Paris Terror Attacks: Instructions for Warfare

We must give the enemy its real name. Its name is not terrorism — it's Islamofascism.

Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
A woman lights a candle in tribute to the victims of the Paris attacks in front of the town hall in Lyon, France, November 14, 2015.
A woman lights a candle in tribute to the victims of the Paris attacks in front of the town hall in Lyon, France, November 14, 2015.Credit: AFP

So now we’re talking war.

A new kind of war.

A war both with and without borders, both with and without a State — a war that is doubly new in the way that it fuses the deterritorialized model of Al-Qaida with the traditional territorial paradigm that Daesh has returned to.

It is warfare all the same.

Confronted with a war that the U.S., Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey and now France have never wanted, there is only one question: What next? How do we respond, how can we win?

Rule number one: Name it. Call a spade a spade. Dare to pronounce that terrible word "war," in whose mission is incarnated both the nobility and the weakness of democracy, the thing that pushes it to the limits of our comprehension, of our imaginary landmarks, both symbolic and real.

In a famous conversation with lie Halévy, Léon Blum showed how, possessed of both greatness and nave integrity, he was unable to imagine the very idea of democracy at war, other than as a contradiction in terms, even as unprecedented dangers were appearing on the horizon.

Possessed of both dignity and limits, at the end of the same decade some of the great humanist consciences, Georges Bataille, Michel Leiris, Roger Caillois and other members of the Collège de Sociologie, horrified, saw what was coming and called for the intellectual rearmament of a world that still believed that that most despicable element of its history was firmly in the past.

It is not over yet.

Think the unthinkable about war.

Acknowledge the oxymoron, the idea of a modern Republic forced to fight to save itself.

Think about it with all the more sorrow, for none of the normal rules, as formulated by Thucydides or Clausewitz, by any of the other theoreticians of war, can be applied here to this puppet state that is taking this war beyond its shifting borders and whose fighters have the strategic advantage of making no distinction between what we call life and they call death.

The French authorities have thought about it, at the highest level.

The entire political class, with a single voice, has ratified it.

All that remains is you, me, the body politic, as a single entity and as individuals: All that remains is each one of us. What remains is each one of us who is destined to become, every time, a target, a front, a soldier who doesn’t know he is a soldier, a site of resistance, a point of mobilization, of biopolitical fragility — it is appalling, outrageous, but this is how it is and we are left with no choice but to take action, urgently.

Second principle: The enemy. When we utter the word war we utter the word enemy. Not only must we deal with this enemy for what it is, in other words (taking a lesson from Carl Schmitt), see it as a figure with which we can, depending on which tactics we adopt, use cunning, pretend to enter into dialogue, attack without communicating, never compromise with. Above all (taking a lesson from Saint Augustine, Saint Thomas and all other theoreticians of just warfare), we must give the enemy its real name.

Its name is not "terrorism."

We are not talking about a few scattered "lone wolves" or "psychopaths."

And as for the eternal culture of excuses that insist on describing these death squadrons as people who have been humiliated and pushed to the limit by an unfair society, who are forced because of their miserable lives to execute dozens of young men and women whose only crime is that they loved music, football or sitting at the terrace of a café on a cool autumn evening, that is as much an insult to misery as it is to those whom they slaughtered.


These men loathe life’s pleasures, loathe the freedom to do and dress as you like, so dear to great cities, those bastards hate the spirit of cities, and, for it is the same thing, the spirit of the law, of rights, of that sweet autonomy of people freed from ancient constraints. To these vile, ignorant men we must utter the beautiful words that Victor Hugo exclaimed in September 1870, at the time of the massacres of the Paris Commune: An attack on Paris is more than an attack on France, it destroys the whole world. The only word to describe these men is fascists.

Better: Islamofascists.

Better still: The fruit of that meeting point identified by the writer Paul Claudel in his Journal, dated May 21, 1935. In one of those epiphanies that only comes to truly great thinkers, he noted: "Hitler’s speech? He has created in the heart of Europe a kind of Islamism"

The advantage of this act of naming?

You can move the cursor where you please.

Remember that with this kind of adversary, in this kind of war, there can be no truce and no mercy.

And then ask everyone, both throughout the Muslim Arab world and everywhere else on the entire planet, to say why they are fighting, with whom they are fighting, against whom they are fighting.

Obviously this is not to say that Islam has, any more than any other discursive structure, any particularly affinity with the worst. And the urgency of this combat must not distract us from the other essential fight, which is the fight for the other Islam, for the Islam of the Enlightenment, for the Islam of the descendants of Massoud, of Izetbegovic, of the Bangladeshi Mujibur Rahman, of Kurdish nationalists and of the Sultan of Morocco, who made the heroic choice to save the Jews of his country from Vichy.

But that means three things.

First, we need to recognise that because the fascist torment of the 1930s is supposed not to have gone beyond the borders of Europe, Muslim countries are the only places in the world which have failed to undertake the work of memory and grieving that has been done by the Germans and the French, by Europeans in general, and the Japanese.

