France's Response to Nice Attack Plays Into ISIS' Power Fantasy

When ISIS embraces the killer driver, it blurs its weakness and presents itself once again as long-armed and omnipotent; France steps up security measures and intensifies the war in Syria in Iraq even though there is no evidence linking the assailant to ISIS.

French soldiers, part of 'Operation Vigipirate', patrol near the Galeries Lafayette in Paris on July 15, 2016, a day after the attack in Nice.
Matthieu Alexandre, AFP

The knee-jerk connection made in France, and not only there, between the Islamic State and the murderer from Nice fell like ripe fruit into the hands of ISIS, whose “strength is built by the spreading of illusions.” ISIS’ reliance on a fantasy of power, and not only on unfathomable cruelty and fearmongering, is described by Dr. Nimrod Hurvitz of Ben-Gurion University in his article, “Fear and faith: the power, weakness and illusion of ISIS.” Hurvitz reminds readers that contrary to the impression given by Western politicians and some journalists, ISIS is actually failing on two major fronts needed to implement the goals of the caliphate: the battlefield and support of the Muslim masses.

“Alongside the figures that show that ISIS is not popular among Muslims is an additional number. The number of those joining jihadist groups between 2013 and 2105 is estimated at about 30,000, that is, less than one hundredth of one percent of the total 1.7 billion Muslims in the world,” writes Hurvitz in the article published June 19 on the website of the regional think tank Molad, the Center for the Renewal of Israeli Democracy. Hurvitz goes on to say: “Clearly therefore with numbers like those, the dream of global control that the followers of ISIS and Al-Qaida are promoting cannot be fulfilled.” Thus, when ISIS embraces the killer driver, it blurs its weakness and presents itself once again as long-armed and omnipotent.

In Western, Israeli and even Palestinian imagination and discourse, the 30,000 people joining jihadist movements have become 3 million or even 30 million. Islam in all its many forms has been painted in the colors of ISIS. The fear of its murderous methods is justified and understandable, but in the West people forget that these methods are abhorred in the very Muslim societies the organization needs to bring to its side.

According to the news site L’Obs, even after ISIS announced that the perpetrator of the Nice attack, Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, was its “soldier,” there is still no evidence that his motives were ISIS-related. Until Saturday afternoon, sources close to the investigation told a reporter from L’Obs that they had found no documents connecting him to ISIS or its activists. Perhaps as the investigation proceeds old connections will surface with activists in Nice. Perhaps it will emerge that he himself sought to ascribe global significance to his actions and urges (but if so, why did he not leave a message of some sort in a clear and readily accessible place?).

Both ISIS, for its own reasons, as well as its enemies and victims want to give “significance” to the horrific slaughter: It is easier to place it in the context of the big, eternal picture of a dichotomist war between good and evil (the West versus jihadist Islam, or vice versa), than to explain it as the actions of a disturbed, violent, frustrated, unbalanced loner, a petty male criminal.

With that as the interpretation for the mass attack, France is preparing a security-related solution — extending the state of emergency, upgrading surveillance methods and administrative detention of the “population with tendency” (that is, the Muslims) — and intensifying war (through more assaults and increased military involvement in Syria and Iraq). These are precisely the solutions that frighten and worry leftists and writers of Muslim origin living in the West. They believe that these solutions create just the division that ISIS wants – between Muslims living in the West and the rest of the population.

Murtaza Hussain, who lives in Toronto, Canada, notes in an article for the on-line investigative journalism site, The Intercept, published after the Nice attack, that in the February 2015 issue of ISIS’ on-line magazine Dabiq, the organization stated that its violent actions were intended to [eliminate] “the gray zone” where Muslim and non-Muslim societies coexist in the West. When in the West people generalize and see crimes committed by individuals – as frightening as they may be – as general Islamic acts, invasive surveillance tactics are then used and calls are issued to eject Muslims. This leads precisely to the polarization ISIS wants, which divides the world along religious lines.

French human rights and civil liberties activist Yasser Louati, also mentioned the ISIS publication article and also warned against playing into ISIS hands – dealing with such murderous acts with security means, which put all Muslims in one basket. Instead of isolating those who are attracted to ISIS, they give those in their immediate milieu reasons for understanding ISIS.

Indeed, we must not deny the attraction jihadist groujps have for young Muslims and converts to Islam in France. In 2015, it was estimated that some 1,200 French Muslims joined ISIS. (This is the highest absolute number in Europe. The highest figure relative to population is from Belgium.) Generalizations, disregard for precise numbers and aggrandizing ISIS absolves the West in general and France in particular of checking its own policies: On the one hand, the bloody war to topple Saddam Hussein in Iraq on pretexts discovered to be lies, along with many years of military involvement in Arab and North African countries; and, on the other hand, discrimination and persecution of Muslim citizens at home.

Hurvitz writes: “As long as young Muslims rage at the injustices caused them, in their opinion, whether by corrupt rulers or by arrogant European societies, and as long as they seek ways to redress these injustices, there will be those who adopt the ISIS fantasies and join itBut it is important to remember that the vast majority of the Muslim public, including militant movements, rejects ISIS’ worldview (and its distorted moral perception of horrific acts as moral acts that can save Islam and the entire world). The mention of this fact is not intended only to purify the image of Muslims; the opposition of most Muslims to ISIS has strategic value because it may constitute an efficient means of dealing with this organization.”