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Paris attacks, Nicolas Tenzer: zero-risk and full safety do not exist epos_print_logo.png
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Paris attacks, Nicolas Tenzer: zero-risk and full safety do not exist

Saturday, 14 November 2015 13:27
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Epos converses with Nicolas Tenzer

by Nicolamaria Coppola (EPOS)
EPOS Conversations


Terrorist attacks in Paris have left more than 120 people dead yesterday. The French 11th of September, people say. The attacks, which were clearly coordinated, took place in multiple locations and involved different methods. In the first wave, two suicide bombers detonated their explosives at locations near the Stade de France, where a soccer match between France and Germany was taking place. Meanwhile, gunmen also opened fire, reportedly with Kalashnikov rifles, on a tightly packed Cambodian restaurant in a drive-by shooting. Shots were also fired at the Bataclan concert hall, where a hostage situation is now underway. Roughly 25 minutes later, gunmen also opened fire on Rue de Charonne. And about an hour after the initial attacks, attacks by other terrorist cells took place at the Louvre and Les Halles.

The identity of the terrorists and their motives are still unknown, although French President François Hollande has promised a "merciless" response. But reports that the terrorists were speaking about France’s presence in Syria, that one yelled “Allahu Akbar” before opening fire in a crowded concert hall, and ISIS supporters use of the hashtag #باريس_تشتعل (Paris burns) to spread the news have led many to conclude the attackers were Muslim. And that conclusion has started a new round of condemnation of Islam itself from long-time right-wing critics. Muslims around the world, from religious leaders and politicians to ordinary people, meanwhile, are condemning the attacks.

EPOS has interviewed Nicolas Tenzer in order to better understand what is happening in France and in Europe after the terrorist attacks in Paris. Mr Tenzer is an expert in geopolitics, geostrategies and security affairs. Senior civil servant, writer, and editor, Nicolas Tenzer is the director of the magazine Revue Le Banquet, and President of the Centre d’étude et de réflexion pour l’action politique (CERAP). In the following exclusive interview for EPOS, Mr Tenzer discusses sensitive issues like terrorism, fundamentalism and security in the aftermath of the tragic episodes in France.

Nicolamaria Coppoa, EPOS: French combat aircraft will begin flying bombing missions against Islamic State positions from the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle next week. This is the second time the carrier group has operated in a combat role in the Levant, but other French forces have been bombing the Islamic State since September alongside the US-led multinational force in Iraq and Syria, of which New Zealand troops are supporting. Were the Paris events a direct and easily predictable consequence of the NATO/US/France/West’s actions and meddling in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, as well as elsewhere in the Middle East?

Nicolas Tenzer: Terrorism doesn’t start with the military intervention against Daesh, but a long time before. This Apocalyptic ideology exists since a long time and its very ambition is to destroy West and the basic Western values: freedom, secularism, human rights, and our way of life. The coalition against ISIS is an answer to this preexisting threat. We also have to consider on the one hand that ISIS’ rise is the direct consequence of Assad’s crimes against civilians. Without Assad, there would have been no Daesh or a very weaker one. If the US, as French President François Hollande proposed in 2013, had accepted to intervene military in Syria against Assad, it would not only have avoided 100.000 casualties and the refugees crises we are witnessing, but also have weakened ISIS. On the other hand, ISIS is the consequence of the civil war in Iraq and of the poor commitment of the allies to enforce national unity.

Nicolamaria Coppola, EPOS: Multiple individuals from France and other European countries have traveled to Syria to join extremist groups there. As the Charlie Hebdo attacks have also demonstrated, there is a persistent risk of terrorist attacks within Europe. Do you think that the attacks in Paris, both Charlie Hebdo and November 13th, were entirely grassroots in nature or the assailants received instruction or assistance from abroad from groups such as the Islamic State or al Qaeda?

Nicolas Tenzer: It is obvious that they received support in both bases. Those terrorists were not lonely wolves, but are the members of a major organization even if it still difficult to decipher the chain of command. Of course, ISIS, which claimed to be responsible for the terror attacks, is different by its essence and structure of Al Qaeda, and if I may say so less vertical. It also exploits the fragility of the individuals, and is everything but a military organization. But, yes, definitively, regarding the scale of the attacks, especially 11/13, it was premeditated, planed, organized and strictly implemented.

Nicolamaria Coppola, EPOS: After the terrible terror attacks in Paris, the initial reaction has been to close the border, declare state of emergency and put boots on the ground. Who would benefit, or lose, from such measures?

Nicolas Tenzer: I do not think that there are losers or winners. We have at first to consider those measures as dictated by emergency and dramatic circumstances. They aim at being efficient in tracking the terrorists as completely as possible and at preventing other terror attacks. You have also to consider that any government is committed to reassure the public and this is also one of their goals. Now, we have to make a distinction between short term and long term decisions. The first ones are necessary to dismantle still existing potential terrorist cells, which could represent an immediate threat. The second ones could have effect only on the long run, and most of them have not to be known by the public for obvious reasons.

