The Effects of a War Foretold: The War in Iraq and French Society

Since 11 September 2001, France has considered itself an integral part of the war on terrorism. Concurrently, a second war, a U.S.-led war against Iraq, appears likely to begin in the next few months. These two simultaneous wars may have important consequences for French society—a society that is particularly sensitive to everything that touches on the Arab/Muslim world and in which anti-immigrant racism on the one hand and anti-Semitism on the other constitute undeniable threats to the social fabric.

Of course, one can imagine circumstances in which an American military operation against Iraq would have little impact on French society. In such a case, France would take certain anti-terrorist measures to protect itself, but would, in fact, face little direct terrorist threat and therefore be little concerned by the war. Such an outcome is conceivable because France has expended—since the United States first mooted the possibility of war against Iraq—considerable diplomatic efforts to avoid war, or in any case, to avoid a war not sanctioned by the United Nations. France cannot be accused of blindly following or even of moving in step with the United States in the march to war. France seems rather outside, even hostile, to the current talk of war against Iraq, and even to general U.S. policy in the Middle East. (French policy often does not support Israel in the geopolitical debates that surround the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.) For this reason, France would probably not become a major target for potential terrorists who would have as their goal the weakening of the American coalition.

Racism, Anti-Semitism and Insecurity

The scenario in which France is barely affected by war is certainly possible, but it fails to take into account the French experience during the Gulf War of 1990-91 as well the ethno-religious structure of France, which includes both a large population of four to five million Muslims and several hundred thousand Jews.