Le Figaro Magazine: Doesn't the attack on the UN building in Baghdad which caused dozens of victims amongst the international humanitarians, including the special representative in Iraq, the Brazilian Sergio Vieira de Mello, followed by the attack at Najaf, represent a turning point in the apocalyptic direction of the Islamists?
AG: On Friday, August 29, at the funeral of Sergio Vieira de Mello, there was talk - quite rightly - of a "September 11 for the UN". This phrase was not an exaggeration. In the assumption of absolute destructiveness, the indiscriminate aspect of Islamism shows itself once again.
The attack on the Jordanian embassy was the September 11 of the moderate Arab states. The attack in Najaf, the desecration of the mosque of Ali and the assassination of Ayatollah Hakim was the September 11 of the Shi'ites. The threat is universal. It shows the rage to destroy, the pure power of nothingness. By blowing up water pipelines, the terrorist condemns Iraqi babies to die of dehydration and makes the whole population go thirsty. You have to be a racist to believe that these terrorists who are murdering their own people represent them. They are the representatives of nihilism.
To believe some commentators, Islamism cannot be a form of nihilism because Allah's madmen "believe" in an absolute…
Terror is their absolute. In Islamism, as in communism and Nazism, the will to destroy carries all before it: better to want nothingness than to want nothing. Dostoyevsky and Nietzsche called that nihilism.
What do you call nihilism?
Avec moi, apres moi le deluge! Nihilism is government by chaos. "Let the sun go out!" Leon Trotsky also invoked "eternal darkness". The terrorist in Baghdad sacrifices according to the same logic, as Joseph Samaha noted in the Lebanese daily Al-Safir: "Yesterday's operation against the headquarters of the United Nations is the product of the same mentality of destruction. Let's expel every mediator. Let's banish every international organisation. Let the situation collapse. Let's cut off water and electricity. Let the pumping of oil cease. Let robbery prevail. Let schools and universities close. Let businesses go bankrupt. Let civil life come to a halt…A form of nihilism, absurdity and chaos hiding behind deceitful slogans."
When the Americans speak of the "axis of evil", the important thing is not the term "axis", an unfortunate one, since we live in the era of networks: the important thing is the word "evil": it means the complex "terrorism-Islamism-nihilism". Terrorism forms the backdrop to an era which opened a century ago with the alliance between war and revolution, in the exaltation of a modernity without human rights. Islamism replaces the secular final struggle of communism with a form of theological apocalyptism, it works the same way on the societies in its grip: it's a vehicle of terror. Everything is permitted in the name of a radiant future. Islamism brings something quite different from religion into play. Let's not forget that the first victims of Islamist terrorists were Muslim populations themselves. Look at the work of the GIA in Algeria.
You say that Islamism brings something other than religion into play…
Something that goes beyond it. Islamism is the local variant of a destructive state of mind which has become globalised. They destroy in the name of the living God, or in the name of a race or a class which will take the place of the dead god. The nihilist, Islamist, Bolshevik or fascist shrinks from nothing, just like the child soldier in Monrovia who was asked whether he would shoot his own parents with his Kalashnikov and answered "Why not?" Nihilism flourishes without any why or wherefore. September 11 is the proof: we Westerners are immensely vulnerable when confronted with a collective evil which is always ready to strike. The idea that September 11 only concerns the Americans and that we can remain neutral while counting the punches is absurd. The Jordanians are targets, the UN is a target, the Shi'ites are targets and if the anti-war Europeans think they are off limits, then they are fooling themselves.
The hypothesis of a close collaboration between followers of the former regime and Al-Qaida cannot be discounted…
Indeed, the secular terrorism of Saddam Hussein and the religious terrorism of Bin Laden employ the same methods of war against civilians and pursue the same objective of total domination. In the attack at Najaf, the Shi'ites denounced the collaboration of the Saddamists with Al-Qaida. Don't forget that Saddam financed the human bombs of Hamas, a fundamentalist movement. Rivalries do not exclude tactical alliances - supplying weapons and information. In the nebulousness of nihilism they are strategic rivals and philosophical brothers.
What do you mean?
The atheistic nostalgias of the tyrant of Baghdad have something in common with those of the Bin Ladenists in their identical fascination with destruction, their identical rejection of America and the free circulation of ideas and beliefs. In short, in the hatred of individual liberty. Yesterday, Khomeini; today, Saddam and Bin Laden: three nihilist warlords whose ulterior objectives are cut from the same cloth. They all aim at the same goal, to become caliph, to rule over all the Arabs (then all the Muslims), to control Riyadh, its oil, its finances and, above all, its theological authority (Mecca).
In "West against West" you speak of Islamism as a machine for "total war" against civilians. Is it this aspect which makes Islamism a continuation of the two totalitarian experiences of the 20th century, Nazism and communism?
Yes. The fantasy of a great worldwide anti-liberal, anti-Western and anti-capitalist revolution has successively fed the fanaticism of the Nazis, the communists and the Islamists. It's there that we find their secret, nihilist convergence. Hence their common taste for redemptive violence. Today, in Iraq, the synthesis is functioning once more. Post-Marxist Baathists and Jihadists are uniting in Baghdad to repel the "occupier": "Down with America!" Their common fear is not capitalism but the ethics of capitalism (Max Weber) and the human rights which are inseparable from it…
Do you think Islamism is a threat in Africa?
More than ever. Not only because Riyadh is stirring up - and financing - wherever possible, centres of anti-Christian and anti-animist agitation. But for a more fundamental reason: the lost children of the slums of Monrovia or Khartoum have been cast into the same absence of limits and taboos as their recruiters, those killers enlightened by Jihad who, far from being "nobodies" or illiterates, are often from good families and have sometimes graduated from the finest Western universities. In this Africa "cut adrift", as Bernard-Henri Levy says, the worst horrors come together into a nihilist symphony: the looting of diamonds, slave-trading, child soldiers, fanaticism and racism.
Wasn't it a mistake to portray the bearded fanatics as obscurantist and backward minds?
Yes. Paradoxically the Afghanistan of the Taliban should have rescued us from this intellectual laziness. Let's enter, for a moment, the head of that "theology student", the Talib. He has been brought up on movies from Bollywood, porn included. He ends up by hanging TVs, burning films, banning music, covering up his sisters and his wives, not out of tradition or respect for religious law, but to block out his fantasies. He is already Westernised. His theological absolutism desperately tries to conjure away the fear caused by his troubling freedom.
Satanic angelism. You find an intuition of it in Montaigne who links "supercelestial opinions" with "subterranean morals"! A magnificent phrase: our great philosopher gave us, four centuries ahead of his time, the spiritual key to the three deliriums: red, brown and green.
In "West against West" you exonerate the government of the United States from all responsibility in the radicalisation of this return to Islamism. But by exporting its culture en masse isn't the West feeding a powerful reaction against itself?
Not at all. I exonerate no democratic country. All of them have long backed ultraconservative regimes like Saudi Arabia or Saddam Hussein. All of them have shown contempt for human rights. They all believed that freedom was only good for us and that it mattered little that other peoples were cowering under military or theological dictatorships. September 11 demonstrated how much the freedom of the Afghans was connected with security in New York. Had we helped, as I and some others demanded, Commander Massoud to liberate Kabul, the Twin Towers would still be standing. America has paid dearly and has learnt the lesson. In West against West I lament the fact that France, Germany and the pseudo-"peace camp" (Russia and China!) remain stuck in the illusions of September 10, 2001. Faced with the difficulty of rebuilding Iraq, too many are rubbing their hands, swearing that "America was asking for it", forgetting that Islamism and terrorism are dangers for us all.