — or what they believe to be such. This religious dimension, which so many analyses exclude, constitutes the central source of the destructive power of Islamism and its potential lasting power.
The current situation suggests three distinct scenarios.
Europe could sink, bit by bit, into chaos and civil war. The murderous attacks continue to repeat, and governments' are increasingly seen as unable to protect their citizens; the growing panic combines with xenophobic and racist outbursts that leads to the formation of militias and vigilante expeditions. Ultimately, we can imagine well-developed societies essentially disintegrating. This scenario is the one that ISIS dreams of. It would open the way for the installation of the Islamic caliphate upon the ruins of European states. Though we are still clearly far from this state of affairs, nothing can exclude it from coming to pass.
It is time to put an end to compromise and hypocrisy
This reverse hypothesis sees indifference setting in, where everything continues as usual. The power of technical societies is so strong, their capacity for absorption so great that nothing prevents them from believing that they end up integrating the "terrorist act" as a marginal, constant but negligible perturbation comparable to car accidents and natural disasters. Mutatis mutandis, as the Romans said, changes are made to minimize the damage, but all the essential wheels would continue to function normally. The jihadists would be viewed merely as the losers, victims, unlucky ones in a society bound for further progress.
Yet the most likely scenario is still different than either of the previous two. Without blaming all Muslims, without giving in to any xenophobic hysteria, the citizens of almost all European countries are beginning to understand, more and more clearly, along with their leaders, that it is time to put an end to compromise and hypocrisy. Jihadists want to destroy everything that serves as the foundation of our democracies: religious freedom, secularism, freedom of expression, human rights, gender equality. They do not hide from the weight of preparing their own deaths. If we want our lives of freedom, we must fight too. Without blind hatred, but without pretending the problem isn't there.
This approach should apply to all fields: from education to urban policy, from prisons to mosque control, military confrontation to cafe life of your neighborhood. Faced with a totalitarianism that resembles a new Nazism, a new Churchill is needed. One could then imagine that our democracies will eventually emerge victorious from this struggle, certainly transformed, but strengthened in the end.