France's task is to be more effective in fighting terrorism without succumbing to the lure of right-wing populism, and while maintaining the spirit of liberty For the past fifteen years Europe was hoping that by tolerance and respect for Islam the continent would remain on the sidelines of Islamist terrorism. The terror attacks against Charlie Hebdo on January 5th 2015 the coordinated attacks in Paris on November 15th the same year, and now the horrifying attack in Nice are leading to the difficult realization that Europe in general, and most particularly France will have to live with Terrorism for a long time to come. I will first try to explain briefly why this wave of Terrorism is not about to abate, and then present some thoughts how France's culture of liberty can defend itself against both radical Islam and the profound danger of right-wing populism.
Radical Islam's ideological Power Let me first state the obvious: IS, Al Qaeda, Jamaat Islamie and other versions of Islamist radicalism do not represent Islam as a whole, and hence I will use the term "radical Islamism", "Islamist Terrorism" as a reference to these extremist groups only, and will base my analysis on what I have learned from leading terrorism researchers in the World Federation of Scientists in the last twelve years.
There has been an ongoing dispute between two of France's leading experts on radical Islam, Olivier Roy and Gilles Kepel, whether Radical Islam is a matter of individual psychopathology or due to a mutation of Islam itself. I would recommend splitting the difference: The leadership of IS and other Islamist groups is mostly composed of physicians, engineers and computer scientists who are cool-headed strategists who fiercely believe in their theological doctrine.
As opposed to this, many of the youngsters mobilized are indeed confused, lack focus, identity and self-respect who find meaning and self-esteem in joining IS. As my friend and colleague Scott Atran has shown in detail, IS has been highly effective in mobilizing young people throughout the world, including non-Muslims from Europe. It promises glory, the participation in cruel fighting, belonging to a group of comrades willing to die for the cause and each other, power and a supply of women, and the grand meaning of the radical Islamist vision.
The Goals of Radical Islam
What are IS's goals? Its theological doctrine divides the world between Islam and non-believers. Its main issue is with what it called the "grey zone", areas in which Islam and other religions coexist, and IS's goal is double: first the grey zone must be destroyed by creating a deep chasm between Islam and the non-believers. The second goal is the reestablishment of the Kalifate, the only political structure radical Islamism considers to be legitimate
The strategy leading to this goal has been described in detail in a document created by a member of Al Qaeda from 2004 circulating the internet called The Management of Savagery, which describes in detail how governments and societies, particularly in the West, can be destabilized by acts of murder, cruelty with spectacular features that sow fear in the hearts of both population and governments. This document is the blueprint of IS's leader Abu Bakr Al-Bagdadi's strategy, and led to the beheadings, burnings and drownings staged, filmed and edited with ever more sophistications in the first stages of IS.
IS is now implementing the same strategy with growing numbers of terror attacks on European soil - and when they can, they will also attack in the US. As their goal is to drive a wedge between the Islamic world and the West, they will continue to do so as long as they can. And since they have a growing number of sleeper cells of young men trained in Iraq and Syria who have returned to Europe with their European passports, the danger is there to stay for a long time.
How to fight IS Terror
I live in Israel which has lived with terrorism for decades, and has implemented security mechanisms on all levels: you cannot enter a shopping mall, cinema, university or public building without going through a metal detector, having your bags checked or both; in large events like the Nice celebration on July 14th, the area is cordoned off, and there is massive police and military presence. Intelligence services are strongly coordinated and military units specialized in apprehending terrorism act based on good information.
I know that this sounds like a police state for European ears. But once France realizes that Terrorism is there to stay, it will have no choice but to implement similar security measures, in addition to coordinating between the various intelligence agencies and law enforcement groups within France and across Europe much more efficiently.
And yet it must be crystal-clear: even a state like Israel with its highly trained and coordinated security agencies cannot prevent all terror attacks. France will be even less able to do so because of its sheer size, the large Muslim population and the porousness of Europe's borders, as the Bataclan attacks showed.
Fighting Right-Wing Populism to preserve the Spirit of Liberty
The question is: how can we fight terrorism without destroying liberty? Indeed, terrorism is empowering the greatest political danger facing the West as a whole and France in particular: right-wing populism, which thrives when Fear, confusion and anger reign. Right-wing populists promise that they can "wipe out terrorism"; like Marine le Pen they call for death-sentences against Terrorists - a ridiculous proposal when we deal with suicide terrorism - and ramble against the weakness of political moderates, whether slightly left or right of center.
If right-wing, racist and xenophobic populists come to power, this means that Radical Islamist terrorism has achieved its goal and won: it will have irretrievably harmed the liberal order of the West with its emphasis on freedom, and they will push us towards illiberalism at best and fascism at worst.
Political moderates, in addition to showing zero tolerance for radical Islamism, must relentlessly attack and expose the lies of right-wing populists. Because when they claim that they can vanquish Islamist terrorism quickly and effectively, they either don't know what they are talking about, or worse, are willing to lie to the electorate to come to power.
France is moving towards one of the most dangerous attacks on its core values in recent history, and must fight for its core principles without compromise to protect the spirit of liberty.