Terror in France: The Rise of Jihad in the West

May 12, 2017

From January 2015 to July 2016, 239 people in France died in terrorist attacks. In this gripping talk, leading French scholar Gilles Kepel explains the causes behind this new wave of violent jihad and discusses why Europe is the main target.

JOANNE MYERS: Good evening, everyone. I'm Joanne Myers, and on behalf of the Carnegie Council I'd like to welcome you to this Public Affairs program.

Our speaker is Gilles Kepel. He is an internationally recognized authority on the Arab world and one of the leading experts on French Muslims. Today's discussion is based on his book, entitled Terror in France: The Rise of Jihad in the West, which first appeared in France shortly after the attacks of November 13, 2015, and has been updated for this highly anticipated English edition. His book will be available for you to purchase at the end of the hour today.

Just as our speaker's earlier books on political Islam are valuable primers for anyone interested in this subject, I am confident that you will find Terror in France to be an invaluable guide for putting modern jihadism into a historical and comparative perspective. And, if you are interested in knowing more about this topic, I encourage you to visit our website at www.carnegiecouncil.org and type in "Gilles Kepel."

It is always a privilege to welcome Gilles to this podium, but no more so than at this time. With the recent French election, the rise of jihadist movements, and France being one of the biggest Western exporters of jihadists, his book could not be more timely in our quest to know more about this matter.

You may recall that it was only a few weeks ago, right before the first round of the French presidential elections, that terror returned to the streets of Paris. As the world watched on in horror, the most visited country on the planet had once again become a hotspot for a bloody terror attack. This time it was a policeman on the Champs-Élysées.

The paroxysm of violence that intensified two years ago in Paris, and later throughout France, has left many Frenchmen asking why has their country become the hotbed for jihadi terrorism. While tensions surrounding France's Muslim community have long been simmering, this new siege of violence has added to the apprehension and fear that terrorists will strike again. This has only grown worse with the recognition that hundreds of French citizens fighting alongside the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), more than those from any other European country, will be trickling homeward from Syria and Iraq.

In seeking to understand what propels Islamist terrorism, why radicalization occurs, and why France appears to be the primary target for these attacks, Gilles did extensive fieldwork in France's neglected neighborhoods, in particular its infamous banlieues. His research, along with his reading of primary source material in Arabic, provides additional answers to what motivates this unprecedented form of jihad in the West.

The question that immediately come to mind is: "What does the future hold; what can be done to halt this virulent wave of jihadism?" For the explanation of the causes and roadmap for the future, please join me in giving a very warm welcome to our guest today, Gilles Kepel. Thank you.

GILLES KEPEL: Thank you very much, Joanne, for this very kind introduction. I am going to try to live up to the expectations you have raised, which will be a terrible challenge.

It is always a great pleasure to be back here. I would like also, as I am at the end of my career now, to thank you because you've always stood with me, and whenever I had a book coming out in English, you were always the first person to invite me to Carnegie. So this is a place which is very dear to my heart.

In the good old days when I gave a speech here, I did not have a police car in front of the place because I had not been condemned to death by my object of study, but this maybe is the fate of the Orientalist today when he tries to be consistent. I hope this is part and parcel of the intellectual challenge and the intellectual fight, should I say, which is being waged.

As you very aptly recalled, France is just out of a presidential election. Emmanuel Macron was elected with flying colors on Sunday. It came as a surprise to many people, not only because this person, who was known only by a limited group of friends and colleagues, in two years or something came from anonymity to president of the Republic. He is the youngest chief of state of France since Napoleon Bonaparte, something I said to the BBC the other day. I said, "You know, the Brits should be careful," even though they won at the end, but because they cheated, of course. But also because most pundits would predict that Marine Le Pen, the candidate of the extreme right, would come first at the first round, and that she may not win the second round, but she would make a very, very strong showing.

Much to the surprise and the dismay or the hope of some, Emmanuel Macron came first in the first round, four points ahead of Marine Le Pen, and he really trounced her at the second round, when most estimates were that she would make some 40 percent of the votes. She lost probably 5-to-10 percent because of the final debate, where she was really not up to par, and also because, while she was not really good on the economy, she thought Macron was soft on terrorism and she started to attack him.

Then, he said to her that jihadists actually wanted her to win because the more votes for the extreme right, the more French and European societies are perceived as racist, xenophobic, and so on and so forth, and then, the more the jihadists are in a capacity to say to their co-religionists, "There is no hope in French society, there will be no integration, and therefore the only thing you have to do as a Muslim is to rally under the banner of jihad and of violence and to break European and Western societies." This was a good point he made, definitely, and therefore she probably scored far fewer votes than expected.

Now, why is it that he managed to win with this landslide victory, and also, why is it that the extreme right could not benefit from jihadi terror in order to have a better vote?

