Terror, not war

It is important to remember that the Paris attacks are not a war. These acts are terrorist acts.

Nov 26, 2015

By Pierre de Charentenay, SJ
It is important to remember that the Paris attacks are not a war. These acts are terrorist acts. It is very important to be clear on this question because, the interpretation one gives to an event will have an impact on strategy for the future.

A war is a conflict between two identified and visible enemies. They know who they are and where they are and why they fight. The actors may use various means, but their weapons are employed against specific and known targets. The armies will fight against each other until one is completely defeated. You know when the war starts and when it ends.

With terrorism, the enemy is invisible. It can strike anytime, anywhere. You will not be able to destroy them until you have dried up the source of their anger. And yet, the reason given for their actions is often confused and vague, lost in a very ideological discourse.

The language of war also implies that targeted strikes on ISIS camps will solve the problem. This is misleading. Such air strikes might weaken ISIS, and they have done so. But that does not end terrorism. The language of war is often employed for popular consumption in an electoral campaign; it does not solve the problem. New fighters will come out of nowhere and strike again.

So we have to look more closely at the causes of terrorism. Among the individuals fighting for ISIS, there are global reasons and personal reasons.

How does ISIS recruit its members? Who are the fighters in this conflict? Where do they come from? Let us look at those who are coming from the Arab countries. A whole set of factors is pushing young people to radicalization. This region has been greatly destabilized over the last 20 years: the war in Iraq, the dismantling of Libya, the war in Syria after the Arab spring, the war in Yemen, which many people forget. This created a huge open space for propaganda and recruitment by ISIS.

For the people in Europe, it is different. The reasons for radicalization are related to the social unrest in many suburbs of Europe, especially in France, where there is no employment, and where great numbers of frustrated young people are concentrated in the suburbs. Three thousand Europeans (some say 6,000) have joined the ISIS army (among them, at least 1,400 from France). Some of these have returned to France from Syria (some 300 of them) and are acting under ISIS influence. Their frustration is augmented by extreme political and social anger provoked by globalization, Western domination of the economic realm, and against Western values like democracy and individual freedom. Terrorism is the answer they find because a political answer seems impossible for them.

The attacks in Paris reveal, once more, a worldwide threat touching the Western world. The world will have to live for some time with terrorism. So what can we do?

Military intervention is certainly necessary against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Everything should be done to prevent it from getting more financial resources on the ground (natural gas, oil and so on). Incredible it is that the authors of the Paris attacks were able to go from one country to another with bombs, grenades and other heavy material without being noticed!

Meanwhile, we cannot leave the burden of response to each country separately. Europe must act in a unified manner. But many nations refuse to accept a common policy in order to face a common crisis. A simple coordination of intelligence would have avoided a blunder that was made by the French police: they stopped the car with the only surviving author of the attack, Salah Abdeslam. Since he was not in their files, they let him go, although he was known to the Belgian police.

Protection is essential. One of the duties of government is to prevent the agents of ISIS from entering any potential massacre circle. Changes will have to be made in the West, in their own management of marginalized people and in their globalized world, if they want to destroy the roots of terrorism. -- America

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