3 French Soldiers, 3 Sitting Ducks

Two soldiers on Jan. 20 stand outside the Jewish museum in Brussels where an Islamist killed four people in May 2014.

Two soldiers on Jan. 20 stand outside the Jewish museum in Brussels where an Islamist killed four people in May 2014.

By Daniel Pipes, one of the world’s foremost experts on radical Islam and politics in the Middle East.

Israel Hayom (Feb 4) — Comes the news that another Islamist immigrant from Mali named Coulibaly has attacked another Jewish institution in France. The first one, Amedy Coulibaly, murdered four Jews at a kosher store in Paris on Jan. 9; this second one injured three soldiers yesterday as they protected a Jewish community center in Nice.

Police say Moussa Coulibaly, about 30 years old, with a record of theft and violence, and apparently not related to Amedy, pulled a knife about 8 inches long out of a bag, injuring one soldier in the chin, one in the cheek, and one in the forearm.

Coincidentally, I left Nice about four hours before this attack and had passed by that Jewish center a few days earlier, in the course of a tour of Muslim-majority areas in ten cities across France and Belgium. Those travels brought me repeatedly in proximity to the heavily armed soldiers who protect Jewish institutions and prompted several skeptical conclusions on my part about their presence:

  • They are soldiers, not police, and so not trained to be alert to street problems.
  • They tend to get distracted by their smartphones or pretty girls passing by.
  • They clutch their assault rifles across their bodies, which leaves them vulnerable to someone driving by and shooting at them.
  • As confirmed by today’s attack, the ostensible protection they offer actually provokes Islamists and other antisemites.
  • They are only posted temporarily to the Jewish institutions in the aftermath of the Hyper Cacher attack a month ago and before long will leave.
  • They protect only the institutions themselves, not the people who come and go to them, who remain as vulnerable as ever.

In short, the soldiers are sitting ducks whose deployment does little to protect the Jewish community or solve the larger problem of Islamist violence. But it does offer another instance of emotionally satisfying “security theater” which temporarily gives everyone a constructive sense of doing something.

A real solution will require much deeper and longer-range steps that concern national identity, immigration policy, integration efforts, and effective policing.

Mr. Pipes (DanielPipes.org, @DanielPipes) is president of the Middle East Forum. © 2015 by Daniel Pipes. All rights reserved.


Feb. 4, 2015 addendum: A number of readers added valuable insights to the above analysis:

  • A former French navy officer informs me that “If you asked a general why the soldiers did not shoot the attacker, he would dodge the question as he cannot lie but they could not shoot because the guns you see strapped on these soldiers has an empty magazine. It has no bullets! It’s insane! Certain officers have a loaded magazine separately in a pouch, but not inserted in the gun. The only military personnel allowed to carry loaded weapons are the gendarmerie. All others, including soldiers, infantry, and even commandos are not allowed to carry loaded weapons. Because this is ridiculous, the government hides it.”

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