Terrorism in Europe
France’s president declares: ‘Our country is at war’
“Our country is at war,” said French President François Hollande on Tuesday, after a priest was murdered near Rouen in front of his congregation by two attackers who claimed to be serving Islamic State. It’s the sort of thing leaders say at times like this, but it does send the wrong message.
French aircraft are already bombing ISIL forces in Syria, so you could call that a sort of war (though nobody on the French side is getting killed). But that was not what Hollande was talking about. He was saying that France is somehow at war at home, and went on to say: “Our democracy is the target, and it will be our shield. Let us stand together. We will win this war.”
Stirring stuff, and the French certainly need some encouragement, because they are still in shock after the recent slaughter of 84 people by an truck-driving Islamist terrorist in Nice. But the words are wrong, because if the French are at war at home, then who are they at war with? The obvious answer, almost the only plausible answer, is French Muslims. Which is, of course, precisely the conclusion that Islamic State wants the French people to reach.
I’m not saying that the two deluded Muslim teens who carried out the attack on the priest were aware of the grand strategy behind ISIL’s terrorist campaign in Europe. The foot-soldiers in any campaign are unlikely to know much about such things.
But the men who set ISIL policy and control the Islamist websites that urge young European Muslims to commit these terrible acts know exactly what they want to achieve. In France, they want to stimulate anti-Muslim hatred, turn the majority against this underprivileged minority, and ensure the victory of Marine Le Pen, the leader of the neo-fascist, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant National Front, in next year’s presidential election.
She is already practically guaranteed a place as one of the two contenders in the run-off phase of the election. If the terrorist attacks radicalize many Christian and postChristian French people and lead to widespread anti-Muslim violence, Le Pen might even win it and become the next president.
Islamic State’s strategy in Germany is just the same, although the country is less fertile ground for Islamist extremism: relatively few of Germany’s Muslims are Arabs, and ISIL is an overwhelmingly Arab organization. The far-right parties in Germany are also much weaker than the National Front in France. But ISIL has just claimed credit for two terrorist attacks in Germany in a single week.
Two ISIL attacks in Germany, not four. The axe-wielding Afghan youth on a train near Wurzburg who wounded five people on July 18, and the failed Syrian asylum seeker who blew himself up outside a music festival injuring 15 others in Ansbach Sunday, both proclaimed their loyalty to ISIL.
But the German youth of Iranian extraction who murdered nine people in Munich last Friday was a psychologically troubled youth obsessed with school shootings and Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik. The Syrian asylum-seeker who murdered a Polish woman in Reuthlingen on Sunday with a machete knew her, and the police said it was probably a “crime of passion.”
However, both of those men were also Muslims, so in the minds of many Germans there has just been a wave of murderous Islamist terrorism. The two ISIL-linked attacks actually didn’t even kill anybody, but there is now a political panic that has strong anti-Muslim undertones. The ISIL strategy is working in Germany, too.
Why does Islamic State want an antiMuslim backlash in European countries? Because it will radicalize many more European Muslims, and also maybe bring to power populist leaders who really do want to “wage war on Islam.”
Islamic State’s ideology claims that the whole Muslim world is under attack by the evil West, and that only ISIL can defend it successfully. Only if its real target audience in the Arab world believes that lie can ISIL hope to gain popular support and, perhaps, ultimately political power, in the Arab countries, so it needs the West to behave badly.