France Knows How to Fight Terror Without Killing the Spirit of Freedom

Not only is there no contradiction between democratic values and the fight against violence, but these values are the reason to fight.

A man sticks a note on a statue at Place de la Republique near the sites of the attacks in Paris, November 15, 2015.
Reuters

Anyone seeking to trample France’s democratic values in the name of fighting terror is fulfilling the Islamic State’s preferred scenario. The overwhelming majority of French Muslims, who make up 10 percent of the country, are revolted by terror. The vast majority are French-born citizens who long to integrate, study and pursue a career.

A small extremist minority seeks the destruction of France and the ruin of Western culture. This minority manipulates poverty, racism and frustration in the suburbs of Paris, Marseille, Toulouse and Saint tienne to recruit young people without hope. It sends them to Syria and Iraq and brings them back to Europe as trained terrorists in the service of religious and murderous fundamentalism.

Israelis are often arrogant when such incidents happen abroad – “they’re nave, they don’t understand who they’re dealing with.” But the French understand very well. France has long faced brutal terror from the same Islamist source. Its security services, the strongest and best connected in Europe, have made this source a top target. The last thing you can say is that France is complacent about Islamist terror. It’s well aware of the power of this threat.

But the real threat is against France’s character and spirit. On one side are the terrorists seeking to drag it into a war with its Muslim citizens. On the other side are the dark forces of the fascist right that lie in ambush in the republic’s gray areas. They wait in the dark like Camus’ plague for states of emergency to deracinate the regime.

The French regime navigates between these poles, and its mission becomes ever more daunting. How do you uproot terror by French citizens without tearing out France’s civil heart? Hanging in the balance is the survival of French democracy. It’s not for nothing that the Islamic State attacked Paris, the capital of prostitution and vice, as it has declared.

And what does it consider vice? France’s secularity, its bristling culture, its liberté, égalité, fraternité, its claim as the birthplace of human rights. That’s what Thomas Jefferson meant when he said, “Every man has two countries – his own and France.” The Islamic State seeks to put and end to this homeland.

President Francois Hollande has been in a political nadir. Now he faces his greatest test, one of the toughest tests in the history of modern France. Some around him pressure him to basically adopt the far right’s policies and put all Muslims in his sights.

Many others understand the danger in this. Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo is among the most prominent. Hidalgo, the daughter of Spanish immigrants, understands that to fight terror you need the cooperation of local communities. You need to recruit Muslim leaders. She realizes that the biggest disaster would be to shake the ground under entire communities who out of lack of choice would be pushed toward the Islamic State.

Europe and the entire free world face dark days ahead. The cries of the victims lead to calls for war. In such situations, both there and in Israel, some commentators consider human rights an obstacle to fighting terror and lobby to remove all legal stops.

No mistake would be greater. A democratic state is capable of fighting its enemies without losing its soul, and France knows this. It paid a heavy price in the past for straying from the democratic path.

Not only is there no contradiction between democratic values and the fight against violence, but these values are the reason to fight. If democracy is subdued in the name of this struggle, it will be a victory for terror because that’s its goal – to kill the spirit of freedom.