Islamic terrorism: decline or metamorphosis?

Seen from France, Islamic terrorism seems to be entering a new era. Is it about to decompose? To transform? If it was presumptuous to trumpet the announcement of its decomposition, on the other hand, the image of strong inflections is essential.

A weakened force of attraction

LThese are geopolitical, Middle Eastern, linked to the historic end of the Caliphate, in any case as wanted by Daesh. By losing control of vast territories, over which it ruled in the form of a quasi-state, it also lost the possibility of welcoming those who, from all over the world, had wished to join it, participate in its battles or live fully their faith in this Islamic society that dangled in the propaganda.

The attractiveness of Daesh is today less, in the first circles it fascinated, but it is true that it could be exercised in others, for example in desperate sectors more than in search of meaning. , or even because of a possible revival of extreme violence from other parts of the world, in sub-Saharan Africa. In addition, Daesh's ability to organize relatively heavy operations, such as those of 13 November 2015, is lessened.

The military debacle takes away a good part of its charm: Daesh is now a loser, and no longer a winner, at best it is an actor on the defensive in its fight, whereas two or three years ago, the Islamic State flew from victory to victory. The same who had joined him to take part in a glorious experience are disillusioned, when they retained an ounce of lucidity, and a few, perhaps to avoid local justice, in the Middle East, are willing to describe for television French the terrifying aspects of what they lived on the ground - the accounts of women are particularly enlightening here.

Maintaining a propaganda capacity

As often with terrorism, in the ascending phase, the media had accompanied the phenomenon by amplifying it, making its protagonists rather impressive actors: now that Daesh is in a descending phase, the same media give the image of mediocrity, noticeable precisely in the testimonies of young women seeking to return to France.

But Daesh does not need to control a large territory to continue to spread its propaganda, to emulate, to give a religious significance to a radicalism in search of meaning, to animate networks: Al-Qaeda, long before, had not claimed to build a State, this did not prevent it from persisting to be still today he is an important figure in global terrorism.

On the other hand, it will be more difficult in the future for Daesh to set up operations involving significant resources, and integrated action systems made up of several types of actors: young French people, for example, having chosen to join this organization. , religious leaders, ideological relays in Europe, officials making it possible to provide training on site, but also to complete recruitment, "communicators", etc.

Moreover, Daesh will have less need than before - for geopolitical, strategic, military reasons - to strike a country like France as soon as the war which is being waged against it is over. What looks like it will only be a matter of months, if not weeks.

Permanence of social and cultural sources

Let us now consider the situation inside French society. Social and cultural sources having been able to contribute not only to the success of the Jihad ideology, but also to the concrete commitments of those - and those - who joined it or tried to do so are far from being dried up: the failures of integration, the crisis of the popular “suburbs”, but also the search for meaning which, for example, led to conversion to Islam and hence to radical Islamism have not disappeared. But the cause of jihad is less noble, less promising. More desperate perhaps too. What we learn from those who come back is not very engaging. The movement in its deepest foundations is in crisis.

At a time when young women from Syria, or returning from this country describe the horrors, especially sexual, that they suffered there, the fact that a Muslim leader like Tarik Ramadan can be publicly accused of serious sexual violence, even if 'he never advocated armed struggle, also plays to weaken the romantic ardor which may have contributed to the mobilization of certain young girls.

Moreover, the time has come for greater police efficiency and judicial intervention. The trial of Abdelkader Merah, as disappointing as it may seem to those who wanted him to be convicted of aiding and abetting, ended in a heavy judgment, 20 years of detention: the justice system, and before it the police, have does their job. And tomorrow, other trials will take place, starting with that of Abdeslam Salah, one of those responsible for the Bataclan attack. New judicial and therefore institutional steps will be taken in the history of the terrorist phase inaugurated by Mohamed Merah in Toulouse in 2012.

A better armed republic

A law bringing in main measures of the state of emergency in common law has been adopted, with a fairly strong assent from the public, which feels more secure. We know with great precision the number and characteristics of most of those who have gone to Syria or Iraq and are returning or trying to return, which adds to what is said of "S files" to give , despite some shortcomings, the image of a fairly strong control of the threat and creating a certain feeling of security within the population.

The capacity for action of the intelligence, surveillance and police services has obviously been considerably strengthened over the past two years, and the families of young people falling into jihadism are less destitute than a few years ago. In short, the institutions, the family, the judiciary, the police of the Republic are in better working order and seem more than before up to the challenges.

The last terrorist act, the murder of two young girls at Saint Charles station in Marseille, on 1er October 2017, aroused an emotion that was more reminiscent of that generated by a winter event than that following the 2015 attacks - an emotion perhaps even less than that due to the assassination of Alexia Daval, the young jogger whose body was found on October 30, 2017, charred in a forest.

The trend that could emerge would therefore be that of terrorism finding its future extensions in poorly elaborated acts, not having involved the strong mobilization of a network, crimes at the limit committed by more or less solitary individuals. , and it must be said: increasingly coming under psychiatry.

This hypothesis has just been illustrated in Blagnac, where a motorist deliberately mowed several people without being able to detect in his act a political or metapolitical, religious dimension.

If this trend is confirmed, then we can consider that the cycle opened in 1995 by Khaled Kelkal of a terrorism that has become global - both internal and international - and having reached its peak with the current phase, inaugurated by Mohamed Merah in 2012 coming to an end. This obviously does not exclude entering a new cycle.

Michael Wieviorka, Sociologist, President of the FMSH, Maison des Sciences de l'Homme Foundation (FMSH) - USPC

La original version of this article was posted on The Conversation.

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