It so happened that over the last six months, all attacks on French soil by jihadi terrorists were foiled, except the one you mentioned on the policeman, who was killed in the Champs-Élysées three days prior to the first rounds. They were foiled because of two things. One was that the attacks on the so-called "Islamic State territory," the bombings and the droning, had some matter of efficiency. People there were busy saving lives or battling on the battlefront, and therefore they had no real time and energy to plot.

If I may open sort of a personal remark here, the guy who had condemned me to death three times was droned in February by an American missile, so I may be the only French Trumpian here because he saved my life to some extent, or so I hope. Therefore, the Islamic State had lost its capacity for coordinating attacks in Europe, though, as we shall see in a minute, this model of jihad that has hit Europe, and France in particular, so harshly over the last years is quite different from the American model of jihad, the one that led to 9/11. I will try to explain why briefly. That is one thing.

The other thing was that, after a while—and there is some sort of, should I say, political economy of jihadism and of terrorism?—it is not that difficult to kill people, but it is more difficult to mobilize on your behalf. If, attack after attack, murder after murder, you do not mobilize the masses on your behalf that you want to mobilize, then violence and jihadism turn against their perpetrators.

This is what had happened already during the first phase of jihad, between 1979 and 1997, in Afghanistan first, where the jihadists had a success, but they were backed at the time by the petro-monarchies and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Then, they failed when they tried to duplicate the Afghan jihad in Algeria and in Egypt, among other places, from 1992 to 1997, because the extreme use of violence alienated the very people they wanted to mobilize on their behalf.

Then, you had the second generation of jihad, which was embodied by bin Laden and Zawahiri, his mentor, which considered that the reason why the masses in the Arab world had not mobilized under the banner of the jihadists was that they were afraid, because the West was so mighty and so powerful. Therefore, they had to move the target from what they called the "nearby enemy," the local "apostates," despots, to the "faraway enemy," being America, so that the masses would see that the West was not that mighty and would not be afraid.

And also, by the same token, the jihadists think of history in a way which is sort of peculiar, because they think they have to relive the experience of the Prophet and his successors. In the same manner as his successors had destroyed the Sassanid Empire, which was one of the superpowers of the time, and then turned against Byzantium, which was the other, the jihadists in Afghanistan, and after, had destroyed the Sassanid Empire of today, which was the Soviet Union, and then, because they thought that they were the ones who led to 11/9, not 9/11—that is to say the fall of the Berlin Wall—and then, that they would turn against the Byzantium of today, which is America. The 9/11 raid was something, that was not going to destroy America, but to undermine, to sap its power, and give a sort of psychological sign to the masses that the West was not that mighty.

That did not work either, because they were convinced that when the American Army went into Afghanistan and Iraq it would be defeated; it would be a new Vietnam for America, or a new Afghanistan for the Soviets, in Iraq, which did not happen because Iraq, being a Shia-majority country, they could not take the Sunni jihadists, and they sort of cornered them in what would be the Sunni area of Iraq, which would then lead to the Islamic State. But they did not succeed.

Then, there was this third generation of jihad, which came into being in 2005. The first generation had as an ideologue a Palestinian called Abdullah Azzam, who had written this book, Join the Caravan of Jihad. At the time, propagation of ideas was difficult, and the fax machine—I don't know if anyone remembers what a fax machine is; a museum for prehistoric things is where you may find one—was the vector for propagation.

During the second generation it was satellite television, and 9/11 was created using the Hollywood narrative, and it was to catch the attention of people who were watching the 8 o'clock news. The jihadists did not control the media, even though al-Qaeda and Al-Jazeera had some access with the Qatar government, but it was different. Now the third generation doesn't need satellite television because we have the networks, because everything is online, because you have the messenger services, and so on and so forth.

This book, which was called The Global Islamic Resistance Call, was posted online in January 2005 by a Syrian engineer by the name of Abu Musab al-Suri. It was the third phase of a sort of Hegelian dialectics of jihadism, the aufhebung or the "overcoming" of jihadism. He said the first generation was mistaken because this nearby enemy—no one is interested when Muslims kill Muslims in the world—see Yemen, for instance. Who is interested in Yemen?

The second phase, America, was okay, but America is too far away, really far away, and too mighty. The right target should be Europe. Europe is the soft underbelly of the West. There are scores of disenfranchised young Muslims there, who are children of immigrants, who don't have jobs, and who live in the banlieues or whatever—"banlieues" is now the only French word that you need not translate; in the good old days it was "champagne," "parfum," what have you; now it is banlieues [pronounced in an American accent], as you say on the Upper West Side. Those people, they thought, are the new soldiers for jihadism; they are ready to be mobilized.

