France24.com’s editor-in-chief reflects on the first-person account of a French jihadist in Syria, published in partnership with French daily Libération.
The vivid, first-person account of a French jihadist who vowed to fight – and die – in Syria, as told to FRANCE 24’s Charlotte Boitiaux, shatters long-held assumptions about jihadism, challenges our Western conscience and leaves us with a profound sense of unease.
There are at least two reasons why Salahudine’s story is so disturbing. First, it recounts the journey that led a well-integrated, French-born father of two to a seemingly inevitable death in a foreign country’s bloody civil war. Salahudine is a sharp, intelligent and, at times, endearing 27-year-old from the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis who found a new raison d’être in the jihadist struggle. He is unmoved by the values of tolerance, emancipation and solidarity espoused by the West – or, at the very least, he no longer believes in their sincerity. Our cherished ideal of democracy leaves him stone cold.
Equally disquieting is Salahudine’s indictment of Western inaction. While we do not share his aim (the establishment of an Islamic state in Syria), we cannot but understand and share his outrage at the organised massacre of a people by its government – a carnage that has lasted three years and shows no sign of ending. His account is all the more disturbing in that Salahudine is not a “terrorist”. He is fighting a cruel regime that has given ample evidence of its ruthlessness. He did not reach Syria through a jihadist recruitment channel. Instead, he travelled to Syria with his family, paid for the journey with his savings and even bought his own rifle. He has no intention of returning to France to plant bombs there and kill innocent civilians. He simply wants to die a martyr in Syria. Unlike the 9/11 terrorists, he is no nihilist. In fact he even displays a certain political acumen when he decides to leave the hard-line Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), whose struggle with the more secular Free Syrian Army (FSA) he disapproves of, to join the al Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front.
Salahudine’s account underscores the painful fact that Western democracies no longer seem capable of fighting for their values, torn as they are between two conflicting concerns: on the one hand, their attachment to human rights and international law, and, on the other, their reluctance to use force to defend these principles. The West is paralysed by mounting evidence that the clash of civilisations has now replaced wars between nations and ideologies. It is discouraged by overcautious governments and electorates eager to preserve their model of temperate, pacified societies – even as the model is cracking at the seams. The last great cause our democracies rallied behind was the defeat of Nazism. But that was long ago and in our own backyard.
Should the West have sent its soldiers to Syria to help establish a form of justice closer to its own? Sure enough, Bashar al-Assad’s thuggish regime would no longer be in power. But would peace have returned to the war-torn country? And would not Salahudine and his fellow fighters have turned their guns against the Western “Crusaders”? However moving his account may be, the young French jihadist is no less a fanatic – a man whose distorted existentialism has lost all humanist connotation. A self-proclaimed devout Muslim, Salahudine has no patience for the wisdom and prudence professed by Islam. His radicalisation has nothing to do with the discrimination and humiliations suffered by youths in the poorest suburbs of France. He is a fanatic, no more no less. Why else drag his partner's two children, aged 6 and 8, through this ordeal? How and when did this lost child of France stop believing in innocence?
Read our exclusive report, 'Why I want to die': confessions of a French jihadist in Syria.
Click here to read Charlotte Boitiaux’s story: My friend, waging holy war in Syria
Date created : 2014-02-12