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'Bush Fell Into' bin Laden's Trap

Due to a failure to understand the goals and thinking of Islamic extremists, al-Qaeda's strategy to exploit the inherent vulnerabilities of Western democracies has largely worked.

By Alain-Gérard Slama

July 11, 2005

Le Figaro - Home Page (French)    

The result of the attack on London is that, on July 7 at 8:51 a.m., Europeans woke up at war. The United States believes it has been in a state of war since September 11, 2001. On this side of the Atlantic, despite the implacable succession of attacks in Bali in October 2002, in Casablanca in May 2003, in Istanbul in November 2003 and in Madrid in March 2004, the Old Continent stubbornly closed its eyes. It was preferable to minimize the threat in talking about attacks in the same way that, in France, we talked about “the events” during the war in Algeria. In the last few days, something has changed.

Of course, there are always “detractors” who say that the terrorists are no better or worse than their victims. But the media no longer hesitates to call war by its name and, from the point of view that interests us – European resistance to totalitarian barbarism – this is huge progress.

It remains to be seen which war this is, where to fight it, with what means and against what enemy. The type of conflict now before us is both very new and very familiar. This is not a war between nations. It is not a war of civilizations or a religious war or a civil war – all of which those placing the bombs would have us believe. It is an ideological war that prolongs the totalitarian conflicts of the 20th century with the aggravating circumstance that it does not apply to a people or to any empire.

The original seed of this new totalitarianism is not unknown to us. It is similar to the groups that were the early forces behind Bolshevism, fascism and Nazism. Al-Qaeda has its origins in an Islamic tribe from southern Yemen, where Osama bin Laden is from. This tribe, which has spread throughout the Muslim world, provided the perpetrators of the early attacks.

Like the red and brown totalitarians of yesteryear, this group, formed in 1954 in reaction to Nasser’s secular revolution, is motivated by a dream of universal domination. Its propaganda relies on a deep resentment, and its fight, which strives for the triumph of a new civilization, will not end with the settling of the Middle Eastern crisis. Its targets are both Western democracies and Arab dictatorships accused of having betrayed Islam. In its most visible form, al-Qaeda relies on very religious believers. But in its methods, it reproduces with little originality the strategic and totalitarian doctrines inspired by the West; it owes less to Mohammed than to Clausewitz, Marx, Lenin, Hitler and even Mao.

From Mohammed, it takes its bellicose “jihad” and the restoration of the caliphate. From Clausewitz, it applies the criteria of a strategy that avoids the escalation to extremes by dissuasion, allowing its enemy to believe that the means of mass destruction are at its disposal. Its goal is to demoralize democracies and their allies, and to influence their domestic and foreign policies, as seen in Madrid, and to ruin their economies. It is not to invade them from outside, but to cause them to disintegrate from inside by developing within them, through fear and suspicion, a feeling of having been invaded. The effective weapon for attaining this goal is the terrorist ready to sacrifice his life, upon who dissuasion has no effect.

From Nazism, Islamist propaganda takes the radical denunciation of liberal customs, considered an example of decadence against which the suicide bombers, like the SS in their time, use the superiority of their physical and moral courage. This denunciation is combined with the racist themes of anti-Judaism. But it also relies on Marxism-Leninism, which gives it an economic and social dimension.

Like Lenin, the terrorists legitimate the use of violence by saying that democratic values and the philosophy of human rights provides a way for the upper classes and the rich countries to impose their domination on the lower classes and poorer nations. Like Lenin, once more, they use the right of the infernal dialectic -- of provocation and repression -- against the state.

This dialectic has proven effective: the more democracy is forced to resort to illegal measures to fight the terrorist threat, the more it lessens its legitimacy. The more the reaction is disproportionate, the more it inverses the roles of the aggressor and the victim, and the more it gives the enemy the means to act.

The United States remained rational in attacking Afghanistan because it was an incontestable breeding ground for Islamist terrorism.

On the other hand, by invading Saddam Hussein’s weakened Iraq without having been able to show its links to al-Qaeda, President Bush fell into the trap that was set for him. He aggravated his case by making the Guantanamo Bay camp a zone excluded from the law. Not only did he thus provide recruits for his enemies, but he also succeeded in getting a Muslim extremist elected in Tehran.

As for Maoism, it can be seen in the strategy of a fish in water. The more our democracies confuse tolerance with relativism, the more they open themselves up to multiculturalism and give in to sectarian ethnic and religious claims to identity, the more they allow terrorists to move with ease in the host society, and the more they facilitate the spreading of the propaganda that harms them.

When he learned of London’s victory in Britain’s bid for the 2012 Olympic Games, Tony Blair boasted of owing this success to the multicultural nature of British society. The next day’s attack brought him a bloody challenge to this claim. In London, like in Madrid, the assassins were organized and in place long before the attack, and the use of human bombs [suicide bombers] does not even seem to have been necessary.

Those in our country who refuse to see that the integrationists in the Union of Islamic Organizations in France will soon be just a handful of moderates within the French Council of the Muslim faith; and those who think it is possible to succeed at integrating fanatics with a revision of the 1905 law requiring a separation of religion and state should think again: Fundamentalism is not compatible with democracy. The vigilance of a rational secular state as an unwavering guarantor of neutrality in public spaces, remains more than ever a vital protector for our freedom.

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