As opposed to 9/11, when they sent a bunch of Saudis and Emiratis flying in the skies, now they reach out to the grassroots. It is not a top-down phenomenon, as was the case on 9/11; it is rather a bottom-up phenomenon. For the Arabists here, al-Suri, the name of the Syrian engineer, calls it "Nizam, la tanzim," that is, a system and not an organization, and a network-based system.

How do they proceed? Instead of having a central command, they have an ideology. They have people who are brainwashed. The prison incubators in Europe have played an enormous role to bring our petty criminals into jihad, because the jihadists are higher above intellectually and they serve as role models.

Also, they would let those people, to some extent, choose their targets in their vicinity. The issue is not to make a major spectacular event of a magnitude comparable to 9/11, but a multitude of smaller events with some magnitude—like the Bataclan music hall Paris attack, for instance—but that will accumulate and lead European societies to retaliate violently against Muslims in general—desecrations of mosques, what have you, lynching, attacks, and so on—that will ultimately lead to the break-up of society and to enclave wars, which will lead to civil strife, and, finally, the victory of jihad, which is, of course, ideology, but which reached out to a number—not that many, but enough—of young people to engineer those kinds of attacks and problems.

As you know, we had 239 people who died between the Charlie Hebdo attack on January 7, 2015, and the stabbing of Father Jacques Hamel, a Catholic priest, in Normandy on July 26, 2016. This was clearly something that made a very, very strong impression on the French, and that, in a way, was hijacking the whole political agenda.

How did it function? It functioned because, as opposed to the second generation—to bin Laden's top-down, pyramidal, Leninist if you want, model, or secret service model—the jihadists understood from scratch the digital revolution and how they could use it, which the intelligence agencies just missed.

As I mentioned to you, The Global Islamic Resistance Call was posted online in January 2005, and then something very important happened on February 14, 2005. When I ask my students, usually they look at their shoes, because they think they are going to get a bad grade on that. Finally, one of the blushing students—and one of my former students is here, so she may play that part—says, giggling and blushing, "Sir, it was Valentine's Day."

I said, "Yes, that's the right answer, Paloma, but this is not the answer we want. It was the day when YouTube got its license in California." The two blended. It is a three-way business.

Therefore, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Telegram, what have you—the messenger services which allowed for the network system to function and to go under intelligence radars—that, and the prison incubators and the unemployment and the rise of Salafism—i.e., the cultural break in values with European societies—that created this, if I may so, this "halal cocktail," which led to the phenomenon.

Now, as far as France was concerned, the real wake-up call came on March 19, 2012, five years ago, which was already at the time—because we now have a five-year term for the French president—which was at the beginning of the campaign for the presidency that François Hollande would win against the incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy, who would not be reelected.

This first attack, which happened in Mountauban and Toulouse, two cities in the southwest of France, were performed by a French-Algerian kid called Mohamed Merah. "Merah" in Arabic means "someone who is happy." He did it not only in the beginning of the electoral campaign, which raised a number of questions of whether he did that alone or who was behind it. We are still awaiting the trial of this affair because it is a very complicated issue.

He killed people exactly by the book that Suri posted online in January 2005; that is, he killed apostates, that is, in his view, French soldiers of Muslim origin. Some of them were not; they were French Caribbeans, but they were victims of his "jihadi profiling," if I may say so.

He also killed Jewish students, very young, at a Hebrew school in Toulouse, and one of their teachers, because Suri had said that in order to mobilize the masses you have to kill the so-called "apostates," because those ones are the bad Muslims. If Muslims work in the French Army, the French police, or whatever, they will be a counter-model to jihadists—this is very important to them; their blood is enlisted, as they say—and Jews, he thought, because of the Israeli-Arab conflict in the Middle East, this was something that would reach out far beyond the traditional sympathizers of the jihadists in the Muslim community.

But more important than that, so that you understand the interaction between a number of different registers of mobilization, March 19, 2012 was the 50th anniversary to the day of the implementation of the cease-fire between France and Algeria at the end of the Algerian War of Independence. Merah was born in a family of Algerian descent that hated France. One of the brothers, who did not side with the others, wrote books about that. The mother said that she was so glad that her son had brought France to its knees.

I'm insisting on that because, therefore, you have this—I don't know how they translated that into English—retro-colonial past, this colonial backlash in a way, that fuels the present-day jihad ideology. So it is not only jihad coming from the skies or from hell, wherever you want, but it is also something that clings onto deeper feelings which have not been dealt with.

Add to that the fact that there was a very strong unemployment issue in France. This is one of the reasons, I guess, why Emmanuel Macron, strangely enough, won, because he campaigned on the fact that there will be a major labor law reform, which will of course be resented by people who are unionized and so on, and he campaigned for Europe, which is not a great demagogue theme in European politics today.

