Ter­ror­ism in Europe

France’s pres­i­dent de­clares: ‘Our coun­try is at war’

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - Gwynne Dyer is an in­de­pen­dent jour­nal­ist whose ar­ti­cles are pub­lished in 45 coun­tries.

“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.

GWYNNE DYER

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