Saturday

16th Feb 2019

Opinion

What Hollande did not say matters

  • Hollande's speech was prepared to announce France's riposte to the terrorist attacks that took place in Paris on Friday 13 November. (Photo: French presidency)

On 16 November 2015, French president Francois Hollande addressed the parliamentary Congress in Versailles for the first time in his quinquenat.

The speech was designed to announce France’s riposte to the terrorist attacks that took place in Paris on Friday 13 November.

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  • Radical islamists use social media including Facebook, YouTube and Twitter to recruit and spread hatred. (Photo: Eston)

Among important proposals made were increases in the number of police forces that will be trained to fortify existing manpower charged with ensuring public security. He also proposed a constitutional amendment that will allow authorities more powers to react robustly to future terrorist attacks.

The entire speech was appropriate, given the context.

France, the land of freedom, equality, and fraternity had been attacked by a faceless and egregious enemy cloaked behind a veil of cowardice.

While the speech was deep and received its due round of applause, and the president was treated to a standing ovation, I was struck by the fact that even as France’s elected elite sang to the Marseillaise with one voice there were gaps in the overall message of the president.

He did not say anything concrete about prevention and the strategies to go about it.

While the speech was strong on combating the enemy with military force, it lacked much-needed specific proposals on how to prevent radicalisation of many young Europeans who have been steeped in this poisonous ideology of Islamic jihad against the world.

Social media war

So what was I expecting?

In addition to his feisty speech, three clear messages could have been apposite.

First, I was expecting that he would take a strong stance in countering the spread of the venomous message by radical islamists through social media.

These groups use social media including Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter to recruit and spread hatred.

Why are governments not partnering with these social media companies to police and stop the circulation of such deadly ideas?

It is insane to allow the public to digest the depravity of James Foley’s throat being slit like that of a goat by Jihadi John. Why give them this platform to spread their savagery?

Yet some talk of civil liberties and use Snowden as the straw man.

On the balance of probabilities, dead people have no civil liberties. Stopping this flow of ideas is technically easy and can be done sooner than presumed.

The political will and commitment from the companies is needed for this to be done now.

Splitting Iraq in three

Second, I was expecting the president to tell the world how the Sunnis in Iraq and Syria would be pacified.

The Islamic State group (IS) is growing and will continue to grow so long as Sunnis in Iraq and Syria are now convinced that their best interests and even survival can only be guaranteed through IS.

If the Sunnis want their own autonomous region, as the Kurds enjoy, then we have to push for a political settlement that splits Iraq into three: the Kurds in the North, Sunni strongholds and Shia-dominated areas.

Turkey may initially take issue but will eventually come along. Iran and Saudi Arabia may also cringe but will buy in. Iraq is no longer a viable country.

What to do then with Syria?

Assad may not have to go immediately. He will have to participate in a political transition.

We need the courage to admit this even as it plays into the Kremlin’s hands.

That political transition will need to have strong guarantees for the protection of all minorities, including the Alawites.

One of the reasons for the stalemate in Syria is that the Alawites know that should they give up power now, genocide at the hands of an unconstrained IS and the IS-sympathetic Sunni majority would inevitably follow.

Radical jihadists world wide

Third, and of great concern, are the global ramifications of a possible rapprochement between terrorists and radical jihadists around the world.

They already share commonalities in ideology and methods.

Some of them, like IS and Boko Haram, have started to hold territory, unlike their vagabond Al Qaeda colleagues.

As they grow stronger from Nigeria to Somalia, from Libya to Afghanistan, and from Egypt to Iraq, the world should be concerned.

We should be concerned about the prospects of nuclear states like Pakistan and their security services falling prey to jihadists.

What is being done to prevent this?

Are intelligence services around the world working at breaking any possible rapprochement between these ideological jihadi fanatics?

Are we sure that the nuclear codes in Islamabad are in safe hands and not being shared with unwanted groups?

We had better be.

Weapons of mass murder

In the heat of the moment the media will swarm around the breaking news in Paris.

The attacks in Paris may soon be just a fickle memory. All we hear now is Paris and the Molenbeek connections. There is much panic and increase in security alerts that feed into further frenzy and panic.

What these jihadists want is that we should be divided, scared and not lead our daily lives. We make them proud when we play that game.

We should not forget the victims of Paris, of Beirut, of the Russian plane that was brought down in the Sinai. We should not forget those killed in Afghanistan, Kenya, those massacred by Boko Haram and those dying in Syria and Iraq.

We should remember each of those killed by these terrorists.

And we should honour their memories by taking a long view, by winning the social media war, reaching a well-considered political/constitutional pacification of Iraq and Syria and, finally, ensuring that weapons of mass murder are not allowed to slip into the hands of consolidated groups of murderous religious fanatics.

Stephen Kingah is Research Fellow, UN University, CRIS (Belgium). These are his views and not the UNU’s

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