The reason why, in a way, this was popular was that people are so desperate at the fact that the job market is such a catastrophe, but when someone talks about significant, in-depth reform of the job market and of the education system—one of the reasons why people are not able to have jobs is that they are unable to deal with the postmodern digital economy, if you wish—therefore he strikes a chord. Even though people know it is going to be hard, nevertheless they are so worried for their kids; even middle-class people are very worried for their kids.

For the French, the fact that so many of our kids who study in France then emigrate to the United States or to Britain—Britain is going to be more difficult now—or to Australia, this is a national shame for us. France has never been a company of emigration, not that much; it was always a country of immigration. This is something which goes deep into the national psyche. So this, of course, led to the present situation.

As I said, we had 239 dead, Charlie Hebdo, the attack on the so-called Islamophobe journalists; then the Kouachi brothers, who had been arrested earlier on because they wanted to go wage jihad against the Americans in Iraq, but did their time in jail and then got out, then they killed a French policeman from Algerian descent, another apostate, then they went to kill Jewish customers at the Hyper Cacher supermarket—the same system, by the book always. [Editor's note: The killings at the supermarket were actually carried by Amedy Coulibaly, a friend of the Kouachi brothers.]

Then, there was the Bataclan music hall attack; then the Nice attack where the truck went into the crowd on Bastille Day, the 14th of July, on the Promenade des Anglais on the French Riviera, hitting two targets simultaneously. Bastille Day is considered the celebration of the infidels because this is the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, the society which is godless, and therefore it should be punished; and also because people are on the beach in their bathing frocks, or half-naked as we are in France and, therefore, this is hedonism, which they have to punish.

Think that a few days after the attack in Nice, where among the 86 dead 30 people were people of Muslim descent, then the beaches were invaded by women in burkinis. You remember that this was a great controversy. The New York Times, as it usually does, started its usual French bashing, saying that France, which was the universal victim because of all the dead, suddenly became the universal persecutor, and laïcité or secularism was the sort of Stalinism or the gulag that France had become for Muslims.

The reason why there was a ban on burkinis by local authorities—though it had no legal basis because when you do not discriminate, you conceal your face in public; in France you can dress as you want—was that they feared the public order would be under threat because people would retaliate for the killings against women who were displaying their burkinis on the beaches, right under the place where the truck had been taken into the crowd. Then it was broken by the state council later on. It is an interesting issue, because you see that the symbolic issues are extremely important. They are not entirely shared from one shore of the Atlantic to the other.

After this attack in Nice and after the stabbing of the Catholic priest, then the Islamic State's system of attacks started to dysfunction. As I mentioned, one thing was the fact that Raqqa, Mosul, and other places were bombed and droned. The other one was that French intelligence, after many years of questioning, had finally managed to break the codes, and they arrested preemptively most people who had sworn allegiance to the Islamic State and were ready to sacrifice themselves and wage suicide attacks.

Also, I believe that there was something we had seen already in the previous phases of jihad; that is, that after such a display of violence, and in spite of the few sympathies that had been channeled for those people, nevertheless mobilization did not happen. After a while, if I may say so, there is some sort of "jihad fatigue," if you forgive this expression, and people start to believe that violence turns against the perpetrators and not against the victims.

So this is, I believe, where we are now. There is, of course, a lot of hope in France, after Macron's election, which may be short-lived because now he has to face the parliamentary elections next month. He doesn't have a party, but he has already destroyed the Socialist Party and smashed open the right-wing party, so we'll see whether or not he is able to gather a majority under his name.

We've had this five-year term three times already, with Chirac's second term, Sarkozy, and Hollande, and usually electors do not contradict in the parliamentary election the votes that they gave to the newly elected president the month before. Otherwise, it looks like things like they are dumb, even though many say the reason they voted for Macron was that they voted against Marine Le Pen.

But now do we want to have a stable country or an unstable country? I think he will have a majority. This is not my field, but now that jihadism is central in French politics, even a jihad specialist can say what he thinks.

There is a lot of optimism, not only because of the youth of the new president, but also because of his ability to address the in-depth issues of French society. Whether or not he is going to implement it—well, this is politics. If you still invite me in five years' time, and if I've been mistaken completely, I'm sure you will remind it to me with your very kind manners, but I will nevertheless prepare an answer.

So, in this anticipation, if I may say so, I would like to thank you for listening to those little introductory remarks, and I am at your disposal for the terrible Q&A grilling.


QUESTION: Thank you very much. James Starkman.

How would you account for the fact that there seems to be—maybe I'm wrong on this—a much lower level of jihadist violence in Germany, which has many more immigrants than in France?

