Open letter to President Macron
The world welcomes your election success with great relief and elation as it denotes a repudiation of dark, extreme, polarizing and alienating values. Your victory seals the epic, unspoken declaration of the resilient people of France, the summation of which is that they are victors and not victims and will by no means batten down the hatches and shrink into the shadows, but will seize the present opportunity to fearlessly strive for the best and brightest possible. This sentiment is echoed by a recent post-election speech, in which you stated that it is time for France to rise to the occasion in solidarity. Needless to say, your political fortunes and trajectory will for a large extent be based on the ability of your administration to effectively combat the pervasive threat of terrorism, particularly from home grown actors. I make bold to state that in order to record sustainable successes in this area, the laissez-faire approach will have to be out rightly rejected. Whilst not diminishing or oversimplifying the problematic, labyrinthine and existential issues that terrorism poses, permit me to advance a fresh approach to consider. The rethink would also address our similar challenges in Nigeria, but would in all probability be stymied, due to our fundamental and peculiar nation building limitations.
There must be an innovative and effective way of dealing with home grown terrorism. To state the obvious, International terrorist cells can scarcely act alone on French soil, without the full commitment and active cooperation of local collaborators, from the inception to execution of acts of devastation and mayhem. The truth is that the French government needs to win the war for the minds and hearts of those susceptible to predatory propaganda aimed at potential converts. Strategies to fight terrorism cannot stop at forceful, decisive military action and aggressive policing, as this will feed into the default narrative of a “war with the west,” which is a recurring theme and indispensible recruitment tool.
Such a restricted approach may also cause an escalation in the level and nature of atrocities. The state of emergency in France signifies a limited victory for those wishing to create an atmosphere of tangible fear and change the course of daily life. Not only does the current regime deprive law abiding citizen’s basic, guaranteed rights and liberties, it is a reactionary measure which does not offer sustainable solutions. It is now time to press the reset button, bearing in mind the Latin dictum, “fortune smiles on the brave.” Indeed, such is the magnitude and gravity of the threat of terrorism that it may take the combined efforts of the French government, private sector and major branches of civil society, to reverse the gains made by the purveyors of terror for the hearts and minds of disaffected and malleable French youths.
Wars are generally fought and won or lost on several fronts. The war on terror will not be an exception. The key front of propaganda and the ability to neutralize and dismantle negative ideology will play a major role going forward. Terror groups grow exponentially by using young people to effectively recruit their peers. This tactic could be considered to be a “gold standard” marketing model, were it not so inherently abhorrent in its intents and purposes. Not only is there little or no expenditure involved, subject materials run for 24 hour cycles non-stop, with a guaranteed audience as today’s youths are glued to social media and many seek and prioritize acceptance and approbation. However, this tool can also be used positively. When youths are committed to pursuing the path of unity, peace and progress, they can spread this positive messaging with similar dedication, frequency and effectiveness. The French Ministry of Information in conjunction with the Ministry of Youth Affairs, should develop a structured youth programme, whereby youths are given the platform, resources and skills to reach out to their peers, especially “at risk” youths. Secondly, no war can be won without the proper utilization of available human and material resources.
In fact, new resources may be needed to augment existing pools, in order to ensure positive and timely results on the war on terror. The aforementioned resources would involve all official and organised sectors of national life including local, regional and national branches of government, major corporations, leading industries, retail conglomerates, sports organisations and religious authorities. These entities would spear head the drive for necessary transformational change and cohesiveness, which can only be achieved from the bottom up, at the grass roots level. Bearing in mind that youths are the target audience of terror groups, it is of paramount importance to design, structure and implement, enriching and empowering community based youth programmes, which will benefit the disaffected and disenchanted. These initiatives will have a tremendous, exponential effect on large swathes of marginalised communities and will indeed give new credence to the mantra; “Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.” The emphasis cannot be a continuous, oblivious march to increase the bottom line of financial profitability. According to Albert Einstein, the definition of irrationality is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
Another major aspect in warfare is intelligence gathering. Following the Charlie Hebdo, Paris terrorist attack, the United Kingdom announced an increase of 1000 spies on their payroll. Whilst this may be seemed to be responsive to the problem, the approach is short sighted and fraught with serious ramifications which may arise from duplicity, disloyalty and greed. As previously averred, the battle is for the hearts and minds of vulnerable segments of the population and there is no quick fix to the situation. Therefore, boundless effort should be devoted to launching preemptive actions, which will deprive terror cells of their foot soldiers. These targeted youths can then as true, reliable patriots be ‘‘ears and eyes on the ground.” To engender this outcome, primary and secondary school curricular could be amended to include a body of information and learning called, “One France.”
The subject could draw on age appropriate material, having as its central themes the dignity of human life, individual and collective responsibility, conflict resolution, coping skills and universal human values. Until the recent spate of terror attacks on French soil, I was personally and professionally responsible for running an annual, private secondary school, student language and cultural programme from Nigeria to France. Unfortunately, the 12-year programme has been suspended indefinitely due to underlying fears of further acts of terror in France. Finally, I join all other well-meaning global citizens in wishing you and your new administration success in all your endeavours.
Fowler is an international lawyer.