Next, we must emphasise even more strongly the decisive, primordial disjunction that pits against one another two visions of Islam that are engaged in a fight to the death and which constitutes, if we really want to continue to use this phrase, the only remaining war between civilizations.

And, finally, we must recognize that dividing line between those who side with people such as Tariq Ramadan, and those who ally with the great Abdelwahab Meddeb, on the one hand feeding the death lust of the new nihilists and on the other nourishing the ideological effort, both textual and spiritual, to effect the return or the entrance of these ghosts. This must be the highest priority for Muslims themselves.

I can already hear your objections.

I can hear all those right-thinking people crying out that to call on good citizens to dissociate themselves from a crime that they did not commit is to assume that they are in some way complicit and thus to stigmatise them.

But no.

Because this "not in our name" that we are waiting for from our fellow Muslim citizens is the same as the one that Israelis pronounced fifteen years ago when they refused to support their government’s policies in the West Bank. It is the same refusal pronounced against the absurd war in Iraq by thousands of Americans in 2003. It is the same cry of all those British Muslims, religious or not, who insisted that there is another Islam, kind, merciful, beloved of tolerance and peace, not the one in the name of which passersby are beheaded.

It is a beautiful cry. It’s a beautiful gesture. Above all it is a simple gesture that manages to isolate the enemy, to cut him off from the rear, and makes clear that he is no longer welcome in a community that is ashamed of him.

For whoever utters the word "war" inevitably invokes the need for the identification, marginalization and if possible neutralization of this fraction of the enemy camp that operates on our native soil. That is just what Churchill did when he detained over 2000 people (including his own cousin and fascist sympathizer, Geo Pitt-Rivers) as possibly posing a threat to national security, when Britain entered the Second World War.

We have to do it. We must ban those who preach hatred, and increase surveillance of those thousand or so individuals who are suspected of jihadism; and we must convince American social media companies to remove calls to murder that are proliferating in the shadow of the First Amendment.

It is a difficult the thing to do. It verges on exclusion. Which is why at the same time we must not lose sight of our duty of hospitality, of even more pressing importance than ever in the face of a huge wave of Syrian refugees who are themselves fleeing Islamofascist terror.

We must continue to welcome migrants at the same time as, in the interest of public safety, fighting against as many as possible of those who are prepared to kill us.

We must open our arms even wider to those fleeing Daesh, at the same time as being implacable with those who try to sneak into our countries alongside the refugees to carry out their mission of destroying our fidelity to our principles.

There is no contradiction here. This is the only way to deny the enemy the victory he is counting on, which is to see us abandoning our way of life, giving up on living alongside one another, with openness and generosity, that characterizes our democracies.

And let me say it again — this approach, inherent to all righteous warfare, which is all about dividing, dividing, dividing again, diving always — emphasizes to the great majority of Muslims in France that they are not only our allies but our brothers in citizenship.

And now, the most important thing: The true source of this unfolding horror.

The Islamic State, which now occupies a third of Syria, provides the future munitions specialists of the Bataclan with a base, command centers, schools of crime and training camps, without which none of this would be possible.

Last week I was in Sinjar, where the Peshmerga, with the help of the international coalition, gained a decisive victory. I have been working on a documentary since July on the struggle that is being waged by the Kurds, for the time being, on their own. I have been accumulating images of other battles where the terrible soldiers of Daesh have cleared out, with barely any opposition.

In Sarajevo supposed experts conjured up fearful images of the hundreds of thousands of soldiers who would have to be deployed on the ground to prevent the inevitable ethnic cleansing that would ensue. When the moment came, all that was needed was a handful of special forces and strikes. I have no doubt that the Daesh rabble are much braver when it comes to blowing the brains out of young defenceless Parisians than when they finds themselves face to face with actual soldiers fighting for the cause of freedom, and I believe that the international community has all the resources it needs to battle this threat to the bitter end, if that is what they want to do.

So why don’t they do it? Why are they so frugal when doling out aid to our Kurdish allies? And what is this strange war that Barack Obama’s America doesn’t want to win?

I have no idea. But I do know that the key is there. And that the alternative is clear: No boots on their ground means more blood on our ground.

Bernard-Henri Levy is a French philosopher and writer.

Click the alert icon to follow topics:



Automatic approval of subscriber comments.
From $1 for the first month

Already signed up? LOG IN


בנימין נתניהו השקת ספר

Netanyahu’s Israel Is About to Slam the Door on the Diaspora

עדי שטרן

Head of Israel’s Top Art Academy Leads a Quiet Revolution

Charles Lindbergh addressing an America First Committee rally on October 3, 1941.

Ken Burns’ Brilliant ‘The U.S. and the Holocaust’ Has Only One Problem

Skyscrapers in Ramat Gan and Tel Aviv.

Israel May Have Caught the Worst American Disease, New Research Shows

ג'אמיל דקוור

Why the Head of ACLU’s Human Rights Program Has Regrets About Emigrating From Israel


Netanyahu’s Election Win Dealt a Grievous Blow to Judaism