GILLES KEPEL: How many days do we have? [Laughter]

Let me try to put it in a nutshell. If you notice—you're right, in general, but over the last months it was the other way around. That is to say, that because there was this jihad fatigue to some extent in France, and I think the French security services, after being overexposed to those issues, were able to understand it, to break the software, to break the codes of the jihadists. Then, a lot of this violence transferred to Germany, where the security situation is complicated, because every land in Germany, all the Länders, each of them have their own police services. Coordination is difficult.

The French centralized state, which everybody scorns of course, is slow—it is like a diesel engine; it is slow to heat—but when, it works, it is functional from the top to the lowest part of the system.

I would not bet that Germany is living in an easy situation. There is an enormous amount of concern in Germany nowadays.

Why is it that it was not the case before? Why is it that we were the ones with the 240 dead and not others? The population is far more important in France than in Germany—not the general population, but the proportion of people coming from the Muslim world, even though not all of them—a huge majority of them have nothing to do with jihadism; they hate their guts.

But ISIS, or Daesh as we say in French, using the Arabic-language acronym, is an Arab thing; it is not a Turkish thing; it's not an Indo-Pakistani thing. Even though it can be translated, nevertheless its ideology resounds much more deeply in populations who have Arabic as, if not their language, at least as the language of reference of their family. Also, there is this colonial thing which fueled the ideology. There is the unemployment issue and so on and so forth.

Now, Germany was spared that, because there is no colonial past with the Muslim world in Germany—they have other problems with their past, but not this one—and they also had a population which was predominantly Turkish, which means very organized, like the Germans to some extent. Whether they were Kurds, pro-Erdoğan, anti-Erdoğan, or what have you, you knew you could pass a message to the chief of this or that organization and the guys would deliver it. So it was organized. And they had some Kurdish-versus-Turkish or whatever infighting, but nothing much within German society.

There were jobs. Germany still has an industry. Just mention BMW, which is well-known in this part of the city, or Mercedes, and Renault or Peugeot are not going to come up to par with that.

Also, there was something important, which was that Turks would at the time not really meddle with Middle Eastern issues.

Now the situation has changed tremendously, because Mrs. Merkel has accepted a million-plus refugees who are not Turkish. I was in Berlin a number of times, because my books were translated into German—which is a bad sign, because when a book of mine is translated into a country, it means that the country does not go well. I was amazed in Berlin and other places that there are signs for refugees. They are written in Arabic, in Urdu, in Farsi, in German and English, of course, but never in Turkish, because the Turks are not concerned.

The refugee issue is very complicated for Germans because they have no go-betweens, there are no intermediaries, if you wish, and no one delivers. The refugees have become cannon fodder for the jihadists. The terrorist who drove the truck into the Breitscheidplatz market in Berlin was a Tunisian who had gone to prison in Italy and then was hiding amongst the refugees.

This has led to a very serious fear and has mechanically boosted the extreme right, the Alternative für Deutschland party, which is trying to ape Mrs. Le Pen.

The German state, which has far more money than the French state, has invested an enormous amount of effort in the education of refugees. They have people who teach them German day-in and day-out. There is a sort of German machine which is working.

In the long run, I guess they are optimistic, but how to deal with the short run is going to be difficult. This is why, with Macron in power, who is so pro-European, and Mrs. Merkel—or Mr. Schulz, whoever is in power, but who is also very European—I believe that there is this feeling of hope in the European Union because Europe can only work if there is a dual German-French engine. Now that the Brits are out, things are going to be much easier.

QUESTION: Hi. Thank you for coming. I'm Mariana.

That question was sort of in the vein of what I was thinking. But I was wondering why countries that are less stable and more recently post-conflict, like Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo, why they are not more vulnerable and susceptible to and targets for recruitment cells, things like that, because of their high population of Muslims, and because they could also be capitalized on certain sentiments and things like that, like unemployment.

GILLES KEPEL: If I understand you, why is Kosovo less of a recruitment ground for jihadists than France, for instance? Is that what you are saying?

QUESTIONER [Mariana]: Yes, and other European countries that have high Muslim populations and are less stable.

GILLES KEPEL: Maybe because they have enough of their own problems and they are not going to go to Syria to sow mischief among others.

If you want to go to Syria, you have to have some means to buy your plane ticket, to buy your fatigues, your weapon, your knife, your whatever. They may believe that they better stay where they are.

But you have some Kosovars in the ranks of ISIS, definitely. It is not the phenomenon—all of Europe was touched. The French have the highest contingent, with more than 2,000 people, including women and children. But then, there is a very strong German group, more than 700. But there again, not that many Turks, mostly converts and people of Arab descent. Some Brits, significantly lower in proportion than in other countries, because the Indo-Pakistani immigrants or people from Indo-Pakistani descent have enough with Kashmir on their plate and Syria is not that central to them. There is another cause, if you will, which is competition.

