As the birthplace of many of the fundamental rights and freedoms which citizens around the world today enjoy but generally take for granted, France occupies a special place in world history, especially with regard to the evolution of Western civilization and the spread of democracy as the preferred system of government worldwide.
The French Revolution of 1789, in which the oppressed masses rose up, overthrew the monarchy and instituted popular rule under the rallying cry of “Liberty, Equality and Fraternity”, ushered in a new political era based
on key concepts such as “the citizen”, “the nation” and “the general will” of the people.
These concepts, which were given expression in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen passed by the National Assembly following the Revolution, are the products of an intellectually vibrant period in European history known as the Enlightenment. The contributions of great philosophers like Voltaire and Rousseau shaped this era.
This background is crucial to understanding why militant Islam, specifically the ISIS brand, seems to have singled out France as a major target in its increasingly deadly war against Western civilization. It is because France has great symbolic significance. It embodies core Western values and ideals to which radical Islam is fundamentally opposed.
Last Friday evening, France was attacked for the third time in less than a year by militants representing ISIS. Following the previous attacks on Charlie Hebdo, a satirical magazine, and a supermarket, they struck again in the heart of the capital, Paris, on a much larger scale. It occurred as people were winding down for the weekend and taking part in leisure activities, including attending a rock concert and a soccer match where the militants struck.
When it was all over, 129 innocent persons lay dead and hundreds were seriously injured. ISIS said the attacks were in retaliation for Western air strikes on targets in parts of Syria and Iraq which its fighters have seized and its leadership has declared a “caliphate”. The cold-blooded attack on Paris came a day after a U.S. drone attack reportedly killed “Jihadi John”, the ISIS executioner linked to the beheading of Western hostages, and just over a week after the group claimed responsibility for downing a Russian civilian aircraft in Egypt.
Bruised but not buckled, France is robustly fighting back. Mobilizing his people after declaring a state of emergency, President Francois Hollande said the attack was tantamount to a “declaration of war” and that France would be “merciless” in its response. “There will be no respite and no truce,” said Hollande, vowing to wipe out ISIS.
The courage, resilience and determination of the French people in the face of adversity are legendary. The fighting spirit, which the world is currently witnessing, is reflected in the rallying words of the Marseillaise, the French National Anthem, which Frenchmen and women have been singing with a patriotic fervour since last Friday evening’s attacks .
The first two verses go: “Arise children of the fatherland; The day of glory has arrived; Against us tyranny’s bloody standard is raised; Listen to the sound in the fields; The howling of these fearsome soldiers; They are coming into our midst; To cut the throats of your sons and consorts. To arms, citizens! Form your battalions! March, march! Let impure blood; Water our furrows.”
In the context of our time, ISIS has taken brutality to a new barbaric extreme which aims to conquer by instilling terror through violence on a shocking scale. Revulsion to the carnage in Paris seems to be galvanizing the international community into decisive action. President Hollande is seeking to build a global coalition to go after and crush ISIS. It will not be an easy task, however. The “enemy” who is not as easily identifiable as in conventional warfare, not only lies outside the gates but also within. Many radicalized Muslims are French citizens.
We wonder what is the position of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) on the ISIS issue. Even though the coordination of foreign policy was one of the original reasons for establishing CARICOM, the region has been remarkably silent.
CARICOM, however, has been roped in through ISIS’ recruitment of Trinidad and Tobago nationals as fighters.
In fact, earlier today in Trinidad and Tobago, a security official said ISIS is a real threat to the region. How prepared are our governments for this challenge? While we may wish to continue considering the Caribbean as a zone of peace, the fact of the matter is that we cannot afford to turn a blind eye to this issue. It is right on our doorsteps.