Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts France’s Terror Backlash Raises Questions of Security, and Identity Too

France’s Terror Backlash Raises Questions of Security, and Identity Too

Last Friday in Paris, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazenueve issued a complaint to his counterparts across the continent that will be recalled in the annals of European counterterrorism: with all their resources and supposed vigilance about the jihadist threat, none had managed to help him determine the whereabouts of Abdelhamid Abaaoud, mastermind of the Paris attacks.

In the end, the Moroccan intelligence services helped pinpoint the apartment block north of the French capital where Abaaoud had been hiding, as French security sources also acknowledged Friday. Relations between Paris and Rabat were strained last year, but King Mohammed VI has put politics aside, and placed all the might of his formidable security sector at the disposal of the Élysée in its struggle to defend its people. Abaaoud’s brother was already in custody in Morocco, and appears to have been tapped to provide information in the manhunt. The kingdom more broadly has been tracing the movement of Moroccan and other Arab and non-Arab nationals in and out of the battlefields of Syria and Iraq.

But Cazenueve’s concerns about counterterrorism in Europe speak to larger problems, which police alone can’t solve: France and its neighbors stand in need of an adjusted approach to security, informed by a more clear-eyed analysis of their opponent. The past week’s jihadist atrocities, from Paris to Bamako, offer at least a couple of lessons in this regard.

The first relates to the longstanding debate in Europe and North America over whether the struggle against jihadism is more akin to war or law enforcement. The question is informed by the logic of the Westphalian state system: if you recognize national borders, then you draw a fundamental distinction between “domestic affairs” within them, such as policing and courts, and “foreign policy” toward the world beyond them, from diplomacy to military intervention. But if this month’s near-simultaneous attacks on multiple continents teach us anything, it is that jihadists draw no equivalent distinction.

The enemy is at once foreign and domestic. It is domestic to all nations because jihadists…

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