QUESTION: Finn Fogg.

I have a friend who is a real right-wing Israeli, who claims and says that Macron does not understand or appreciate the jihadi threat, is not prepared to deal with it, indeed that he catered to the Muslim vote, and that if he were voting in France he would have voted for Le Pen, even assuming she has a certain less-than-pro-Jewish background. Is he right?

GILLES KEPEL: He is extreme right as far as I understand. [Laughter]

QUESTIONER [Finn Fogg]: Yes, he is.

GILLES KEPEL: Her father has more of a grudge against Jews than she has, and she has been very careful to be surrounded by Jews and go to Israel and make pro-Israeli statements and so on and so forth. This was one of her main lines of attack against Macron. In the debate, where she really underperformed, she attacked him relentlessly until—she said that he was weak, he didn't understand, and so on.

Let me tell you a personal story—sorry about that. When the French edition of Terreur dans l'Hexagone [translated into English as Terror in France] was published in January, I was interviewed on a French radio program, very popular in the morning. In the book, as you will see—and I recommend that not only you buy 10 copies for you but also many copies for your Israeli friend, who I am sure speaks English, and he will—

QUESTIONER [Finn Fogg]: I'm going to send him a copy.

GILLES KEPEL: Very good. That is excellent. In case he loses one, you can send two or three. No problem. We have no objection.

You will see that in the book I try to explain that the more jihadi attacks we have, the more the extreme right benefits from it. There is a sort of congruence.

Also—I have no time to develop that here—I have studied the political grammar of jihadi videos, mobilization, and a number of extreme right videos in France, and they are congruent, if you like. The vocabulary is different, but the grammar is to a large extent comparable.

The journalist, who didn't know what "congruence" meant—I can also say it in French—said, "Well, Gilles, you say that the National Front and Daesh or ISIS are just the same, right?"

I said, "No, not exactly. They're congruent."


She [Marine Le Pen] was listening to this radio program because it is very popular with her electorate. She was down at the time. It was December 2015, and she had hoped to win the regional elections in France in the north and in the southeast, where she made the majority of her votes. So she started to tweet images of decapitated hostages of ISIS in their orange jumpsuits. What she wanted to mean with that was that they [the National Front] were different from ISIS because they would not do that. So people like me, who said that there were congruences, were just idiots.

The problem was that when she did that she sort of proselytized crime. Therefore, that led to the fact that she is now losing her immunity as a member of the European Parliament because, to some extent, of yours truly when she overreacted.

When there were debates last week between Macron and Mrs. Le Pen, she attacked, attacked, attacked on that. Finally, he said, "Well, you know, it is well known by all knowledgeable people that the jihadists would like you to be elected. Only today Professor Gilles Kepel just wrote that." And then she shut her mouth because this was a bad memory that she had last time we were in a confrontation.

So you will tell that to your extreme right Israeli friend.

QUESTION: Thank you so much for this. My name is Carrie Lee Bowles.

You mentioned that there was the mother of a terrorist in the south of France who was pleased that her son had brought France to its knees. With that in mind, I'd be grateful for your thoughts on the role of women in this area.

GILLES KEPEL: This is a very important issue. Saying that "women are an important issue in America" is something that will make me pass through customs at JFK.

There is an enormous proportion of women and of female converts among jihadists who went to Syria and Iraq. Why is that? For a number of reasons.

One thing is that there is this sort of romanticized idea—sorry to sound like a stupid macho—of love, sacrifice, among some young women, who consider that in the post-modern, post-whatever, marriage, one-night-flirtation life, which is what many youngsters live through today, a partner who is able to sacrifice his life is a really valuable person, and that you know you would follow him. In schools, for instance, there is a lot of proselytism by aspiring jihadis who seduce young women so that they will convert to Islam, with this ideal that they share. They tell them that their understanding of Islam is what will redeem mankind for all its evils and so on and so forth. There is this feeling that the young women will be nurses, they will be instructors, whatever.

Plus, there is a very strange issue, into which I may not go too deeply tonight with you, which has to do with the sort of very strange sexual patterns of the jihadis, with the women being widows being immediately "reused," if I may say so, by the next combatants. So it is something which plugs into a number of very deeply psychological issues which have to do with the malaise of a number of young women.

Nevertheless, many of the returnees, the people who come back from jihad, who escaped and went back to France or to Belgium, which is also a great jihad country, were women. Many of them were exposed to the gap between their illusions and what life under Daesh or under ISIS looked like. But more of that in the book.

QUESTION: Thank you. Edith Everett.

A number of years ago, some friends and I visited the French Consulate in New York because we wanted to discuss the problem of anti-Semitism in France. We had a really fine discussion.

The bottom line was: Why weren't they addressing the problem because it was coming from certain areas, the Muslim communities particularly? The answer I got, which was very disturbing, was "The police are afraid to go there."

