Sophie Bessis, 60, is a well-known Jewish French-Tunisian journalist and historian.  --  Mohammed Harbi, 82, is a well-known Algerian academic who played an important role in the FLN during the Algerian War of Independence.  --  Both live in Paris, where on Tuesday they published in Le Monde an Op-Ed calling attention to links between the conjuncture that produced the November 13 attacks and the cynicism of French (and not only French) foreign policy in the Middle East.[1]  --  A complete translation is posted below....




By Sophie Bessis and Mohammed Harbi

Le Monde (Paris)
November 17, 2015

"Let's be realistic and demand the impossible" was the slogan the utopians shouted in the streets of Paris in 1968.  To be realistic today is to demand that those in power go to the roots of the evil that on November 13 killed at least 129 people in the French capital.  These roots are many, and we do not intend to list them all here.  Among those we won't mention are the abandonment of the banlieues, the state of the schools, and the endogamy that characterizes the French élites who have proved incapable of reading the world's complexity.

We are well aware of the extent to which a close relationship of the political and religious spheres characterizes the entire Arab world, and we have no desire to oversimplify.  But at present it is the international policies of a wounded France, as well as those of the Western world as a whole, that we wish to examine.

Let's take Islamism first.  Ever since it first began to become powerful in the 1970s, Western leaders have been convinced that it was becoming the dominant political force in the Arab-Muslim world.  With the help of an addiction to petroleum, they doubled down on the Faustian pact linking them to the countries that were Islamism's ideological matrix, which were propagating, financing, and arming it.  To justify this, they invented the oxymoron of a "moderate Islamism" with which they could form alliances.

The support given in recent months to the Turkish regime of Mr. Erdogan, whose contacts with jihadism are well known and contributed significantly to his reelection, is one of the most recent demonstrations of this.  France in recent years has developed extremely close ties with Qatar and Saudi Arabia, turning a blind eye to their responsibility for globalizing Islamist extremism.

Jihadism is above all the child of the House of Saud and other emirs to whom French leaders are happy to sell as many sophisticated weapons as they can, snapping their fingers at the "values" that they're so quick to bring up on other occasions.  They have never asked themselves what distinguishes the Islamic State's barbarism from that of the Saudi regime.  They would rather not know that the same ideology drives both of them.


Those who died on November 13 are also the victims of this deliberate blindness.  Add this to a long list of other bloody Middle Eastern dictators -- dubbed "secular" when it was convenient to do so, from Saddam Hussein to the Assads or Gaddafi -- who were supported and courted as long as it was profitable to do so.  The high price of these tragic inconsistencies is being paid today by citizens who have no part in the naive, self-interested cynicism of those who govern them. 

The other womb that has given birth to the rational delirium of the jihadist killer is the Israel-Palestine question.  For decades the same Western leaders, paralyzed by the memory of the genocide of Jews carried out seventy years earlier in the heart of Europe, have refused to apply the U.N. resolutions that could solve the problem, submitting themselves instead to the diktats of the Israeli far right in power today, which has turned the Jewish tragedy of the 20th century into its stock in trade.

It's impossible to overemphasize the extent to which this double standard, set up as a political principle in the Middle East, has fed resentments that identity-minded entrepreneurs of every sort have managed to turn into hatred.  So yes, let's be realistic and demand the impossible.  Let's require France to put an end to a privileged relationship to Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the two monarchies where Wahhabi Islam is the official religion, so long as they fail to cut off their jihadist epigones, so long as their laws and practices fail to show at least a decent minimum of humanity.

Let's also require the so-called "international community" to apply the United Nations resolutions on Israeli occupation immediately and ratify at once the too-long-delayed creation of a Palestinian state by returning Israel to its borders of June 4, 1967.

These two measures, which will provoke the laughter of those who support a realpolitik whose catastrophic consequences can no longer even be estimated, will not eliminate the jihadist threat at once, for it has already taken root everywhere.  But they will have immense merit of partially drying up the soil from which it grows.  Then, and only then, could the antiterrorist measures being taken today in the absence of any political vision begin to become effective.

Translated by Mark K. Jensen
Associate Professor of French
Department of Languages and Literatures
Pacific Lutheran University
Tacoma, WA 98447-0003
Phone: 253-535-7219
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.