What are we fight­ing for?

In the face of mul­ti­ple chal­lenges, the focus goes on se­cu­rity. The na­ture of po­lit­i­cal re­sponse, how­ever, is at least equally im­por­tant

The Ukrainian Week - - NEIGHBOURS - Philippe de Lara, Paris

Since Jan­uary 2015, France has been struck by a se­ries of ter­ror­ist at­tacks. More at­tacks have been avoided thanks to po­lice work. The gov­ern­ment de­clares that France is “at war with ter­ror­ism”. France is liv­ing un­der a “state of emer­gency” since Novem­ber 2015. But when a coun­try is tar­geted, there is no zero risk, and French author­i­ties are well aware and de­clared re­peat­edly that France would suf­fer other painful at­tacks, what­ever the pre­cau­tions.

So we are at war. What kind of war is it? Who is the en­emy? And are France and other Western coun­tries able to con­trol and de­feat this en­emy? These com­plex ques­tions are both strate­gic and po­lit­i­cal, they de­pend both on do­mes­tic and for­eign pol­i­tics.

Although be­wil­der­ing, the se­cu­rity stake is ac­tu­ally not the most dif­fi­cult one. Since the 1970s, with do­mes­tic red ter­ror­ism in Ger­many and Italy, and the rise of “in­ter­na­tional ter­ror­ism”, western democ­ra­cies have been desta­bi­lized sev­eral times by new kinds of ter­ror. Un­til the col­lapse of USSR, ter­ror­ist groups were very of­ten spon­sored if not con­trolled by the KGB or its East Ger­man, Bul­gar­ian, etc. cousins. In each case, the po­lice and spe­cial forces had to adapt. Gov­ern­ments had to find the best course of re­ac­tions. You don’t deal with mil­i­ta­rized groups trained and spon­sored by Soviet Union the same way you deal with a glob­al­ized net­work with au­ton­o­mous cells like Al Qaida.

Re­cently, un­der the dis­guise of the “Is­lamic State”, the frag­men­ta­tion of the ter­ror­ist mode of ac­tion reached a new step: it is now a mat­ter of in­di­vid­ual rad­i­cal­iza­tion coached by in­ter­net sites or Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ties in­flu­enced by fun­da­men­tal­ists. Ter­ror­ists use a wide range of tac­tics and weapons, able to be served by ei­ther ex­pe­ri­enced veter­ans, or mad big­ots, or young ma­nip­u­lated ac­tivists. The de­bates we once had on the dis­tinc­tions to be made be­tween or­ga­nized in­ter­na­tional ter­ror­ism and iso­lated in­sane per­pe­tra­tors, on the duty to avoid ab­so­lutely “amal­ga­ma­tion” be­tween re­li­gious, po­lit­i­cal, and so­cial mo­tives, etc. are idle wheels, to say the least: against the un­prece­dented dif­fuse and poly­mor­phic modes of ter­ror, these are not al­ter­nate sce­nar­ios but in­ter­twined factors. The Nice’s killer, may be both an in­sane and ide­o­log­i­cally mo­ti­vated per­son, both an iso­lated lone wolf and a pawn of ISIS.

To see what hap­pens and to cope with it is a dif­fi­cult task. We are more or less back to the same sit­u­a­tion as on the day af­ter the Mu­nich Olympics mas­sacre in 1972, or af­ter the first air­plane hi­jack­ings in the Mid­dle East. Then, spe­cial forces in each coun­try stud­ied the new war­fare of ter­ror­ists and de­vised new de­fence tac­tics. But the art of “asym­met­ri­cal war” as it is la­belled now finds ev­ery day new tools and de­vices, thanks to glob­al­iza­tion of me­dia and econ­omy, tech­nolo­gies, in­ter­net and, last but not least, new mo­ti­va­tion pro­files. Yet the main tough chal­lenge for gov­ern­ments is not se­cu­rity. Se­cu­rity is not a mat­ter of mus­cles and/or of law, it is a mat­ter of pol­i­tics. Pol­i­tics means giv­ing sense to the sit­u­a­tion: first, states­men have to in­form the peo­ple and ex­plain the events so that they can cope with the threat in the long run and be­have prop­erly. Sec­ond, they have to lead the na­tion and ap­pear trust­wor­thy in a time of ubiq­ui­tous dan­gers. Again, this lead­er­ship and trust­wor­thi­ness are not a mat­ter of “ver­ti­cal­ity” as too many lit­tle Putins are bark­ing (in­clud­ing our Sarkozy), nor are they based only on ef­fi­ciency and suc­cess in the pro­tec­tion of the pop­u­la­tion. They de­pend prop­erly on the abil­ity (and willingness) to make sense of the threats and dis­or­ders of the world, of the sit­u­a­tion of our coun­try, and to ar­tic­u­late the pro­jec­tit sets to the na­tion and to the world. The duty of gov­ern­ments is not only to take all the tech­ni­cal steps to achieve se­cu­rity, but to put the civil so­ci­ety in the ma­te­rial and moral con­di­tion to un­der­stand and cope with these steps, to pic­ture the mean­ing and horizon of the or­deal (what we stand and fight for). In the French case, these is­sues are in­tri­cate

