May 10, 2007 | The Washington Times

A New French Resistance

The electoral victory by Nicolas Sarkozy is the product of the French public's rejection of a decay eroding the foundations of the Fifth Republic since its inception in 1958. The country's insecure economy and the need for a change were among the reasons for Mr. Sarkozy's score. He has been promising a third path between the rigid left-wing agenda and the stagnating Chirac economics.

But Mr. Sarkozy's victory is also a silent-majority response to urban jihad. Despite the political and media eliteattempts to dodge the debate for a long time, when given the opportunity, French electors responded to the establishment's tergiversation on the perceived threat to democracy and security. Since the 1970s, France has been an open field for terrorist activities. But as of the early 1990s, French urban centers witnessed the rise of radical Islamists migrating from the Maghreb and other regions, Salafi clerics engaged in jihadism-building around Paris andmany other cities. By 2005 many suburban zones were practically “ruled”by a parallel ideological and gangster-like “powers.”

Inaugurated by Charles de Gaulle in the 1960s, the “politique Arabe de la France,” meant practically an accommodation by Paris of the wishes of foreign powers providing cheap natural resources to the country's industrial complex. Very smartly, the domestic jihadi web positioned itself under the shield of France's “good relations” with the Saudi and other Arab oil-producing regimes. Any reprisal by French authorities against the jihadi web inside the country would “hurt” these relations and thus wouldaffect the “economic benefits” to the country. And to top it off, high-profile politicians, including President Jacques Chirac, becamedirect partners withMiddle Eastern financial empires.

Hence, the silent majority in France was witnessing, powerless, the growth of theextremists in thebanlieues (suburbs) and the provinces. For years, the popular mood was exacerbated by the “parallel society” expanded by the radicalsin France. Wherever French police and social workers couldn't go, the jihadi networks would mushroom.

After the September 11 attacks in the United States, most Europeans felt it could also happen to them, but their elite dismissed the possibility because “America brought this to itself because of its foreign policy,” as they argued. But soon enoughWestern Europe felt the ire of al Qaeda: Madrid on March 11, 2004, London on July 7, 2005 and the assassination of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh on November 2, 2004in Amsterdam were visible warnings. Between 2003 and late 2004, French diplomacy fought a fierce battle against America's involvement in Iraq, assuming — wrongly — they have insured safe at home and overseas.

Not supporting the United States in Iraq didn't shield France from this domestic threat. Al Qaeda and the Khomeinists do not reward infidels just for not joining other infidels in the fight. In 2004, the Syrian regime went after Chirac allies in Lebanon. In September Paris reacted by co-introducing with the United States, United Nations Security Council Resolution 1559 to pull Syria out. In retaliation the Assad regime launched an assassination campaign in 2005 killing many politicians including Mr. Chirac's close friend, Rafiq Hariri.

On October 27, a “gang uprising” spread to dozens of French cities burning ten thousand cars. The media, governmentand academia insisted on the “jobs-youth-socio-economic” dimension of the uprising. But the silent majority didn't buy the argument. People interacting with the “insurgents,” including the security agencies, understood (in horror) that large urban zones around France's cities had slipped away from national sovereignty. The radicals have built their “societe parallele:” If the police can't go there, it is becoming suburban Taliban pockets. A national leader had to step in.

Acting fast, the Minister of Interior Nicholas Sarkozy stepped in. Using French laws he threatened to deport a number of non-citizens radical clerics. The November 2005intifadawas a response to the Sarkozy counter-Jihadi measures. Meanwhile the public foundtheir man: In 2007, their votes brought him to the top job, hoping he will draw a line in the sand.

As a conservative, Mr. Sarkozy assuresmost French that national identity has to be protected. But he promotes progressive changes dealing with the environment andeconomy. However French instincts are about survival, about what they saw on TV from New York, Madrid and London, and what they saw from their balconies and on their streets later on. Mr. Sarkozy's image merged with France's need for a national resistance to Terror. Against Mr. Chirac's bureaucracy, Segolene Royal's charm, and the elite attacks against “Sarco l'Americain” he won the elections, swiftly.

This is a lesson to liberal democracies. If the dominant elite and media frustrate the public with anti-historical drives, the masses will ultimately find the right leaders toproduce the change; and France just did it.Thevictory of Mr. Sarkozy is notjust one more European election — it is a benchmark in French politics and subsequently in the Westernstruggle in the war on terror. The change will affect France deeply, and also its relations on the continent, across the Atlantic and in the Greater Middle East.

From this angle at least, Mr. Sarkozy's victory can be viewed as a first step in the return of the French resistance, but this time against another threat: jihadism.
Walid Phares is a senior fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.