Made in France: A Look at the Etiology of Radical Jihadists in the West

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Made in France, a fictional film directed by Nicolas Boukhrie, attempts to illuminate a very real problem: the rise of jihadism in the West. The film was apparently finished in 2014, but its release was repeatedly postponed because of a series of terrorist attacks in France. First available from on-demand television, Made in France made a short and unprofitable appearance in the United States (according to IMDB.com). I saw it recently on Foxtel World Movies, in Australia. Whether or not you’ll ever have the opportunity to view this film, the issues it raises are important, as Western powers continue to slaughter people throughout the Middle East under the pretext of national self-defense in the Global War on Terror (GWOT).

The film looks at a jihadist cell infiltrated by a journalist, Sam (played by Malik Zidi). Once he reveals to the authorities what he has done, he finds himself trapped between the Charybdis of possible death (as the cell has recently been “activated”) and the Scylla of imprisonment. He is told by French authorities that he must either continue on with the group until he is able to ascertain who the higher-order leaders are, or else he will be indicted along with the rest of them as a terrorist. This may sound like an insane situation, but it’s not so different from some of the modes of “persuasion” used by the FBI to recruit informants and infiltrators in the United States, at least according to a very disturbing book by Trevor Aaronson on the topic of homegrown terrorism, Terror Factory: Inside the FBI’s Manufactured War on Terrorism (2013). In the United States, prospective informants, some of whom have criminal records or lack legal immigrant status, may be threatened with prosecution, incarceration, or deportation if they refuse to cooperate with government authorities.

TerrorFactorAaronsonCarrots and sticks work best in concert, so dependable informants also receive a “bonus” when their work leads to the conviction of a target. This incentive structure has led to the emergence of a new vocation in the post-9/11 era: the professional informant, who quite naturally seeks out easy-to-convict prey. The primary focus of Aaronson’s book is the use of quasi-entrapment by informants to lure prospective recruits into participating in terrorist plots when, in fact, they would likely never have done so without the FBI’s elaborate schemes to draw them in. Most of the people in the United States convicted on terrorism charges in recent years turn out to have been disgruntled losers who, despite being angry, would never have had the capacity—whether mental or material—to carry out acts of terrorism, had they been left to their own devices.

Made in France poses two closely related questions: How are young men enticed to become members of jihadist cells, and why do they agree to carry out acts of terrorism? The case portrayed underscores how the foot soldiers have no contact with anyone but their local commander, who alone is said to receive orders from on high. The lower-level members are, as in the United States, young persons who have become disillusioned for one reason or another. Often their prospects for success in society are poor. They are united in being manifestly angry about the ongoing wars in the Middle East, perpetrated by Western powers, including France, a longstanding ally of the United States.

Some might consider the story to offer a merely hypothetical scenario, but it is based on documented changes in the structure of groups such as Al Qaeda since 2001. What once was a top-down, hierarchical structure was swiftly lateralized post-9/11, with individual groups forming independently of others for the simple tactical reason that it became too dangerous for the networks to communicate with one another. ISIS has now come to eclipse Al Qaeda as the bogey-man du jour, but the lateral structure of radical jihadist groups operating transnationally remains in place, which implies that there may be a general but vague culture of jihadism behind many individual acts of terrorism and potential plots without there ever having been an order handed down from any alleged #1 or #2 leader. The question, then, arises: who is giving the orders?

If the individual cells comprise only small numbers of foot soldiers along with their immediate superior, whose orders they are to obey without hesitation, then what prevents some random lunatic from creating a murderous cult à la Charles Manson and his family? That is precisely the scenario depicted in Made in France. The young men who have been persuaded to believe that they are doing Allah’s will in following the order of their leader, Hassan (played by Dimitri Storoge), have no idea that he is not taking orders from any other person, much less God. In reality, Hassan is just an angry, psychologically disturbed, violent punk who derives pleasure from calling the murderous shots.

