BERLIN — It was supposed to sound aggressive when Prime Minister Manuel Valls told French citizens after the terrorist attacks in Paris that the country would henceforth be in a state of "war."
President François Hollande too addressed the nation in these terms. On the only aircraft carrier France possesses, he announced that the army would be taking more energetic steps against the ISIS terror group. After what Paris experienced, strong words are needed to give citizens confidence.
The state is a bit like religion — it only works if people believe in it. It's the job of government to strengthen that belief. But the question remains: Is "war" the right word? And if it is the right expression, what's the follow-up? Does Hollande seriously believe that he can win the war against terror with a single aging aircraft carrier?
According to Carl von Clausewitz, war is nothing more than an "extended fight between two foes," an "act of violence to force the opponent to our will." Is that possible in this conflict? And where is the enemy, anyway?
Can we really speak of a fight between two foes here? Aren't there actually several opponents, from the warrior in open combat in Iraq to the lone wolf who attacks a synagogue and the radical mufti in the suburban mosque? Is the enemy to be conquered militarily, via secret services, or by civil society? There are questions on questions. They all point to the fact that using the term "war" isn't very helpful.
The West is currently fighting Islamic extremism in four ways: militarily; through the secret services; via the police; and by society. The word "war" is best suited to the military endeavors. The effort is being led not by Europeans, but by the Americans, trying to drive back ISIS in Syria and Iraq with air offensives.
Regardless of whether France increases the number of its fighter planes above the 15 already in use, or whether Berlin delivers more anti-tank weapons to the Kurds or sinks them in the Elbe river, the course of this fighting doesn't depend on Europe. Europe's battlefield is elsewhere.
Since 9/11, the police and the secret services have made significant progress. They may not have stopped all attacks, but they have stopped many. Thanks to new laws and bigger budgets, not to mention the help of the CIA and the NSA, the achievements of European intelligence agencies are palpable. But it's difficult for them to monitor the suspected 5,000 EU citizens who have joined the jihad in Syria or who have returned to Europe armed and with the knowledge of how to bypass listening devices.
Interpol HQ in Lyon, France — Photo: Massimiliano Mariani
We can assume that Europe's security officials know how to equip themselves to meet the new contingencies. Germany's speedy decision to confiscate the passports of jihadists with a yearn for travel is a case in point, as is the safety upgrading of the French secret services by the Élysée.
We have to expect further bloody attacks. But who seriously believes that the difficulties can't be remedied? The field of secret service work is not fraught with such insurmountable problems that it must take on a whole new, warlike character.
That leaves the variety of dangers that exist within society, the parallel society that can hardly be overlooked and yet is criminally neglected in France and elsewhere in Europe, where governments, under the banner of political correctness, have opted against any kind of open engagement.
The effect of this neglect doesn't necessarily need to lead to terrorism. But it does strengthen the tendency among some to see open society as weak. It heightens the desire of young hotheads, mostly Arab ones, to put everything into question step by step.
Whether it is the French idea that their society is so homogenous that integration was superfluous, or the German mix of indifference and a certain pleasure in the more exotic aspects of multiculturalism, the result was always the same: gloomy and depressing.
Despite a few corrections, little has happened to address these shortcomings. It was only in 2014 that something came out what had taken place in Rotherham, in Britain. Over the years, 1,400 young women had been raped by men of Muslim Pakistani descent. While the social workers had reported on the acts and the perpetrators, the authorities had suppressed the report out of fear they could be accused of being racists if they were to divulge the ethnicity of the rapists.
In France, things are a bit similar with young Africans. After the riots in the suburbs in 2005, so little happened by way of gathering in the increasingly alienated young Africans that in many schools, second and third generation young people disrupted the minutes of silence for the Paris murder victims or even called for memorial services to be held for the murderers.
And in Germany, there is a general tendency to discuss these problems from every side but to disparage as racist anyone who expresses too forthright an opinion. The difficulties are not going to be solved this way. They're just being made worse.
It is time to start implementing the New York strategy of zero tolerance in the fight against radical Islam and against causes that call civil society into question. The fight begins in the schools — and not only in the French ones. It doesn't end in the realm of religion. The weapon of choice on this battlefield is relentless openness. Sadly, people have yet to brandish it.