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Rémy Madoui

The Algerian war since the 1st November 1954







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                Terrorism Can Be Defeated

  9/11, its aftermath and the invasion of Iraq gave a new dimension to guerrilla warfare and international terrorism. The two coalesced into a common Ideology in the Arab and, to some extent, the Muslin world. The demarcation line between the two is getting more blurred every day, we might infer international guerrilla.

   So far, three major battles have been won against international guerrilla in spite of insurgents’ exactions intensification in Iraq and Al Qaeda savage terrorist acts in some parts of the world,

   The Iraqi insurgency failed in the most critical phase of guerrilla evolution: national insurrection and wider popular support. The various armed groups were not able to regroup all fighters under a single umbrella and agree on a common cause. At this stage, they are highly vulnerable and open to further fragmentation and to counter-guerrilla activities: pitch one faction against the other, “infiltration” of guerrilla organizations, etc.

   Al Qaeda has been beheaded. Its leadership has been dealt deadly blows and large number of its foot soldiers have been captured. It is now without central command and the remnants of the embattled organization are on their own, ready for the picking.

   Most importantly, all nations are united in the fight against terrorism. The free world has been efficient in the structural, financial and physical dismemberment of Al Qaeda and is committed to relentlessly pursue international terrorists, wherever they are, and finish the job for good – but without creating more terrorists.

   These successes should not conceal the real battle needing to be waged against international guerrilla: its Ideology. The roots of this ideology that gives an aura of legitimacy to terrorism need to be accurately delineated and eliminated. Winning the ideological war is critical in order to dry up the reservoirs of would-be terrorists and their supporters. The battle has barely started.

   The strategy to defeat terrorists’ ideology should be built on a better understanding of guerrilla warfare, its origin, its methods and its failings.

   Iraqi insurgency and international terrorism brought guerrilla warfare up to the forefront in the international arena. It is perceived as a new phenomenon that we might have to contend with for probably years to come.

   Guerrilla warfare – also known as asymmetric warfare - is not peculiar to the present day or to any part of the world; it is as old as humanity. It has always been a feature of wars fought by every class of men and women against invaders, oppressors and superior military forces. The earliest recorded example of guerrilla warfare is probably in the Bible: David and Goliath or the triumph of the weak over the strong, the oppressed over the powerful. Large-scale guerrilla fighting took place during the American Revolution and Civil War. During World War II, Europeans forces conducted guerrilla operations and played a major role in the defeat of Germany. Since World War II guerrilla warfare has been employed by nationalist groups to overthrow colonialism and by dissidents to launch civil wars. There have been dozens of such conflicts. The United States has sponsored guerrillas, most notably anti-Castro Cuban forces, Nicaraguan contras and Afghan “mujahidin”.

   The many guerrilla wars in history have their points of difference, their peculiar characteristics, their varying processes and conclusions but they all have one thing in common: Guerrilla warfare is essentially a political war, a people war, a war of ideas. It is derived from the people and is supported by them; it can neither exist nor succeed if it separates itself from their sympathies and cooperation. The goal should therefore be simple, understandable by even the most backward and illiterate segment of the population. The political objective must be concrete and clear and should coincide with the aspirations of the people. Nationalism, social injustice and oppression have always been prime motives for any insurgency movement. These causes appeal to the people as well to the guerrilla, and bring the two closer together, insuring the insurgents the support of the local population.

   In most cases, unrelenting repression does not defeat committed insurgents. Conventional military forces alone cannot successfully combat guerrilla operations. Insurgents are armed civilians committed fanatically to a simple cause with minimum logistical need. It does not take more than a handful of armed insurgents to keep the guerrilla operational, as long as the population is supporting it.

   Once the insurgency starts, in most cases by vicious and inhumane terrorist acts (urban guerrilla), the security forces resort to strong measures to counter it, directed against suspected terrorists... the people. The insurgents respond by further provoking security forces into taking measures which are repressive or unpopular to the people (curfews, roadblocks, house to house searches, identification checks, detention of suspects, etc.). These actions swing the sympathies of the public against the security forces.

