A new kind of war. A war with and without borders, with and without states, a war doubly new because it blends the non-territorial model of al-Qaeda with the old territorial paradigm to which Islamic State has returned.
But a war all the same.
And, faced with this war unwanted by the United States, Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey, and now France, only one question is worth asking: What should we do? How, when a war like this is forced upon you, do you respond and win?
Principle number 1: Do not play with words. Call things by their right names. Dare to utter the terrible word “war,” a word that the democracies try to push out of the range of hearing, beyond the bounds of their imagination, their symbolic system, and their reality. This aversion to war is their mission, their distinguishing trait, and their crowning glory, but it is also their weakness.
Recall the nobility and the candour of Léon Blum revealing, in a famous debate with Elie Halévy in the 1930s, that he could not grasp the notion of democracy at war, except as a contradiction.
Recall the dignity but also the limits of the great consciences of humanism in the second half of that same decade, when they watched with alarm as Georges Bataille, Michel Leiris, Roger Caillois, and others from the College of Sociology called for the intellectual rearmament of a world that believed, then as now, that it was done with its dark past and with history.
That is where we stand today. Thinking the unthinkable: war. Accepting the oxymoron of a modern republic required to wage war to save itself.
And thinking it all the more painfully because none of the rules laid down by theoreticians of war, from Thucydides to Clausewitz, seem to apply to that non-existent state that brings fire from a distance that is all the greater because its front lines are fluid and its fighters have the tactical advantage of making no distinction between what we call life and what they call death.
France’s government, including the President, understands this. French political leaders across the spectrum have voiced their unanimous support. That leaves you, me and society, both collectively and individually. Each of us, this time, is a target, a front line, a soldier without knowing it, a cell of resistance, a locus of mobilization and of biopolitical fragility. The idea is heartbreaking and appalling, but it is a fact that we must face.
Read more: Thinking the unthinkable: This is war - The Globe and Mail