Nicolamaria Coppola, EPOS: What about the intelligence agencies in France? How is it possible that DGSE, DGSI, DRM and others did not expect and detect and put down such attacks? How is it possible that heavily armed people were able to act in public areas like Rue Alibert, Rue de la Fontaine-au-Roi, Rue de Charonne, the Bataclan theatre in Boulevard Voltaire, Avenue de la RĂ©publique, and Boulevard Beaumarchais without any previous reactions from the military forces?

Nicolas Tenzer: This is a true issue, but unfortunately zero-risk and full safety do not exist. Intelligence is a hard job, and it’s easier to criticize intelligence units afterwards than to give operational recommendations upstream –remember the shortcomings of FBI and CIA before 9/11. Having said that, we must assess the failure of the intelligence –we did it after Charlie attacks and we will have to do it now- and to improve our intelligence capabilities, without jeopardizing basic liberties, is an unending task. Yesterday night, I said that those terror attacks were not predictable, but were not un-expectable. It means that we all knew that France and all other Western countries were at risk. Many scholars, experts and intelligence officials – even the Prime Minister, Manuel Valls after Charlie Hebdo attacks - have said long time ago that the risk was great and we should expect new terrorist bombings or shootings. But, now, even if the intelligence units are doing their best to track potential terrorists and radical Muslims’ cells, some are still able to fall through the security net.

Nicolamaria Coppola, EPOS: Nine hundred young people from France are estimated to be fighting with the extremist forces in Syria/Iraq. There is increasing questioning of France’s immigration policy and the pursuit of communitarianism. France has always expected immigrants to conform to its Republican model, but a growing social gulf has become evident especially among second-generation children of immigrants from North and West Africa. Are there any links between the French social contact-model and the uprising of terrorism and extremism in France? Can the attacks in Paris be seen as a reminder of France's longstanding ethnic frictions?

Nicolas Tenzer: We have to take care not to draw too rough conclusions about that. It’s true that we are witnessing a radicalization process amongst a part of second- or third-generation children. Some radical preachers are trying to take profit of their social situation and their poor educational background. But having said that, we shall also consider that most of the French Muslims want to be, as we used to say, “integrated” to the national community. There are two difficulties there: the first one is social. We all know that young guys and girls are still suffering discriminations when looking after a job and some groups are fueling resentment and acrimony against the French system. The second one is about what you said about Republican model. I do think that we have to stand firm for it and that secularism remains a key value everyone shall accept. It’s very dangerous that the liberals and human rights defenders – as I am - too often seem shy in defending it, and that far right Marine Le Pen is now championing secularism in her speeches. Her acceptation of the word is obviously not mine. Now the first priority is education, but I would say even more liberal education through literature, history, philosophy even for the less-favored groups, including new migrants. If we are not able to increase educational standards, no wonder if simplistic ideologies and beliefs prevail.

Nicolamaria Coppola, EPOS: What will be the political effects for and within the European Union after these tragic events?

Nicolas Tenzer: More than ever, the EU shall stand united and of course strengthen the coordination process on security matters and intelligence exchanges that already exist. Now, it must avoid two major potential failures that could undermine its legitimacy, its efficiency, its future, and maybe even its very existence. Unraveling Europe is indeed a real risk. At first, it has to define its true enemies. I am using plural, because Daesh, even if the main threat, is not the only one Europe has. In the Middle-East, as I already assessed, Assad is even a greater problem than Daesh. We must get rid of Assad, who has to be sued at ICC, since otherwise we would not be able to exterminate Daesh. Assad never fought against Daesh, nor did the Russians when supporting him. On the contrary, Assad and ISIS are, beyond the stands and speeches, true allies and his regime is fueling Daesh. I would say the same about Russia in general: because of our values, we have to fight against terrorism and Islamism, but in the same time against those who are threatening human rights, civil liberties, international law, and others’ sovereignty. Second, because of the legitimate fears Paris terror attacks are generating, it could even more reinforce many states’ and people’s willingness to welcome refugees. If Europe, and other Western countries, are doing so, then the terrorists would have won.

Nicolamaria Coppola, EPOS: What do you think we should now expect from the French government in response to the attacks? Shall the traditional democratic guarantees be affected and be jeopardized after the latest events?

Nicolas Tenzer: As already said, some measures won’t be public, but we must expect that French government will increase surveillance through all possible and legal means. As Hobbes already wrote in his Leviathan, safety is basic degree of civil rights, and no society can exist and endure if safety is not guaranteed. However, as you know, the government already passed a law on this issue after the Charlie Hebdo attacks, and it has been very controversial. Many human rights and liberal organizations have protested this law, since it offers more possibilities for the police and intelligence to track one’s private activity, even if under very strict control. Now, this law and others that may come are all about equilibrium and I am confident this government is truly committed to preserve basic liberties. I don’t think either there would be major changes in our foreign policy, including military intervention. For me, despite the solidarity movingly expressed by quite all the leaders and average people all around the world, the main challenge is the unity of Europe and of the Western world, and its ability and willingness to be outspoken more clearly and strongly about our common values.


DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this article are the interviewed’s own and do not necessarily reflect EPOS WorldView’s editorial policy

Last modified on Saturday, 14 November 2015 14:03

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