Once we’ve mourned and once those responsible for the Parisian massacre are eliminated, what should be done with the followers of jihad? I mean, of course, offensive jihad, not the inner jihad of surpassing oneself. Recently, I had to walk across the 19th Arrondissement of Paris. For a good half hour, it felt like being back in Algiers: street after street of shops, faces and clothes of the humble Maghreb. Humble and kind, at least for the moment.
On the Internet, I find now that the neighborhood is branded as dangerous: It did not look as dangerous to me as for them, given that victims of fanaticism are 95 percent Muslim. (I’ve also crossed the Jewish quarter in the Marais street and asked for directions: The only response was a groan accompanied by a grim look. But that’s another story).
ISIS, finding difficulties in its own territory, has initiated plan B: unleashing attack dogs in the metropolitan heart of the West. These jihadists can always count on the congeniality — if not the connivance — of so many of their fellow residents in the poor suburbs of the West.
What shall we do then? Will we aim drones and missiles against our cities? We begin, however, to fathom the depth of the frustration with which the Arab-Muslim community struggles. We begin to support the aspiration of those who espouse — if not a caliphate — at least a modern exegesis of sacred texts, after eight centuries of theological desert and the final blow dealt by Ataturk in 1924 with the removal of the khalifa (maybe Erdogan, after sweeping the elections, will think of filling the vacant seat once al-Baghdadi is eliminated…).
If the Catholic Church perceived the urgent need to convene a council for an update in 1962 — the 21st in its history — “update” should more so become the watchword of Islam. Because, for centuries now, Koranic schools — from Morocco to Bangladesh — merely repeat, to the letter and in an unknown language, songs of a text of the seventh century: from which words like rahme (mercy) and gafara (pardon) are expunged — they are more frequent in the Koran than in the Bible — to the benefit of words such as harb (war) or thar (revenge).
The ISIS militiamen practice ritual executions not only to assert the radical nature of their principles, but also to challenge the “crusaders” in single combat and draw them onto the battlefield. They also specify where: at Dabiq, a village in the plains north of Aleppo a few miles from the Turkish border; there, the forces of good and evil will fight the decisive battle. And to confuse the ideas even more, they tell us the leader who will guide them to victory will be the second most revered prophet of Islam, Jesus.
Some time ago, I passed through Dabiq toward Turkey, and all the poor local farmers seemed shrug off the fateful day when they will be awakened by the clang of clashing scimitars and see their fields redden with impure blood. There is little to smile about. The Parisians who recently sang the chorus line of the Marseillaise claimed qu’un sang impur abreuve nos sillons — “Let impure blood irrigate our furrows.”
In October, coinciding with the first Russian raids in Syria, 55 Saudi clerics and academicians have issued a call to “true Muslims,” imploring them to “provide moral, material, political and even military support” to those fighting in Syria against the Alawite regime (and against Russia and Iran, that support it).
They were referring to the ISIS militias, the so-called “holy warriors who are defending the entire Islamic nation.” The signatories of the offensive jihad justified it with these words: “If the holy warriors were, God forbid, defeated, the Sunni nations would fall one after the other.”
For the moment, a Russian plane with 224 innocent tourists was felled (and a Russian fighter shot down by an F-16 of its Turkish “allies”).
A Lebanese diplomat told me that he had asked Saudi officials in Riyadh why the government allows religious leaders to advocate the cause of war to the bitter end. The answer was: What do you expect, dear friend, they are influential and free to preach? The problem is that in the Arabian Peninsula, freedom of speech is punished — if necessary — with 1,000 lashes administered 50 at a time, if the one who wants to talk is Saudi blogger Raif Badawi.
The Saudi government is playing with fire. For years, it has been making the same miscalculation the Americans did when they financed and armed the Mujahideen against the Soviet Union, who then were ousted by the Taliban. From the beginning, the neo-Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi called his emissaries in Saudi Arabia to fight first, “the Shiites and sulul (defenders of the Saudi monarchy), before attacking the salibi (the Crusaders, i.e. Christians).”
The Saudis are even more vulnerable as Barack Obama achieves the energy self-sufficiency and defuses the terrible blackmail that binds Washington to Riyadh oil.
It was one of the great successes, chased hard for seven years by this visionary president. From now on, Congress and the White House provide weapons to Riyadh only if they want to, not by imposition of Bush’s friends.
And in these ebbs and flows of alliances and enmities, Turkey and Israel are also playing with fire. Turkey, because it has allowed the transit to the front lines of young “idealists” doomed to martyrdom. As for Israel, the unprecedented closeness to Saudi Arabia that the cynical Netanyahu wanted will end like the cynical alliance of iron with the Shah of Persia in 1979: bad.