Philosopher and geopolitician, Cyrille Bret is also a teacher at Sciences-Po Paris. He just published “Ten attacks that changed the world. Understanding terrorism in the 21st century ” (Armand Colin)
La Croix: What is your reaction after the attack on this teacher and the modus operandi of his assassination?
Cyrille Bret: this is not the first time that a terrorist attack by beheading has occurred in France. There has already been the case of this entrepreneur who was murdered in 2015 in Isère (1). This modus operandi very clearly imitates the practices of Daesh, which has often killed hostages in Syria in this way.
The fact that the victim is a teacher but also the operating mode used gives this attack immense political significance with a desire to establish an enterprise of domination by terror. Serious injury or murder is no longer enough. It is necessary to take another step in horror to shock a whole country and try to paralyze the teaching community.
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The assailant was known for a background of common law, but had a clean record, and was not known for his radicalization. Was it possible under these conditions for the anti-terrorism services to prevent this attack?
CB: It is almost impossible to prevent this type of act of individuals who are not known to the services and who use very rudimentary weapons. Everyone can easily have a kitchen knife or, as we have seen in other attacks, a car to run over people who are just walking in the street.
The knife is “low cost” terrorism par excellence and the means for terrorists to reign terror with very unsophisticated means. A few years ago, it was the extreme sophistication of the attacks that caused fear, as on September 11, 2001 in New York. Today, with “low cost” terrorism, terrorists spread the idea that terror is around the corner.
According to the first elements of the investigation, the terrorist was only 18 years old. Is this a significant element for you? Are the acts of terrorism today the result of younger and younger people who become radicalized very quickly and suddenly find themselves outside the radar of anti-terrorism?
CB: The profile of terrorists has indeed changed in recent years. In the 1990s and 2000s, we mainly saw acts perpetrated by people with a long history of criminal or political involvement or radicalization. And the attacks were carefully prepared with the use of weapons of war, which requires some logistics.
From now on, we are more, as I said, in these attacks designed and developed very quickly and without much means.
In calls for action launched by terrorist organizations, are teachers identified as targets to be targeted?
CB: No and the attack, which we have just witnessed, clearly shows that an additional notch has just been taken. Among the classic targets targeted by terrorist organizations, there are of course the holders of the public force, the police officers, the gendarmes, the high officials… In this case, we are in the case of an ultra-violent militancy against a State whose legitimacy is not recognized. By attacking journalists and cartoonists, the will is to attack civil society and silence, at the present time, freedom of information, expression and opinion.
By touching the teaching staff, we tackle the present but also the future. Because the teachers’ mission is to teach this freedom to future citizens. Until then, we had tried to destroy freedom of information and opinion by murdering journalists. There, what we are trying to destroy is also the freedom of tomorrow.
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And it should not be that, in the days to come, a debate emerges on the content of this teacher’s course. Nor to wonder if it was opportune for him to show this or that caricature. This attack should not be seen as the consequence of this course, nor that it be seen as a possible provocation. Especially not. With this attack, the will is just to silence the educational community and the freedom to teach.
Do you consider it legitimate for the media to insist on the way in which this teacher was killed, that is to say a beheading in the middle of the street, which is information in its own right to convey the terrorist dimension of the event. But isn’t there a risk of playing the game of terror as desired by the terrorists who deliberately use this mode of operation?
CB: This is an important and difficult question. The media are clearly caught between two fundamental principles. Their mission is to inform about the reality of the events. And this event cannot be understood in all its dimension if we do not talk about this appalling modus operandi.
→ READ. Should we show the horror of the January 2015 attacks?
However, the responsibility of the media is also not to participate in terrorist strategies. No attack can and should be kept secret. But the media effect is inscribed even from the terrorist mechanism. There is therefore a necessary balance, but difficult to find for the media.