PHOTO: A chain of solidarity near the site of the Islamic State’s attack at the Bataclan concert hall in Paris (Pascal Rossignol/Reuters)

Michel Makinsky — Research Associate at IPSE (Institut de Prospective et de Sécurité en Europe) and General Manager of Ageromys International, consultants on Iranian affairs — writes for EA in the first of a two-part analysis:

The Islamic State’s “Bloody Friday” mass killings in Paris on November 13 requires not only our energy and determination, but a greater sense of strategic thinking.

We may be tempted to focus our attention on the challenge of building comprehensive tactics against the apparently unstoppable threat generated by the developments in Islamist terrorism. This is a daunting task. New generations of jihadists are now operating in France and countries such as Belgium, and they are in categories that are not clearly defined. Indeed, many individuals may belong simultaneously to several of them.

For example, juvenile delinquents and petty criminals brought up in the suburbs turn to Islam in prison. Usually they lack any affiliation, but some fall step-by-step under the sway of older prisoners and/or underground mosques led by preachers who call for all-out jihad. Radical websites exert a similar influence on these marginalized individuals.

This group may have only loose contacts with a member of the Islamic State or Al Qa’eda. They may carry on their black-market operations in narcotics, stolen cars, or weapons justifying these activities as furthering their vision of jihad against “infidels” or, worse, ”traitors”.
Some of the terrorists who carried out January’s attack against the Charlie Hebdo magazine and the Cacher minimarket belonged to this group as, it appears, did some members of said Friday’s massacres.

Another category includes young people, often French nationals, whose parents or grandparents came from Algeria, Tunisia, or Morocco. Most of their elders attended conventional mosques which were under close monitoring by agents of these governments. Parents hoped that their children would assimilate with the French nation. Many did, but the massive deterioration in employment and social conditions in recent decades in some suburbs put that goal beyond reach, replacing it with the nightmare of exclusion. No job = no money = no existence.

During the 1990s, many in this group understood that they were not considered French — i.e, European and white — despite their “carte d’identité”, nor were thry North Africans when they visited their parents’homelands. In this state of limbo, they faced a major crisis of identity,increasingly susceptible to the Islamist discourse used by radical preachers, militants,and extremist websites. They stopped drinking, publicly disdained sex, and pressed women to wear the hijab. While many limited their action to proselytizing, others were drawn to participate in jihad to restore an Umma unpolluted by sinful “modern” ideas and western decadence. With the attacks of 9/11 seen as a devastating and unprecedented blow against the powerful “Crusaders”, this view gained a credibility.

Although all the Paris attackers were Muslims, this is not just a “Muslim” phenomenon. Non-Muslim youngsters, who live in reasonably comfortable conditions, suddenly may decide to go to Syria through Turkey and join jihadi fighters, often are being inspired by messages on radical Websites. This group has grown quickly, even though they are considered by ISIS as inefficient fighters and are commonly used for minor tasks.

A Failure to Understand

The Charlie Hebdo attack should have brought the necessity of a new approach in France, but there has been a failure to understand. Most analysts, journalists, and politicians reacted to the attack by transforming the satirical journal into a martyr for freedom, tolerance, civilization, and the essence of democracy.But Charlie Hebdo was the opposite in many ways: it consisted of a small group of former legendary 1968 activists — some of them former Trotskyites — propagating their eternal two slogans: banning is forbidden (“Il est interdit d’interdire” ) and let’s get pleasure with no limits (“Jouissez sans entraves”). It was committed to an intensely anti-religious ideology, falsely branded as a neutral “laicité” separating religion from government, and it was supported by a disproportionately influential social sector known as “Bobo” (Bourgeois Boheme — wealthy people who want to look “progressive”).

While Charlie’s cartoons were supposed to be taken as funny, the underlying message was often that religion is by nature both the main source of our socio-political problems,and a threat to freedom and democracy that should be extinguished. The Hollande Government, in spite of its policy of promoting “diversity”, and the mass media failed to realize that, through castigating organized religions — and particularly Islam — Charlie Hebdo would provoke harsh reactions in the Muslim community. After the attack, the magazine’s glorification by some officials and the use in classrooms of its cartoons mocking Mohammed only added insult to injury. Moderate Muslim clerics tried to draw the attention of the authorities to this mistake, but they do so in vain.

The Islamic State will not be defeated only by the steps necessary to bring progress and inclusion in French communities — much has to be done in the Middle East to cut away the base of support for the militants. However, without a recognition of the conditions in France that have fed anger, frustration, and division, ISIS will continue to bolster itself by fostering the discord and violence seen in the Paris attacks.

Later This Week: Fighting the Islamic State — The Regional Strategy