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Guerre et la Republique

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The first part of the task is clear for French President Francois Hollande in the aftermath of this weekend's devastating attacks in Paris. The call to respond to an act of war requires the language of war.

Hollande has wasted no time: While French warplanes intensify an assault on Raqqa, and law enforcement conduct sweeps throughout the country, Hollande has set the wheels of hard diplomacy in motion, seeking to bring European Union partners into the effort by invoking a mutual defense clause embedded in the EU treaty. Domestically, he has called for an end to reductions in French security forces, and for constitutional revisions to allow better management of crises.

Which brings us to the subtler, more difficult role Hollande now must play. In a Western Europe grown accustomed to relative peace and to foreign policies built more on the soft pursuit of common prosperity than on the hard steel of defense, Hollande finds himself called upon to wage, as Le Monde calls it, politics in a time of war -- as nebulously defined and waged as that war will prove to be. Emphasis below is Le Monde's:

"The head of state knows full well, through all of this, that unlike the aftermath of Jan. 11, the ‘sacred union' called for by his prime minister will be fleeting, and that his principal opponents will seek their own engagement with the political space. While the idea of a national unity government hasn't been taken into serious consideration, the proposed constitutional revision, which would require a three-fifths approval in parliament, forces the opposition to take a position. A refusal to vote would be tough to justify on their part.

"The same goes for the battery of proposals, some of them purely symbolic, brandished my Hollande and likely to find approval in the ranks of [the center-right] Républicains or the [nationalist far-right] Front National: The renouncement of citizenship for bi-nationals, ‘even those born in France,' the interdiction of their return to France in cases of terrorist risk, more rapid expulsion of foreigners ‘who represent a threat of particular gravity.' The president takes his hardened stance far."

France's Socialist Party finds its political fortunes tied to Hollande's response to the horrific attacks of Nov. 13. The attacks and their human toll also struck at a fragile polity already showing an increasing willingness to pivot away from the mainstream and at least validate the logic of the National Front. Immigration was already the major political battlefield, and as the Economist observed, the tenor of response in November differs markedly from the aftermath of terrorist assaults in January:

"Where the ‘Je suis Charlie' demonstrators resisted linking terrorism to immigration or Islam, the mood this time has been more ambivalent. By targeting a well-known press outlet and a Jewish supermarket, the Charlie Hebdo killers allowed Europeans to frame their outrage around positive ideals: freedom of speech and of religion. But the latest attacks seemed to hit public spaces at random -- a Cambodian restaurant, a football stadium, a concert hall. And some Europeans inevitably began linking the violence to the issue which has dominated their politics for the past six months: the wave of refugees streaming into their continent from the Middle East."

Indeed, the assaults in their randomness constituted an attack on French Republicanism itself. That unique set of values, in juxtaposition to, say, the American emphasis on individual actualization, prizes what Michael Sandel calls "a public philosophy that will create virtuous, self-governing, self-sacrificing citizens and a more widely shared vision of the common good."

And so Hollande's speech on the day after the attack emphasised two notions: guerre and la Republique.

"The terrorists will never destroy the republic, because the republic will destroy them," Hollande said. He is of course right. But in defending the Republic, Hollande will be faced with decisions that cut to the core of how that Republic is defined now. In a paper published in 2002, "The Democratization of French Republicanism: The Promise of Republican Citizenship," political scientist Charles Hoffman described how French republicanism has long struggled to accommodate the country's growing multicultural makeup. The unity of the Republican ideal was under pressure, long before strife in the banlieues caught the world's attention last decade. And November 13 strikes right to the core of the dilemma.

By attacking the most public, vulnerable, egalitarian spaces, ISIS declares all-out war on the very notion of the Republic. Hollande at the moment leads the war for the Republic. And he leads a France faced with affirming the nature of that Republic.

Around the Continent

The Russian front: Italian newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano on the quick rapprochement between Hollande and Russian President Vladimir Putin:

"France and Russia have made official their bellic collaboration in Syria against the Islamic State. The Elysee announced that Francois Hollande spoke by telephone with Vladimir Putin to talk about the ‘coordination of forces' against ISIS. ‘Specifically, it was decided to ensure closer contacts and coordination of the two countries' military agencies and security services in operations against the terrorists,' the Kremlin's press services explained. The two leaders have decided to define the details during their next meeting, Nov. 26 in Moscow."

Russia's rising preoccupation with jihadism is legitimate. In The Washington Post, Leon Aron, the director of Russian studies at the American Enterprise Institute, explains how radicalism is spreading across Russia, far overspilling the boundaries within which Russian internal security services are used to dealing with the phenomenon:

"Moscow has become the base of operation for an estimated 300 to 500 Islamic State recruiters. According to reports in the Russian media (much of which is controlled by the government), most Islamic State fighters from Central Asia have been recruited at construction sites in Moscow, including an estimated 300 ethnic Uzbeks. Nusrat Nazarov, the leader of Tajiks fighting with the Islamic State, was radicalized during his working stints in the Russian capital. (He was quoted saying there are 2,000 ethnic Tajiks under his control in Syria; in June, the Tajik Interior Ministry put the number of Tajik fighters in Syria at 500.) The secretary of the Security Council of Russia, Nikolai Patrushev, admitted recently that the authorities lack the means to stem the flow of volunteers."

Europe's populists seize the moment: For some, there is no ambiguity. EU Observer:

"Europe's far-right and populist politicians used the attacks in Paris on Monday (16 November) to call for an immediate halt to the inflow of refugees and to criticise the EU's migration policy.

"Leaders from France to Hungary were making ‘I told you so' speeches, all referring to the passport found near the body of one of the suicide bombers in the Paris attacks that killed 129 people on Friday.

"French prosecutors said the bomber's fingerprints matched those recorded in October in Greece, the start of the European migrant route for most refugees.

"While European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker warned on Sunday against drawing a link between terrorists and refugees, populist and far-right leaders throughout Europe preyed on the security fears of voters by playing into the uncertainties about the masses who are fleeing war and poverty for Europe."

A terrorism hotspot, right under the nose of the EU: Politico EU's Kate Day asks why Brussels, the capital of Belgium and host to the bulk of Europe's supranational institutions, is also home to so many extremists. One reason? Belgium is a complicated place:

"Jambon, a Flemish nationalist who also serves as deputy prime minister, blamed Belgium's complex structure of government, which he said made exchanging information between police and intelligence services difficult. Brussels has six police departments, just covering the city, and 19 municipalities with 19 mayors. ‘The approach is too divided between different local authorities here in Brussels.'"

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