If that's the case—and they were very clear about that; they don't want to start up with these people—I wonder about the outgrowth of these problems as a result of neglecting them in the first place.

GILLES KEPEL: Had I been the consul general, god forbid, I probably would not have made this answer. But, being an academic, I can speak the truth.

I don't think that the police are afraid to go there in general. Those banlieues were depicted time and again by the American press that your friend in Israel reads as no-go zones, which is not true. The police are there.

But there is very strong pressure on people who are not like-minded. For instance, in some areas, if you look Muslim and if you don't fast during Ramadan, you'd just better move.

This is also a phenomenon which was well-known in America. Some areas on this side of the river, the East Side, were Jewish and Italian immigrant areas, and then those populations were replaced by others, as you know. This is something which you also see in France now. A place like Sarcelles, which was one of the main centers of Jewish immigration from North Africa and Egypt, which is called "the Little Jerusalem" of the French banlieues, with—I don't know—27 synagogues, now is being peopled increasingly by immigrants from North Africa.

This led to clashes which translated into the fact that Christians from the Middle East went to live together with Jews in Sarcelles in order to have a balance of population. I hate to say that, because in France we don't know about ethnicity and things like that.

So you have those phenomena, which are to a large extent comparable to phenomena that you experience more blatantly in the United States.

It is not that the authorities are complacent about anti-Semitism. I don't think so. It's that populations are relocating. They are moving according to the change in population, which is what I think you call "white flight" in this country, or am I mistaken? So you have this kind of thing also in other countries, France among others, because Jews were targeted definitely by jihadists—you know, the Merah affair. This was not only Jews who were targeted; they were kids who were very young. The monstrosity of it went to the fact that a guy had a GoPro camera and he filmed that and sent it to Al-Jazeera, which did not show it.

Then he justified the thing saying that, "You know, a young Jew would be a soldier in Taher later on." In the same way, in the suicide attacks in Israel, attacks against women and the elderly, they were soldiers, female soldiers, would-be soldiers, or retired soldiers; therefore, their blood was enlisted, as they say..

The same happened in the Hyper Cacher supermarket attack, and then that led to a record amount of aliyahs from France. Prime Minister Netanyahu came and said, "Come to Israel because you're safe. It's a safe country. There are no attacks in Israel."

This is part and parcel of the way the world is going. But I don't think that this phenomenon has to do with the fact that the authorities are too soft on the issue. It is a much wider problem.

QUESTION: Thank you. My question is actually an academic one. I thought you would be more comfortable with that.

GILLES KEPEL: So I have to be careful, right?

QUESTIONER [Unidentified]: Books like Knights Under the Prophet's Banner, the Suri work that you mentioned, Wahhab, Maududi, Milestonesall of these things are the building blocks of an ideology, the things that have created this ideology over time, the backbone of it. And yet, I would venture to say that half the arrestees—people who wanted to travel, people who wanted to do something here in the United States—are barely familiar with these works, certainly less so than a student at the LSE [London School of Economics] or SOAS [the School of African and Oriental Studies] or Sciences Po.

I don't know if you see the same thing happening in France; and if so, what do you think that means in general for the ideology in the West?

GILLES KEPEL: In the digital age, no one reads books anymore, except my students, and even they probably read Wikipedia, I think.

This was a big debate, that we have a great kultur kampf [cultural battle] in France. On the one hand, you have this person you know here as Ollie Roy, whose real name is Olivier Roy, and on the other side, myself.

GILLES KEPEL: He says that, for him, because he would more or less use the same reasoning, he contends that 20 years ago we had the Red Brigades or the Rote Armee Fraktion. Now we have the Green Brigades. Tomorrow we'll have the Blue or the Yellow Brigades. Radicalization is the essence of the phenomenon. But you take the tools which are available—Marxist, then jihadist, then nationalist, environmentalist, or what have you. Definitely, there are common trends due to unemployment, due to frustration, due to whatever.

Nevertheless, if you do not study simultaneously the social dynamics of those movements and the ideology, and if you don't have access to the texts in the original, you do not understand the nature of this kind of a mobilization—the fact that, for instance, the Red Brigades did not target Jews, for instance, or apostates. Now, it makes a difference when you target Jews, apostates, and so-called Islamophobes. Then you understand the nature of the mobilization, its failures, its shortcomings, its successes, and so on and so forth.

For instance, Olivier Roy has this line against me. He says two things: "It's totally useless to know Arabic when you study what happens in the French banlieues because they all know French," or slang French at least. Which I think is not true, because when you go to the mosque or listen to the sermons or you see what's on the Internet, even if it's in French—in most of the cases so-called French—nevertheless it refers to weltanschauung, which is deeply grounded into the Islamist understanding of what Islam is about, the texts that you mentioned, Signposts/Milestones, Knights Under the Prophet's Banner, The Global Islamic Resistance Call, whatever.