   The guerrilla then intensifies by provoking and forcing the enemy to adopt harsher methods of retaliation such as torture, killing and destruction.  No life is spared to reach that crucial phase of the guerrilla. It is the deadliest and most despicable period of an insurgency. The violent guerrilla aggressions and brutal security forces reactions maintain the pressure in a spiraling vicious cycle of violence that cements the relationship between the people and the insurgents. The guerrilla’s body count during this stage of an insurgency is enormous. It reinforces the security forces’ belief that a military victory is the solution because there are noticeable results. It also diverts the attention from the real guerrilla flaws. There are many. A guerrilla movement is a very vulnerable enterprise, at every stage of its evolution.

   Recent similar examples include the dilemma the French confronted in the Algerian war, which began in 1954 with a nationalist uprising against colonialism. The French were confident that they could overpower the insurgents with modern weaponry and overwhelming force. However, over the course of almost eight years and a French contingent of a half-million troops, the French had to give up to 10,000 guerrillas in spite of a conventional “military” victory.

   It does not appear that the U.S. is repeating the French’s miscalculation in Algeria. The U.S. has learned from its recent successes and failures and from its past experience of guerrilla fighting.

   The U.S. transferred sovereignty to Iraqi leaders. The army of occupation is now a “multinational force” in Iraq, at the request of the interim government. The Security Council’s resolution of June 8, 2004 gives international endorsement to the handover plan. This process should lead to full elections that will take place at the end of 2005 in order that a directly elected Iraqi government takes power at the beginning of 2006.

   One might surmise that guerrilla would fade away and democracy should be at the end of the process. But can a democratic regime be installed from the outside within a short time period? Can countries under autocratic systems for so long be transformed into democracies with such alacrity? The flaws of such assumption are many and in a way might be a sheer illusion.

   Democracy is not simply about elections. It is a political culture, one that is diverse, multicultural, and tolerant of peoples and their ideas. It is a culture that is not limited to tribal membership or political parties but to all elements of a society. Democracy needs, more than anything else, a stable environment in which to evolve. Iraqi society has been reduced to a state of chaos and insecurity, subject to a multitude of exactions. There is no basic order in sight, a precondition for a democratic process. Most Iraqis are absent from the process; players out of their reach decide their faith and the country is ruled by militias, religious chiefs, and warlords. The ballot will be democratic, the world wants it: one man, one vote. One man, one vote means the Shiites in power (60% of the population), and Shiisme today is an antonym to democracy. The end result might be a struggle for power; this has been the case over and over in similar circumstances. In addition, democracy does not defeat guerrilla, since guerrilla takes place in society lacking a civil culture. Democratic process might follow conflict resolution it does not precede it. All-out civil war may be just around the corner.

   Algeria, again, is a case in point, similar to Iraq in many aspects: Arab and Muslim country with ethnically diverse society. After 30 years under an autocratic system and due to riots and demonstrations for democracy and intense pressures from the international community for reforms, the government embarked on an experiment in democratization. The process
was over abruptly when the opposition party, Islamic Salvation Front (known by its initials in French as the FIS), won by an overwhelming landslide election. The military, backed by the West, stepped in, abrogated the Islamists victory and cracked down on the FIS in January 1992. The FIS was driven underground, its leadership arrested, and some groups within it turned to guerrilla tactics. The country plunged into an unparalleled political violence. More than 150,000 deaths and an economical disaster later, Algeria is still attempting to bring the crisis to an end.

   The days, weeks and months ahead are fateful, dangerous and decisive. Civil war should be averted by all means. The failure of the democratic process would be perceived as the defeat of the United States in Iraq. It would have immeasurable consequences across the world. It would be the defeat of the free world and of the Arabs and Muslims who long for peace and political pluralism and would inspire new guerrillas on new battlefronts.

   A successful outcome of the process for a stable and unified Iraq is an essential step in order to fight the roots of international guerilla. They are many but the mother of them all is the guerrilla “Ideology”. An ideology built falsely on religion and on frustration felt by more than one billion Muslims around the world due to lack of freedom experienced in their respective countries.

