On a grainy photograph taken after a cold November rain, we see the President of France laying a wreath– not at some French memorial monument or battle field but a normal, ordinary looking Street in Paris. The ones I usually stroll. It was the anniversary date of the slaughter of dozens of ordinary people during a terrorist rampage in Paris on the night of November 13th 2015. When the last shot was fire that night a total of 130 persons died at the hands of terrorists. In one instant there was whole-sale murder of people not running in the street or cowering in a café but being held hostage in a concert hall. In all, Islamist militants killed 17 people in Paris in January 2015 in an attack on the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. Another 130 people were killed when gunmen and suicide bombers attacked the capital in November 2015, and 86 more were killed when a man drove a truck into crowds watching fireworks in the city of Nice the night of Bastille Day, France’s national holiday. A few weeks later, two men pledging allegiance to the so-called Islamic State slit the throat of a priest in Rouen. The attacks continue as I write this blog, and our State Department has issued a travelers warning for travel in Europe.
The Islamic State, whose strongholds in Syria and Iraq are being bombed by French jets, has urged followers to continue attacking France. If one scans a map of ISIS occupied territory in a 21 month period from January 2015 to October 2016, you understand the sharp reduction in land occupied by these terrorists. But that has not stopped the attacks; it seems to have escalated its response in other areas of the world. Somewhere between 900 and 1,500 French citizens are believed to have joined ISIS, according to International Centre for Counterterrorism. In September, Prime Minister Manuel Valls said that, while plots are being foiled “every day,” 15,000 French Muslim youth are still radicalizing. France’s national police spokesman Christophe Crépin told Time, “We have the means now, but it is not sure that [there] won’t be further attacks. There is a savagery that is very, very strong now.”
France has suffered a disproportionate and disturbing number of terror attacks in the past two years: “There will be new attacks, there will be innocent victims … it is my role to tell this truth to the French people,” French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said. But with over 400 would-be terrorists off the streets, is France at least safer than it was a year ago? Some say yes, it is my feeling that the answer tilts to: no. And my answer would be “no” for the rest of Europe –with the advent of right-wing, nationalistic governments on the steady and strong rise.
The struggle by the French government, one year later, has not become easier for a country looking to make advancement in a fight against a group of people who vow its destruction by violence. And of course the question is “why”? As ISIS is losing on the traditional battlefield, its movement, unlike the Taliban, has an “unhinged” mentality with extreme horrific violence. As it dies in one place it will arise in another. France faces a combination of threats, making it difficult to develop a wide-ranging strategy to combat them. First and foremost ISIS sends trained operatives into Europe. It was these fighters who carried out the November attacks. Second, there are people unaffiliated with the group who carry out attacks on its behalf or in its name. Third, are the lone wolves, the person who drove his truck into the celebrating crowd on Bastille day in Nice. And fourth, is the historic tension and total lack of integration and social connection between the French citizen and its immigrants, 10 percent being Muslims.
France’s parliament investigated last year’s terrorist attacks on Paris and determined that there was a “global failure” of French intelligence. But it is so much more than that. The government has instituted a “series of administrative and legislative reforms aimed at adapting to the new paradigm,” with De-radicalization centers. But they have not been totally successful. One commentator said that it’s like treating drug addition:” Yes, people will leave jihad, but people cannot be forced to leave it, they have to make their own choices.” And clearly, many that went through the “treatment” are back working for terrorists organizations. It will get worse as the extreme right political structures move into greater power, and that will only create a greater counter-push against nationalistic governments by the extremists.
With the rise of nationalistic movements that take control of any government, it will be harder to eliminate the social tensions that divide a population. But France has and probably will be resistant to the approach of social integration. There is no indication that there is any real movement to some sort of “internal social cohesion” in France, because of the ingrained idea that France is for only French-people, and only those born in France are French.
Across the Channel in England, at the same moment, an extreme surveillance bill becomes the law. This took place without a moment’s hesitation by any of the lawmakers or serious public outcry. The Dutch parliament has approved a ban on face coverings in public; the rule covers ski masks as well as burkas and niqab face veils. The fine is up to 410 euros, which is about $435. Was all this a response to the French lack of significant success in its fight against terrorism?
In the UK, its new law gives both their intelligence agencies and the police what one person described as “the most sweeping surveillance powers in the western world.” The fear in its general population allows the government to move that fast and that far into that type of surveillance territory. That fear is being propelled not merely by the extremist in their Araba communities but, as a top UK counter-terrorism officer has said – they “fear the threat of far-right violence is growing and poses a similar danger to communities as other forms of extremism.” The far right neo-Nazis is described as a fractured, unpredictable and violent group and has been accused, indicted and convicted of politically motived violence. What will happen in the United States with its new extreme right-leaning- neo-nationalist rational administration?
And although we in the United States passed a “modest” bill curtailing bulk phone data collection, our new President will easily and certainly move around it by having the UK supply us with their treasure trove of information collected under their new laws. Jim Killock, the executive director of Open Rights Group, said: “The UK now has a surveillance law that is more suited to a dictatorship than a democracy.” Only fear allows that, fear among the general public
It has been said: “Understanding the drivers of terrorism is crucial if we are to develop counter-terrorism strategies that help combat radicalization.” While the military maps clearly indicate that the military operations are obviously contributing toward restraining and diminishing ISIS in Iraq and Syria, they have not dented the continued appeal of its organization, evident in the ISIL-inspired attacks in Europe. This demonstrates the limitations of a purely military approach. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testified that “violent extremism” — that is, jihadism — demands more intelligence collection and analysis now “than at any other point in history”. But what are we doing with that information? If it is for military purposes only, we lose the war on terrorism.
What is clear is that if the West – and France especially – is going to protect itself from the Islamic jihad today and in the future, it will have to find new ways to prevent the violence. The answer seems abundantly clear: it’s to reach out to the Muslim youth before they radicalize, not after. And again this is especially true in France and Western Europe. But so far, no one seems even to be trying.
In the United States we have just placed an entire group of our citizens on notice: “we don’t trust you”.