The Islamic State, in a video on Monday, claimed responsibility of the Paris attacks. As a result, French warplanes bombed Islamic State training camps and a suspected arms depot in its Syrian stronghold, late Sunday--its biggest such strike since the U.S.-led mission launched in 2014. ''France is at war. But we are not engaged in a war of civilizations, because these assassins do not represent any. We are in a war against jihadist terrorism which is threatening the whole world'', said French President F.Hollande on Monday.
More than 129 people lost their lives and 350 injured. Investigators have identified a Belgian national, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, living in Syria as the possible mastermind of the attacks, which targeted bars, restaurants, a concert hall and soccer Stadium, with Brussels seen as the springboard.
Prosecutors said that five of the seven suicide bombers who died on Friday had now been identified. Four were French, and the fifth possibly Syrian. One of the three attackers who blew himself up at the Bataclan, where 89 people died, was identified on Monday as Samy Amimour, 28, from Paris suburb of Drancy, who was the subject of an international arrest warrant.
Another, who detonated his explosive vest outside the Stade de France stadium, was carrying a Syrian passport in the name of Ahmad Almohammad, aged 25, from Idlib. His fingerprints matched those of someone who transited the Greek island of Leros in October and made an asylum claim in Serbia. Omar Ismail Mostefai,29, from Chartres, southwest of Paris, was the first killer to be officially identified, from a severed finger found inside the Bataclan. Sources close to the investigation named two other French assailants as Bilal Hadfi and Brahim Abdeslam.
It is believed that Friday's Paris attacks were decided upon and planned in Syria, prepared and organized in Belgium and carried out on French territory, with the complicit of French Jihadis. It appears that transnational terrorist structures took shape right in the middle of Europe. If it is proven that some preparations for the Paris Attacks took place in Belgium and that they were orchestrated by strategists with the Islamic State, then it is true all of us in Europe are threatened by this terror.
The Paris attacks underscore the fact that Europe needs a new security, social, political debate. How is it possible that Paris could be attacked twice in one year by terrorist groups? What went wrong with the French security apparatus? What lessons can we draw from this--in Europe?How European countries can work together in order to provide better support to improve security? Which instruments are needed to prevent further attacks without damaging public life?
People need hope. They need to believe in a vision, a project that promises a better future for them and their communities. European countries once offered that sense of hope. But the crisis, and the official response to it, has replaced hope with frustration and disillusionment.
This has created fertile ground for anti-immigrant populists and Islamist terrorists alike. More than 1,200 French citizens are estimated to have joined the jihadi cause in Syria, along with 600 from the United Kingdom, 550 from Germany, and 400 from Belgium. Other European countries, including Spain, are experiencing a similar phenomenon. And some European citizens, like the Charlie Hebdo assassins, have acted at home.
Those French jihadis dreamed of a better life. As French citizens, they have the right to an education and health care. But they grew up in the ghettos that ring France’s major cities, surrounded by families like theirs, literally on the margins of society. Unable to integrate fully, they had few opportunities for economic advancement. Dream was never materialized.
This story has been repeated millions of times in the countries of Western Europe, with immigrants and their families ending up poor and excluded. In the worst-case scenario, they are recruited by extremist groups that seem to offer what they are missing: a sense of belonging, identity, and purpose. After a lifetime of marginalization, participation in a larger cause can seem worth the lies, self-destruction, and even death that inclusion demands.
While intelligence services and police forces must be engaged to prevent attacks, devising an effective strategy to counteract extremist movements requires, first and foremost, understanding what drives them. Western countries must go beyond defending freedom of speech and improving police coordination to develop lasting solutions that address adherents’ economic and social marginalization, while avoiding cultural confrontation and reliance on repression alone.
More fundamentally, such solutions require abandoning the false dichotomy of liberty and security. If security concerns trump basic rights and freedoms, fanaticism will have scored a victory; and the same thing will happen if expressions of Islamophobia and xenophobia increase. Muslim immigrants, whether first-, second-, or third-generation, must be able to integrate fully into European society, gaining the same opportunities as Europe’s other residents and citizens.
That principle should be applied at the global level as well, through the establishment of an inclusive framework that fosters development – and encourages the rejection of fanaticism – in the Islamic world. The aggressive fundamentalism and infighting that held down Christian societies for centuries has been relegated to the past, and that is where it must remain.
A religion is not only a belief system; it is also an institution, a language, and even a kind of market actor, competing for supporters. Radical terrorist groups attempt to consolidate their distorted version of “true” Islam as the only institution, imposing their language to win the entire Muslim market.
Today, groups like the Islamic State and Nigeria’s Boko Haram have joined Al Qaeda in a struggle to attract Muslims from all over the world, thereby securing their leadership in global jihad. These groups take advantage of unruly environments and weak or collapsing institutions to gain a territorial foothold.
Indeed, it was the failed transitions in Syria, Libya, and Yemen after the Arab Spring revolts that fueled the Islamic State’s emergence. Millions of young people, though disillusioned by decades of social paralysis, unemployment, and brutal dictatorships, had dared to expect better. Though Tunisians have made progress, the other affected populations, like many Muslim immigrants in Europe, have had their hopes shattered. Jihad, like any other reductionist political program, is capable of seducing a wide variety of people. The attribute they almost always share is a sense of futility or a lack of purpose.
The West must recognize that, as Afghanistan and Iraq have shown, conflict in the Arab world cannot be resolved through foreign military intervention. The only way to restore order and spur progress in the region is by empowering moderate Muslims, so that they can triumph over the forces of radicalism and violence. The West’s role is to identify them and offer them acceptance and support. This lesson should be applied both abroad and at home.
By Guylain Gustave Moke
World Affairs Expert
Photo-Credit: Le Monde-