be­cause the State has been and is still, so to speak, our civil so­ci­ety: since the monar­chy and through Re­pub­li­can­ism, State in France is the founder of the na­tion and the main ob­ject of our pa­tri­otic pride, the shield pro­tect­ing cit­i­zens from any dan­ger, the source of any col­lec­tive ac­tion, the heart of what French cul­ture and way of life mean for us and for the world.

First chal­lenge: to be­have prop­erly. It does not mean to be­come a na­tion of he­roes. Proper be­hav­iour in­volves small things: com­mon de­cency, con­trol of panic, good will com­pli­ance to se­cu­rity reg­u­la­tions even when they are bor­ing, and, last but not least, re­sis­tance to scape­goat­ing: “it is the fault of the Arabs, of EU, of weak­ness of demo­cratic pow­ers, of refugees”. Other scape­goat hunters will men­tion “is­lam­o­pho­bia, xeno­pho­bia, poverty, cap­i­tal­ism, US im­pe­ri­al­ism”: the left­ists are not less silly than the “pop­ulists” ones.

Now, re­silience against panic and scape­goat­ing, care for others, civic dis­ci­pline, are not given once and for all in in­di­vid­u­als and so­ci­eties, they are shaped by cir­cum­stances, by na­tional cul­ture and by pol­i­tics. Let us think of the un­be­liev­able re­sources of ded­i­ca­tion, courage, and civic moral­ity re­vealed by the Maidan in a peo­ple, the Ukraini­ans, sup­posed to be de­pressed, self­ish, di­vided, prone to­men­tal slav­ery af­ter­cen­turies of for­eign dom­i­na­tion and decades of Soviet brain-wash­ing. Or let us look at the dig­nity of French peo­ple re­ac­tions af­ter the at­tacks of Novem­ber 2015 in Paris: the aware­ness of the val­ues at stake, the con­cern for unity and even friend­ship, the civic piety of the rit­u­als in mem­ory of the vic­tims (maybe an echo of Maidan…).

Here comes the ul­ti­mate pit­fall: French lead­ers, French gov­ern­ment are do­ing rather well in their daily de­ci­sions, they find more or less the right words at the good time (ad­mit­tedly bet­ter in Novem­ber than in July). But they don’t pro­vide what a so­ci­ety, a na­tion needs in such a sit­u­a­tion: a clear iden­ti­fi­ca­tion and un­der­stand­ing of the threats and dan­gers we are fac­ing, a sound and mean­ing­ful nar­ra­tive about where we stand in such a com­plex and dread­ful world, and a perspective of ac­tion we set to our­selves and pro­pose to our al­lies and part­ners. Such were in the past­wars (at least jus­ti­fied and ac­cepted ones). So should be the Euro­pean “con­struc­tion”, or NATO, or WTO, pro­vided they have sound pur­poses and the skill to make these pur­poses in­tel­li­gi­ble and le­git­i­mate to the cit­i­zens. Alas, what­ever their mer­its, the best Euro­pean lead­ers (let me in­clude pres­i­dent Hol­lande among them, de­spite the gen­eral Hol­lande bash­ing in France) don’t have, or don’t dare to ar­tic­u­late for them­selves and for their peo­ple this un­der­stand­ing, nar­ra­tive, and project. The word “War” which should point to a def­i­nite un­der­tak­ing has be­come an empty shell. Peo­ple are get­ting frus­trated and an­gry by a bel­liger­ent speech which can­not name the en­emy, nor the pos­si­ble al­lies, nor the means and theatre of com­bats, not to men­tion the scope of the war, that is which or­der it is meant to fos­ter­after the cur­rent chaos, at least re­gard­ing the bal­ance of pow­ers and sta­bil­ity of in­ter­na­tional or­der, if not higher ob­jec­tives, like free­dom, just and peace­ful co­op­er­a­tion schemes, or sav­ing the planet.