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Hassan has created a fantasy world in which he is the commander of this isolated group, and he lies to the others in rationalizing what he wants the group to do, saying that the spiritual leaders communicate only with him. One day he announces that the men must remain in France to destabilize Paris rather than travel to the Middle East to fight, as they had all believed that they were going to do. When a couple of the recruits express concern about what is to be an upcoming attack on the Champs-Elysées, Hassan perfunctorily intones that every war involves civilian casualties. The soldiers are acting on the will of Allah, whose decree makes even the deaths of women and children permissible when a larger objective is in sight. The goal is not to maim and slaughter children but to destabilize France!

What is fascinating about this logic is that it is essentially embodied in every call by any leader for young men (and now women as well) to go kill strangers on his behalf. Not only the leaders of groups such as Al Qaeda and ISIS invoke this kind of reasoning, but also Western leaders who order their troops to travel thousands of miles away to kill people who never threatened them personally with harm. Why do young people agree to kill at the behest of political leaders whose rise to power shows only that they know how to win election campaigns? The short answer is: cultural habit. The concept of “legitimate authority” in waging war derives from “Just war theory”, a paradigm dating from ancient and medieval times. (See War and Delusion: A Critical Examination)

Under the assumption that God Almighty appointed leaders, it would make sense to believe that those leaders’ orders should followed, for they would seem to be doing God’s will. Of course, we know today that presidents such as Donald Trump and Barack Obama and George Bush and Bill Clinton, et al., were not appointed by God but elected by citizens at the culmination of lengthy election campaigns. Nonetheless, such leaders have retained the power to wage war where and when they deem fit, even though by doing so they are sure to destroy innocent people. The goal is not to maim and slaughter children but to eradicate evil!

The most extreme case of blind submission to authority in the Western military apparatus to date is arguably that of remote-control killing. Drone operators who follow orders to kill people outside areas of active hostilities—where there are no troops on the ground—have succumbed to a form of trickery. They are told that “This is war” and that they must fire missiles on areas inhabited by civilians in order to thwart another mass attack such as that of September 11, 2001. The goal is not to maim and slaughter children but to eliminate the terrorists!

Drone operators are simply expected to believe that their victims, usually poor tribesmen located in remote areas, are akin to Osama bin Laden. And some apparently do, those who continue on in the profession, even as the jihadists spore from one country to the next, as though the sharp increase in the number of active terrorists all over the world since the invasions of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003 were somehow unprovoked. Is it a sheer coincidence that the more missiles that rain down on regions inhabited by potential future terrorists, the more recruits emerge both in the Middle East and in the West?

Had the attacks of September 11, 2001, been treated as crimes rather than acts of war, then there would have been no pretext for bombing entire countries. No one supposes that bombing Paris, Nice and Marseille is the answer to the series of homegrown terrorist acts perpetrated in France. Nor has anyone in the United States called for the bombing of Oklahoma City, Orlando, San Bernardino or Las Vegas. Yet the bombing of people in the Middle East continues mindlessly on, even as new plots in the West are undertaken by lone wolf perpetrators who have been taught—not only by murderous thugs who wave the banner of radical jihadism, but also by Western governments—that homicide is an appropriate, even noble, response to conflict. Incineration by Hellfire missile or beheading by knife? It’s a difference without any moral distinction.

The answer to the question what to do about the problem of terrorism depends ultimately upon one’s view of humanity. The young men who take up the radical jihadist cause have in effect been proselytized into a cult. Should recent recruits, many of whom are mere teenagers or young adolescents, be erased from existence when it is obvious that they have been duped? Anyone who values human life must wonder whether the thousands of such persons being slaughtered in the so far nugatory effort to stanch terrorism could not be de-programmed instead. If the dramatic rise in terrorism is a direct effect of killing, maiming, imprisoning, torturing, traumatizing and destroying the homes and families of entirely innocent people, then the only lasting way to solve the problem will be to remove the cause.

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For more on the young people being killed in the Global War on Terror, see also:

The Drone Assassination Assault on Democracy

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Microdrones and What to Expect Next from the “Smart Warriors”

 

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The US Army recently announced that they are accepting contract bids for the production of microdrones to be carried along by deployed soldiers in their kits. Needless to say, the idea was painted as undeniably good: to help protect “our troops”. Characterized in such a way, the idea could not possibly be met with resistance by any legislator. Companies will be contracted, and funds lavished upon the developers and builders of the new microdrones, having been made to seem as essential to a brave soldier as a Kevlar vest or an armored Humvee—and a bargain to boot! The fact that microdrones will be just as good—if not better—for asymmetrical, factional fighters is best left unsaid, at least from the perspective of all of the many parties likely to profit from the initiative, including the experts who assess the costs and benefits of the plan.

