′This is completely different′: France reacts to beheading of Herve Gourdel in Algeria | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 25.09.2014
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'This is completely different': France reacts to beheading of Herve Gourdel in Algeria

Paris-based journalist Franck Guillory tells DW how the beheading of French citizen Herve Gourdel by an Islamic State (IS) affiliated group known as Jund al-Khilafah has changed popular thinking in France.

DW: How has the French public reacted to the beheading of Herve Gourdel in Algeria?

Franck Guillory: Since yesterday evening there has undoubtedly been a sense of deep emotion. We also had a sense of emotion when James Foley and the other hostages were beheaded, but the sudden realization that French people can also become targets leads to a different understanding of what is at stake in this war on jihadism.

President Francois Hollande made a call for national unity in front of the United Nations yesterday, but across the political spectrum we are hearing calls for unity and unconditional support for the action of the French army in Iraq and probably also soon in Syria and anywhere else if needed.

The third aspect of the reaction of the French people is the call for a need to clearly and deeply understand what is at stake, and not to confuse jihadism and Islam and not to fuel hatred within French society or to stigmatize ordinary Muslims.

How easy do you think it will be for the French public to refrain from such stigmatization, and not to interpret the threat of jihadism where it does not exist?

I think this is the biggest challenge, bigger than military operations. Military coalitions will ultimately defeat IS, but we have to make sure it doesn't become an imported civil war in our countries, and that people are not targeted as potential allies of IS just because they are Muslims. Just as we understood that not all Germans were Nazis, we have to clearly understand that not all Muslims are Islamo-fascists, or jihadist, and we have got to review and renew the condition of our living together.

What would be the implications in failing to achieve this?

If we fail on this one, then young Muslims will think it acceptable to fight with jihadists in Syria and Iraq, but eventually they will question the need to travel so far away to fight when they could fight in their own state or town. We are not yet at this stage, but we have to be aware of the potential impact on our societies and on our state of peace. We have to be as united as possible, and the first is to have a clear understanding of our enemy is and what they are fighting for. Then we can arrange between ourselves to prepare to fight back. But the biggest challenge is to be one at home.

Is there a broad base of public support for French involvement in the international campaign to target IS in light of the killing of Herve Gourdel?

In the first hours of this intervention, some people were referring to it as another American war in Iraq. But I think there is now a clear understanding that this is completely different. We don't want to call it a world war, but it is an international war, a war such as we have probably never seen before. This is not against an ordinary state, but against an organization that is very flexible and difficult to catch. There is no clear front in this war. It can be everywhere, and there is an understanding that it will not be won only in Iraq or in Syria, but that to win this war, we may also have to fight in the streets of Paris.

Is there a fear of what returnees from the war in Syria might bring with them?

There is clearly a sense that former Jihadists coming back to France - as they will come back to Germany or to the UK - could import the war. They clearly have the objectives to do so, and that somehow means the war will be everywhere. What is very important here is that we do not play the game of jihadism and radicalize our speech ourselves. I think there are calls in France for demonstrations, which will see Muslims and non-Muslims take to the streets and say it is not in their name.

We will defeat jihadism, not defeat Islam, but defeat this perversion of Islam, this totalitarian threat, as we defeated all the totalitarianism threats in the 20th century.

Is there any significance, given the complex history of the two countries, to the fact that this was a French man killed in Algeria?

I think we are past this point. It is true that we have a very difficult history with Algeria, but this is something completely new. I don't think it was a message to France in itself - it is not a war against France or America, or the UK - it is a war against all modern society, the civilized world as a whole. That is why, in the coming weeks and months, we will probably see improved relations with Iran. Every country will have to make a choice between the civilized world and barbarian ideology.

France is committed to the international effort to defeat IS in Iraq and Syria. Do you think Algeria is now likely to become a target as well?

Going back to the previous question, I think the French government would do anything possible not to target Algeria. This would be very difficult to handle. What the French government can do, will do, and probably is doing, is to support the Algerian authorities in their war against terrorists, in which [Algeria] will ultimately also become targets. If, however, there were a caliphate in parts of Algeria, and there was a call from the Algerian government for French military intervention, then we would do it. But that is not something we would decide unilaterally.

Franck Guillory is a journalist and editor-in-chief of the French-based international news site, JOL Press.

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