The New Europeans

La Fracture [The Fracture]

by Gilles Kepel
Paris: Gallimard, 275 pp., €19.00 (paper)
Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
Visitors at an amusement park in London during an Eid celebration, July 2014

One of the consequences of the defeat of ISIS in Iraq and Syria is that many of the estimated five to six thousand Europeans who had gone to Mesopotamia to fight for or live under its so-called caliphate are now coming home. Depending on the policies of their respective countries, they may be jailed, closely watched, or placed in rehabilitation programs (France is the toughest, Denmark among the most understanding). No one knows how much of a threat these returnees pose. They may be repentant and ready to be lawful citizens, or they may be planning acts of revenge. Regardless of the setbacks suffered by ISIS on the battlefield, the list of atrocities committed by Muslim jihadis on European soil continues to grow. From a series of bomb, vehicle, and knife assaults in Britain in early 2017—the worst of which, claiming twenty-two lives, took place during a concert at the Manchester Arena—to more recent ones in Spain and France, it is clear that the appetite of a tiny number of Muslims for killing infidels is undimmed.

Although terrorist attacks in Europe continue to attract much attention, they don’t dominate the news as much as they did when they were a horrendous novelty back in 2014 and 2015. That terrorists can create localized but not widespread panic has been proved time and again; Sir Jeremy Greenstock, the former head of the United Nations’ counterterrorism committee, has aptly described Islamist terrorism as “a lethal nuisance.”

And yet this nuisance has made some progress in achieving what the French social scientist Gilles Kepel, one of Europe’s foremost authorities on Islamist militancy, maintains was the goal behind bringing the jihad home: creating an unbridgeable “fracture” between Europe’s Muslims and non-Muslims. According to Kepel, after engaging in holy war against the Soviets in Afghanistan, the jihadis moved on to the “near abroad” (Bosnia, Algeria, and Egypt), before homing in on the West itself, first—and in most dramatic fashion—the US, and since 2012 Western Europe, in a campaign of attacks by small, often “home-grown,” cells and individuals.1 That longed-for fracture gave Kepel the title of his latest addition to the vast literature on the subject, La Fracture, published a few months after its author was included on a hit list of seven French public figures singled out for execution by the jihadi assassin Larossi Abballa. (Abballa was killed by police in June 2016 after murdering a police officer and his wife.) “If you want to kill me, kill me,” Kepel taunted the jihadis during an interview in April 2017 with The New York Times.

In contrast to attacks committed by non-Muslims such as Stephen Paddock, who massacred fifty-eight people at a concert in Las Vegas on October 1, 2017, jihadi attacks have repercussions on the communities…

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