Microdrones, which weigh only 150 grams or so, are already being produced, and DARPA solicited bids earlier for its Fast Lightweight Autonomy (FLA) program. The idea pitched at that time was to produce a drone which could enter buildings—such as homes—and snoop around to see what’s going on. On a not unrelated note, a recently released report revealed that “a handful of” US military drones have spent some time hovering in homeland skies, “in support of civilian authorities”. The military drones operating above US soil have been used for surveillance purposes only—so far. Connecting a few dots, and extrapolating from the slippery slope which the US government continues to slide down, I predict that in the not-too-distant future, microdrones will be used in the homeland to snoop on US citizen suspects, after which larger drones will be used to kill them. Does that sound too far-fetched?

Who would have guessed, ten years ago, that the US government would dispatch citizens without indictment, much less trial? Yet in the fall of 2011, they did just that, hunting down and killing Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen. Who would have guessed, one year ago, that the British government would do the same? Yet in August 2015, they did just that, hunting down and killing two British nationals, despite the fact that capital punishment is prohibited by both the EU Charter and British Law.

The Drone Age has been underway for fifteen years, and still there has been no strategic analysis of the efficacy of the targeted killing program abroad. Thousands of suspects have been eliminated using Hellfire missiles fired from Predator drones, yet the quagmire in the Middle East has only grown worse. Unfortunately, the very analysts who might be enlisted to assess the US drone program, employees of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), are too busy finding people to hunt down and kill, and locating “appropriately vetted moderate rebels” to arm. No one seems to want to bother with figuring out whether all of this state-inflicted homicide is making Westerners less, rather than more, secure.

Given the ever-augmenting chaos and carnage throughout the Middle East, we have sound grounds for concluding that, in fact, the US government’s many lethal efforts are self-sabotaging, undermining US security by sowing anti-American sentiment, which is likely to manifest itself in further blowback terrorist attacks, just as occurred in Paris and San Bernardino in 2015. Remarkably, US administrators continue to parrot vague pronouncements to the effect that the drone program has saved lives. No substantiation of such claims is ever provided. Instead, we must content ourselves with the praise by “experts” with both psychological and financial reasons (often board members of the many companies which profit from targeted killing) of the drone warriors. For “reasons of national security”, the details are always withheld, and we are expected to trust the people who assure us that all is well. The same “experts” brush aside (or ignore) all of the annoying questions raised by critics, the ranks of which are now on the rise—and not without good reason.

Unfortunately, federal tax-paying Americans are not primarily renowned for their critical thinking skills. The dead terrorist [suspect] tallies reported in newspaper headlines each week continue to be regarded by much of the populace and political elites as evidence that Westerners are being kept safe by all of the counterterrorism initiatives. When massacres such as those in San Bernardino or Paris are carried out by angry extremists, this is taken by nearly everyone as evidence that the drone warriors need to do even more. By all means, find more suspects to hunt down and kill!

A more circumspect consideration of the reigning insecurity all across the Middle East, by persons not primarily concerned with retaining their current position in the government, would lead one to the opposite conclusion: that the firing-squad approach to quelling radical Islamist groups such as ISIS has failed. But rather than face up to their mistakes, the self-styled “smart warriors” continue on unimpeded. Why? Because they can.

There you have it, the reason why I have arrived at my depressing prognostication. The myopia of the persons penning US policy all but ensures that, with the inexorable expansion of executive power, nihilistic lethal centrism will prevail, leading eventually to the same treatment of suspects at home as abroad. Can anyone reasonably deny that Anwar Al-Awlaki would have been more dangerous to the people of the United States in Manhattan than he was in Yemen? Or that Reyaad Khan and Ruhul Amin would have been more dangerous to the people of Britain in London than they were in Syria?

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