   Al Qaida’s gave an ideology to terrorism and took guerrilla warfare international. Politicians’, experts’ statements and 24/7 media coverage spread terrorists’ rhetoric, semantic and propaganda – Islamists, fundamentalists, jihadists, etc. around the globe.

   Traditionally, guerrillas are internal conflicts. They are aimed at affecting changes within the boarders of a country. Guerrilla is thought of in terms of a struggle against a national government or a colonial power. Al Qaeda gave a new dimension to “national liberation”, the “nation of Islam”, broader boundaries, the world. Territorial abstraction that is understood by Muslims, concept which corresponds to the mythical “Umma” (Muslim Community) where a Muslim is first a member of a larger Islamic “family” before being a citizen of a specific nation. Islamic fundamentalism helped in shaping that ideology. The discourse of Islamic fundamentalist organizations is not new and everywhere similar: national liberation by jihad against internal corruption and oppression and occidental imperialism (oppressors’ supporter), especially American but Islamic fundamentalism is not intrinsically prone to terrorism.

Like its Christian and Jewish counterpart, Islamic fundamentalism seeks to restore an imagined, ideal past. Jewish and Christian fundamentalisms have grown in democratic systems that allow them to express their faith and exercise their rights. Islamic fundamentalism proliferated in autocratic regimes where its rights are denied and its members are persecuted if they do not serve the system. In most cases, Islamic fundamentalist parties are the only organized and effective opposition to secular despotism. Their opposition is an active resistance that often escalate into violence and terror for change directed at regimes in their own country. Within this context, Al Qaeda and similar terrorist organizations are neither Islamic fundamentalists nor Islamists. Their ideology is an ideology of fanatical and ruthless terror, of sickening murders of the helpless and the innocents, unrelated to Islam. It is international terrorism.

   International terrorism is more dangerous as an Ideology wrapped in religion than as a terrorist organization. It is more than ever able to spread its ideas and world vision to frustrated and hopeless Muslims around the world. In addition to a long nurtured hatred against autocratic regimes in their own land, they believe that the West launched a crusade against Islam and, consequently, some of them adopted Al Qaeda’s rhetoric: anti-Western, anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic.

   The war against international guerrilla should equally be a war of ideas, of people. A guerrilla cannot be defeated without the support of the population thus, the real war is actually a war for liberation: to bring populations now living under despotism and failed states into the democratic family. It is to provide people in the Arab and Muslim world with an alternative that gives them hope, that liberate them from despair. Oligarchies - from where terrorists originated - have no interest in freedom for their people, no interest in fighting terrorism as long as it does not imperil directly their interests. They have demonstrated, again and again, throughout their history that when they are threatened, they fought insurgencies with savagery. Like Al Qaeda, absolute monarchies and autocratic governments use Islam to legitimize their rule.

   The cesspit from which terrorists emerge resides in the failure of Arab countries to join the free world and modernity.
September 11 did not come from a single evil criminal. If it were not Bin Laden it would have been someone else. They are now a very small minority out of 1.3 billion Muslims. Most Muslims everywhere long for freedom of expressions, free elections, pluralism, education and an opportunity for a better life. They are tired of the repression, stagnation and tyranny in their own country and now of terrorism committed in their name and the name of their religion.

   The free world should truly make freedom its first priority, bring an “end to despotism in the Arab world” and promote “the values of democracy as the key to life, liberty and stability”. It could have the Arabs, the Muslims and all the oppressed masses behind it.

   The counter-international guerrilla strategy should be conscious that democracy cannot be imposed or implanted from the outside but must be the choice of emergent political leaders and average citizens; that countries and people do not often divide neatly into “good” versus “evil” and; that the Western World is not considered anymore as a moral model, if it ever was. The free world needs to put unrelenting political pressure on despots it supported for so long to reform their politics and constrain their power; and be responsive to reformers and civil society activists and help them do what they already want to do: implement freedom of expression, freedom of the press, freedom of associations, legalization of political parties and civic organizations, etc.

   The real struggle against international terrorism will then begin.

   Remy  Madoui
   August 4, 2004
   Copyright © 2004, All Rights Reserved

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Copyright© 2004 Madoui. All Rights Reserved.