And then, he says, "No one ever read Abu Musab al-Suri," the guy who posted the 1,600-page manifesto, probably because it's really boring. Even I did not read the 1,600 pages. I translated what I thought was important.

But it does not matter. Parts of it are being taken, tweeted, re-tweeted, forwarded, and everything, and this creates a worldview in the digital age where you don't read the text. What you trust is the forwarded message or the Tweeted message from someone you trust. This is the networked and the reticular system, the rhizome system, through which the ideology is propagated.

I guess that, even in the Red Brigades that Olivier Roy takes as his paradigm, I'm not sure that many read the whole volume of Das Kapital. It goes through hearsay, peer groups, and friends. "Friends" now is a word which you cannot use because "friends" means you're a Facebook friend and nothing else.

The ideology is there, it's the backbone, but it's not implemented directly. A number of activists or the prison guys, the ex-cons, who go and kill people have no idea, they can hardly read a book in whichever language. But it does not matter because what they are suffused by is the ideology in the books, or in the videos or what have you.

If you read this book—provided you can read a book, but I'm sure you can—you'll see that I've analyzed in depth a number of videos and messages precisely to show the congruences between the extreme right and the jihadi grammar, because both of them refer to identity, to atavistic things. They think there is no future, that things were better before. So either you are a true Muslim, in the jihadi Salafi sense of the meaning, and then you break with everybody who is not one of them; or you're an atavistic white Frenchman or woman, and then you say that there is no room in French citizenship for people who are not from French blood or what have you.

But none of the people who are mobilized on that really have developed the capacity for reading a whole book usually. But it does not matter in the digital age.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. My name is Lubna Kayali [phonetic].


QUESTIONER [Lubya Kayali]: Thank you.

My question is: In your opinion, what are the main reasons that make it difficult—and specifically structural reasons—for certain segments of the Muslim communities in France to really assimilate in France? And, in your opinion, are there systematic ways to address those structural reasons?

QUESTION [Unidentified]: You spoke earlier about ISIS's ability to message and resonate really heavily with the disaffected youth in France, the Muslim population. I was wondering if you could speak to how you think the Macron administration could work to counter the violent extremist messaging in the ISIS propaganda while still maintaining their laïcité and secular outlook in the government.

GILLES KEPEL: This is what you call "Catch-22" in English.

QUESTION [Unidentified]: Given the rise of the far right's influence on our current administration, and the danger that we may be pushed into the kind of opposition that the jihadists want, what are your thoughts on what we should do about this, and what language we should use in talking about Islamist terrorism as opposed to Islamic terrorism?

GILLES KEPEL: Thank you very much. Let me try. The worst challenge is how I'm going to address those three questions in one sentence, and remember what was the first question also, because at my age I lose memory.

The quandary definitely is to be able to address, to engage, a population so that it believes that what is common is more important than our differences. This is the big challenge.

The French always thought that, whatever your color, wherever you come from, whatever your religion, as long as you go to the French school, like the palaestra in Greece in Pericles' era in 5th-century B.C. Athens, you share the values, then you are French, like someone like me, who is from Czech descent. I don't feel Czech at all. Bohemian, of course, being a child of Bohemia, as they say, enfant de Bohème.

Or many others. If you look in—there are no telephone books now because we all have iPhones—but when there were telephone books, you would turn the pages of the Paris telephone books, and most of the names were not French. There were Kepels and others—foreigners. But those people were totally assimilated.

But we had jobs. You know, if you got education, you got a degree, you got a job. Now you're a high school graduate or a college graduate and you have no job. Then you think that the know-how that the school gave you does not allow you to get into society and to have upward social mobility, to think of a future. Therefore, the values that are correlated with those know-hows are thrown away, just like the baby is thrown away with the bathwater.

Therefore, this is why I think Macron has stated as his two priorities (a) education reform, so that kids coming out of school would be able to deal with the digital age, which they are not apt to now; and (b) the labor market reform, which I think is going to be very difficult. It is a tough thing.

This is the prerequisite. When you deal with de-radicalization, which is a very strange concept—because people don't know what radicalization is, so are you going to de- something which you don't know?—it has not worked. You are dealing with the consequences. You have to address the consequences, but you have also to address the causes. Symptomatic medicine is something you have to do, but you also have to do what—I don't know how to say it in English—etiology, look at the causes. Otherwise you won't cure the diseased person. This is the big challenge.

Was that an answer that fits with the three questions, do you think?

JOANNE MYERS: Absolutely. And if they have more, they can continue the conversation, which I invite you all to do.

Thank you for joining us.

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