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The Beginning of the French Jihad? By: Dr. Walid Phares
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, January 13, 2004

When President Jacques Chirac delivered his televised speech about the Hijab (female Muslim scarf) in France, I believed there would be an immediate Jihad against France.  I anticipated a wide array of Jihadist offensives against Paris. My primary analytical reason was the strategic importance of the scarf to Islamic fundamentalists worldwide.

According to religious radicals, the long scarf, which is supposed to cover the hair, and in some cases, the face of Muslim women, is not just a tradition but a religious duty called Fard Dinee. By Sharia law, affirm the Salafi (fundamentalist) clerics, women have to cover their head. And by way of extension, those who do are complying with the will of Allah. That, at least, is the interpretation of the more radical currents within the Islamic religious establishment.

When women wear the scarf, Islamic fundamentalists consider it a pillar of their influence. They can deploy their statistical power onto others, and they project it as a make-or-break indicator of their growth. If the hijab (scarf) were used increasingly, the Islamists would feel on the ascent. If its use decreases, particularly by orders of a secular government, like France, the Jihadists have no choice but to wage war.

But that war can be political, social, legal, and eventually can cross the line into a violent confrontation. President Chirac, pressed hard by his secular elite, thought Republican France could absorb the problem, particularly if he displayed a pro-Arab and pro-Islamist role. He was wrong on measuring the Jihadist parameters on this very important, sacred issue.

Chirac, a Gaullist politician, projected a major political trade. He would oppose the U.S. on Iraq, shield Saddam's regime until the last day, stand firmly by the Palestinian Authority against Israel, and continue to endorse Syria's control of Lebanon. In return, he expected an "Arab understanding" of France's domestic needs regarding secularism. He was surprised by Arabs' lack of fidelity to their benefactor.

Although Paris refused to cooperate with Washington and with other European governments on uprooting the al-Qaeda's terrorist networks, the Sunni radicals did not grant Chirac a hijab removal license, either. To the contrary, they punished the French "infidels" for their scarf sin. On the other side of the fundamentalist aisle, the French government tried hard to court the Shiite Jihadists, but in vain. The master of the Elysee attended a Beirut-Francophone summit, shook the hand of Hizbollah's commander, Nasrallah, and constantly identified the Pro-Iranian organization as a freedom-fighting force. He would have expected a respite from Tehran, when the "hijab affaire" was settled by his speech. Not at all: the Khamanei spokespersons blasted the French President for his "anti-Islamic" war.

The anti-French holy campaign started one minute after Chirac finished his speech, carried "live" and instantly translated into Arabic on al-Jazeera TV. The anchors, analysts (not to mention the resident clerics) had no mercy on the man who opposed the American military. Sheikh Youssef al Qardawi, the senior cleric in the Qatar-based station, was clear: "This is not an issue of adapting to domestic or international politics or circumstances; this is a matter related to the essence of our existence."

The ideologue of jihad describes the new geopolitical realities of France, according to al Qardawi: "There is a new reality out there and in Europe. We exist and our rights (exist), as well." But he doesn't defend equal rights in as much as he calls for special privileges. The subject is certainly open to debate in the West, and will be for awhile. But Sheikh Qardawi takes the issue beyond the debate: "By all means and in all that we can do, we must resist and fight. The Arab world, the Muslim world and all Mujahedin around the world must help their brothers and sisters in France."

So far, this incitement can be transcribed under "freedom of speech." But in Jihadist language it is more. It is a license for a "freedom of action." It will be absorbed by the several shades of militants in as much as they understand the "urgencies" of the call for holy duty. Some will hire lawyers, while others will threaten with vote sanctions. Some will take it to the streets, while others will boycott French goods in the region. A myriad of jihads can and will take place. But there are some that will take it to the Mohammed Atta level (i.e., mass killing) when and if needed. The problem is that no one in the international religious establishment has the authority or the power to stop the ultimate Jihadi from striking France or the French. An attempt by the (in principal influential) Al-Azhar center in Cairo failed to curb the anti-French drive.

But the worse may be happening now. A press release issued this week by an al-Qaeda affiliate out of Yemen claimed responsibility for the "downing of the airplane" with hundreds of French passengers and lost over Egypt. The claiming party, a man with an Egyptian accent, said he represents Ansar al Haq, an off-shoot of bin Laden's group. But worse than that is the fact that the man threatened with more strikes if "Paris continues with its anti-hijab policy!" Regardless of the veracity of the claim, one thing is sure: those who would take the scarf crisis to a violent end exist. And France will have to make the mother of all choices to avoid their wrath.

Dr Walid Phares is the author of the newly released book Future Jihad. He is also a senior fellow with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington DC.

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