Terrorism in France; Al Qaeda May Have Downed Airliner in Retaliation

Article excerpt

Byline: Walid Phares, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

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 faces of Muslim women - is not just a tradition, but a religious duty called fard dinee. Per fundamentalist clerics, women have to cover. And by way of extension, those who do are complying with the will of Allah.

When women wear the scarf, Islamic fundamentalists consider it a pillar of their influence. They can deploy their statistical power and project it as a maker or breaker of their growth. If the hijab 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.

Mr. Chirac projected a political trade. He would oppose the United States 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 failed.

Although Paris refused to cooperate with Washington, and with others on uprooting the al Qaeda's networks, the Sunni radicals did not grant Mr. 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 Shi'ite Jihadists, but in vain. The master of the Elysee attended a Beirut-Francophone summit, shook the hand of Hezbollah's commander, and constantly identified the pro-Iranian organization as a freedom-fighting force. He would have expected a respite from Tehran, when the "hijab affair" was settled by his speech. Not at all: The spokespersons for the Iranian President Mohammad Khatami blasted the French president for his "anti-Islamic" war. …