What are the is­sues our po­lit­i­cal nar­ra­tive (rather, our lack of po­lit­i­cal nar­ra­tive!) fails to an­swer, in France and in Europe? Anal­y­sis could be made at a broad and ab­stract level: cri­sis of demo­cratic gover- nance, un­bound in­di­vid­u­al­ism, chal­lenge of sus­tain­able habi­ta­tion of the planet, shift of the world from Europe to Asia, re­newed plau­si­bil­ity of au­thor­i­tar­ian regimes, etc. I find more il­lu­mi­nat­ing to focus on three key is­sues, on which Western states­men should and could be ac­count­able and are not: the fail­ure of the rev­o­lu­tion of global econ­omy since 2008, the rise of Is­lamic mad­ness, the neo-to­tal­i­tar­ian turn of Rus­sia. The av­er­age po­lit­i­cal un­der­stand­ing since the end of Cold War has been un­able to grasp and fore­cast these sit­u­a­tions. At best, it fo­cuses on the first and the sec­ond, but it ig­nores the third and can­not ad­dress any of them be­cause it does not grasp the whole pic­ture.

The un­der­es­ti­ma­tion of Rus­sia’s power of nui­sance has its deep­est root in this lack of global un­der­stand­ing. Western lead­ers (who are still the lead­ers of the world) are bewildered by eco­nomic and se­cu­rity chal­lenges. They take them one at a time as they stum­ble on them. They hate the idea of fac­ing many dif­fer­ent en­e­mies and threats, they long for a pack­age deal which would solve all prob­lems with a sin­gle blow, be it the paci­fied and un­re­strained glob­al­iza­tion of pop­u­la­tions and mar­kets, the an­ni­hi­la­tion of fun­da­men­tal­ist Is­lam, the bat­tle against so­cial in­jus­tice on a world scale, or the restau­ra­tion of na­tional closed so­ci­eties, ruled by au­thor­i­tar­ian gov­ern­ments, or dig­i­tal econ­omy, or what­ever. Putin’s game, fiery and blinded by re­venge (or rather by a fan­tasy of re­venge), is a fact many lead­ers choose to ig­nore be­cause they can­not stand a third front on the con­ti­nent and pre­fer to flirt with the il­lu­sion that Putin’s regime could be a re­li­able part­ner and even a re­course. That’s why so many de­cent con­ser­va­tives fall un­der Putin’s spell: some are­an­gry again­st­the de­struc­tion of lo­cal cul­tures and of demo­cratic na­tions by glob­al­iza­tion, oth­er­sun­happy with the dis­man­tling of wel­fare state by the new econ­omy, oth­ers­de­spaired by the de­cay of demo­cratic pol­i­tics which no longer of­fer com­mu­nity val­ues, his­tor­i­cal mean­ing, and de­cency of lead­er­ship.

That’s why we over­state our com­mon in­ter­est with Rus­sia (against Is­lamic ter­ror, in Syria, for the se­cu­rity of Europe at large and, why not, against Turkey and NATO), and that’s why we mis­con­strue Putin’s ac­tion as a ra­tio­nal great power pol­icy. Since 1989, Western con­scious­ness is still un­der the spell of “the end of history” and can­not con­tem­plate history in the mak­ing, that is gen­uine chaos strate­gies which are at the bot­tom of both Rus­sia and Is­lamism pol­icy. It makes lit­tle dif­fer­ence whether this chaos strat­egy is driven by some cun­ning ex­pec­ta­tions or by blind re­sent­ment. The civil war in Europe that Is­lamic ter­ror­ists are try­ing to put on fire on one side, the col­lapse of EU and reshuf­fling of Euro­pean or­der Putin is push­ing for­ward on the other, are two very dif­fer­ent and in­de­pen­dent per­ils, but the same disability pre­vent Euro­peans from un­der­stand­ing and re­act­ing prop­erly to these per­ils.

My con­jec­ture is that the deep mis­un­der­stand­ing of what hap­pened in 1989 is the mother of sub­se­quent mis­takes and blind­ness: on the flaws of global econ­omy rev­o­lu­tion and their po­lit­i­cal con­se­quences on le­git­i­macy in demo­cratic coun­tries, and on the na­ture of earth­quakes in the Is­lamic world (since the Is­lamic rev­o­lu­tion in Iran, the Sun­nite-Shi’ite war, and the Soviet war in Afghanistan). Un­for­tu­nately, such thoughts may be shared in Ukraine, they are nearly in­audi­ble in the rest of Europe.

In need of lead­er­ship. In a time of ubiq­ui­tous dan­gers, states­men have to lead the na­tion and ap­pear trust­wor­thy

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ukraine

© PressReader. All rights reserved.