Intervention au China Institute of Comtemporary International Relations


Scholars are confronted to dozens of definitions of terrorism, generally referring to the same basic ideas :
an armed physical violence, often lethal or potentially lethal
deliberately produced by a clandestine non State organisation (if it was performed by an army or some similar institution violence could be qualified as atrocious, terrifying or criminal but not as terrorist )
with political (or at least ideological) purposes and a moral justification (“freedom fighters” or “soldiers of God”)
intended to spread a feeling of fear among the population, to create chaos and/or to exert a constraint on the authorities (as a sort of blackmailing)
aimed at a political result – a revolution, a changing of policy or geopolitics, the independence of a province, …)
choosing its targets (a soldier, a judge, or an innocent girl attending a rock’n roll concert) to send a sort of message on what they consider as immoral or oppressive.

As a Frenchman I like to use two expressions dating back to the end of the 19th century (when anarchists and so called “nihilists”, a concept imported from Russia, used to throw bombs in the streets of Paris) : poor man’s war and propaganda by the deed (guerre du pauvre & propagande par le fait)
It means that a terrorist
is considered by those who practise it as a substitute or a step toward a real war or civil war (intended as a collective, violent, armed instrument aimed at submitting an enemies’ political will) : when you don’t possess missiles or battalions, you throw dynamite by surprise, hoping that someday the people will join your fight and revolt during a next historical phase. Terrorism is a sort of history’s accelerator, traducing a transitory relationship between adverse forces
On the other hand, a terrorist attack is intended to carry a message as theatrically or rhetorically as possible. Killing is meaning : announcing the tyrant’s fall, calling the oppressed to revolt by joining the movement, proving one’s will to lead the fight until victory, discouraging the adversary, and incidentally giving an enormous media exposure to one’s claims and ideas.

Conceiving such strategies supposes both a long term vision theorised by intellectuals and a strong acceptance of the process by the performers (even accepting their own death as part of a long term plan). In that sense the terrorist method could be considered as a highly sophisticated form of conspiracy, including the use of secrecy by clandestine groups, an anticipation of the adversary’s reaction (the population being panicked, the authorities practicing indiscriminate repression, militaries initiatives…), and a sort of theorisation of the law of histories.

Fighting terrorism requests a good understanding of it’s doctrinal rationale. No matter how much we could feel morally horrified, reconstructing its internal logics is a necessity. Nevertheless the motivations of the actors are not that simple and can greatly vary according to periods. In the case of the anarchists we referred to, like the famous Ravachol, dome did not rationalise totally the process of contributing to the revolution by direct action, but simply wanted to exert revenge or retaliation on judges responsible of the repression of workers.

All the participants to this meeting probably know that the judgment of the survivors and accomplices of the attacks of November the 13 th 2015 in Paris is taking place right now. These coordinated attacks which resulted in the death of 130 people were of course technically carefully planned by ISIS from it’s caliphate in Raqqa,, weeks before, for more than twelve attackers coming from Syria, Irak, Belgium and France to arrive at the same moment undetected at different spots in Paris with firearms and bombs, passports and shelters… But it was also “doctrinally” extremely elaborated. Videos and on line articles in various languages were made available very shortly after the attack. They all developed a sort terrible elaborated pedagogy to demonstrate how it was justified theologically and geopolitically. Exploiting largely the power of communication (particularly social media), the message is sophisticated. Arguments combine Koran’s quotations and millennialist prophecies, historical arguments (going back to the crusades and french revolution) and calls to vengeance for the french military intervention in Syria to convince that the perpetrators of the attacks were morally, religiously, ideologically, geopolitically… justified and efficient.And to promise a coming victory of the true believers, just before the end of times and final judgement.
At the same time, al-Adnani – who could be considered as Isi’s minister of propaganda and foreign terrorist attacks at the same time – provided instructions to those who could not practise hijra (go living in Syria or Iraq where true sharia was applied and where one could practise jihad on the front) : for those still remaining in Occident or in a moslem state not applying fully the islamic law.
These second line activists should inflict numerous injuries to the country : that is grab a knife or a stone, or seize a car against the crowd to hit any legitimate target even in their neighbourhood – that means almost anybody who’s not member of Isis and which is therefore not a true believer.
Such a permission being given on the double base of theological legitimacy (punishing the unbelievers) and strategic efficiency (obliging the authorities to expect blows anywhere at any time with little possibility of protecting major or symbolic targets, since everybody could become a legitimate target for the jihadis).
Since 2015 France knew indeed a regular number of attacks of this type : requiring one or few perpetrators with no previous experience, simple material (generally a knife), liable to take place anywhere, with few coordination or communication before getting in action. Also note, that the attackers did not produce sophisticated propaganda material to explain what they had done : for example they neglected to produce long videos to ritually make allegiance to the caliphate and to leave a sort of explanatory political will, as did they predecessors. To take an example, the terrorist who beheaded a french teacher last year – professor Samuel Paty for offending the moslems by showing to his students cartoons from Charlie Hebdo depicting the prophet – was satisfied, just before being shot by the police- by publishing a video of the decapitated body and a short sentence advertising Macron that he had executed one of his “hellhound” for offending the Prophet. The rusticity of the murder and the simplicity the message suggest the idea of an individual taking into his hands he role of judge and executioner in a very short time and with no long term planning. Which makes the anticipation and prevention of such attacks, not any more conceived by a caliphate or an international organisation with a hierarchy and frequent communications extremely difficult to prevent.
Should we consider the perspective – in Europe at least since jihadism is terribly lethal in the form of a guerrilla form – of a “terrorist routine” (the expression was used in Russia at the beginning of the XX th century) : low technology sporadic terrorist attacks (typically a man shouting “Allah ou akbar” with a knife aggressing by-passers) taking place regularly ? A low level of “military” efficiency (only on soft targets) combined with a low level of symbolic efficiency, but appealing to number of potential jihadis. Understanding the cultural component of jihadism and it’s value system is as significant as analysing their official strategy.

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