France casts doubts on 'terror war'

  • From: "Muslim News" <editor_@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
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  • Date: Fri, 6 Sep 2002 21:33:51 +0100

PARIS: On the day after the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York,
the French establishment newspaper, Le Monde, rallied France to the
fight against international terrorism with the call "We are all

In a country known for a lingering undercurrent of anti-American
sentiment, it was a radical and unexpected statement that seemed to
presage a new trans-Atlantic alliance. 

But it was wrong. A year on, France remain French, and the attacks on
the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon have done little to alter their
schizophrenic perception of the US as a rival as well as an ally. 

Although France has long faced terrorism and cooperates in the military
and legal struggle against Al Qaeda, its press, public and politicians
have taken a step back from Washington's 'war on terror'. 

Consider, for instance, the success of the book, l'Effroyable Imposture
(The Frightening Deception) which was published by the French
journalist, Thierry Meyssan, this year. In it, he claimed that the
Pentagon had fallen victim, not to an hijacked aeroplane, but to an
attempted coup d'etat that was disguised as a terrorist attack by US
officials in one of history's great cover-ups. 

His theory has been widely ridiculed and according to two other French
journalists, Guillaume Dasquie and Jean Guisnel, who studied it, has not
the slightest shred of evidence to back it up. But Meyssan nevertheless
struck a chord in France and his book sold more than 200,000 copies
within three months of its publication. 

Dasquie and Guisnel said the book appealed to French
conspiracy-theorists 'who adore the nutters that come along and tell you
than the truth is being hidden from you'. 

The New York Times, for its part, asked whether its success was a sign
of latent anti-Americanism in France. 

That concern has been reinforced by mounting criticism from the French
political establishment over the way the US is conducting its campaign
against terrorism. In the spring, for instance, Hubert Vedrine, the
then-foreign minister, described President Bush's 'axis of evil' speech
as 'simplistic'. And last week, President Chirac, warned the US to seek
a UN resolution before contemplating military action against Iraq,
signalling French hostility to a war with Saddam Hussein. 

"Trans-Atlantic dialogue has become difficult, even when both sides
bother to listen to each other," said the French daily, Le Figaro,
commenting that September 11 had reinforced Washington's tendancy to
go-it-alone without regard for its partners. 

This is a widely held view in France, where discussion of the US
response to Al Qaeda is now overshadowing discussion of Al Qaeda itself.
During the French presidential election campaign this spring, for
instance, September 11 was all but absent as an issue, with the two
frontrunners - centre-right Jacques Chirac and Socialist Lionel Jospin -
focussing on domestic questions. 

If they debated foreign policy at all, it was to call for a peace
settlement in the Middle East in the sort of vague and consensual terms
that were never likely to have much impact on Yasser Arafat and Ariel
Sharon and never did. Only the Far Right National Front candidate,
Jean-Marie Le Pen, spoke about attacks on the World Trade Centre and
Pentagon, but only in order to play on fears over Muslim immigration in

Otherwise, there has been no sense during and after the campaign of a
threat to France itself. "Sept 11 - it happened in the US, not here,"
said Lydie Clerc, a Parisian office worker this week. 

Yet France, in practice, is deeply concerned by Al Qaeda. With four
million Muslims living in France, a history as a colonial power, and a
role in Nato, the European Union and the UN Security Council, it is both
a target and a recruiting ground for fundamentalists. 

Why then have the French reverted to an anti-American discourse that is
often out of step with their own actions? The answer probably lies in
the sense of frustration at their inability to shape - or even influence
- a 'war on terror' that is determined by Washington alone. For
countries such as Germany - at best a tentative player on the world
stage - US unilateralism is irritating, but ultimately irrelevant. But
for France, which still likes to see itself as a global influence, such
unilateralism is an affront that has produced a typically Gallic
response - the bad-tempered sulk. 

Source:  The Guardian News Service

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