Paris: The War with ISIS Enters a New Stage

Under pressure in the Middle East, ISIS is turning to terrorism in Europe with a new set of predictable goals.

Posted on 11/15/15
By Simon Reich | Via The Conversation
(Photo by ERIC SALARD, Creative Commons License)
(Photo by ERIC SALARD, Creative Commons License)

When in Paris after the Charlie Hebdo attacks last January, I wrote a column suggesting that we all had to demonstrate a new toughness.

Closing Migration Routes into France Won’t Stop Terrorism – Resisting Xenophobia Might

By Durukan Kuzu

Via The Conversation

When Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks in Paris that have killed at least 129 people, it warned that more would follow. French president, François Hollande, has in turn vowed to show “no mercy” in his response. This pledge is bound to have a profound effect on border controls and the treatment of Syrian refugees in the country.

But France has the option to show the world that it will continue to stand for liberté, égalité and fraternité. For some time, Europe has feared that IS could infiltrate its borders as a part of the huge influx of people fleeing Syria. And indeed, there are reports that at least one of the men who carried out the Paris attacks registered as a Syrian asylum seeker in Greece – one stop on a well-known refugee route.

France has not been enthusiastic about welcoming Syrian refugees. A few months ago, it had agreed to take only 24,000 refugees over two years – a tiny share of the millions of people seeking help. France had already closed the border to migrants left stranded in Ventimigilia, an Italian town on the border with France – a move which caused significant tension between Rome and Paris.

The mayor of one southern French city also had a blunt message for incoming Syrian refugees: “You’re not welcome here. You need to leave.” There is a risk that France will now seek to further tighten its borders. So thousands of Syrians forced to flee their country because of IS are now in danger of finding the door closed when they arrive in Europe. They will have to cope with the knowledge that they could be mistaken for, and treated as, the very people they are trying to escape.

A field day for Islamophobes

The idea that refugee routes could have been exploited by terrorists is also a golden opportunity for Islamophobes. Across Europe, right-wing parties and their anti-immigration policies have become hugely popular in recent years. Several have successfully won places on national governments and many have influence in national parliaments. These groups have sought to further bolster their position as the migration crisis has worsened and are sure to try to capitalize on this latest incident to whip up anti-Muslim sentiment.

Others will suggest that France should simply keep calm and carry on, just like the British did after the London bombings in 2005. But the French should not simply maintain the status quo – they urgently need to work against the increasingly influential identity politics in the country that have partially contributed to the religious extremism they face today. Even before the Charlie Hebdo shootings in January, the Council of Europe, a human rights group, had warned that France was becoming more intolerant towards minority groups, including Muslims.

Despite advances in legislation and measures to combat intolerance and racism, discrimination and hate speech persist. France has a strong political culture of laïcité according to which all citizens are in principle equal, regardless of their religion. We all stand with the French people for valuing freedom and equality, especially in the fight against IS barbarism. But there have also been concerns that France has become increasingly intolerant towards its religious minorities and their freedoms.

The long-running dispute about being able to wear religious clothing in public is a particular example. Official opposition to such symbols is often seen as an attack on freedom . The riots involving many Muslim youths in Paris a decade ago were driven by socio-economic injustice and racial segregation, not a thirst for jihad, sharia or a global Islamic state.

These uprisings were a call for the national ideals of freedom, equality and fraternity to apply to them, too. These problems have not been addressed in the past decade and the consequences are clear. More than a third of the Europeans fighting with IS in Syria are known to be coming from France. At least three of Friday’s attackers are understood to have been French. Sending Syrians back, tightening the border controls and bringing in stricter immigration policies will not solve what have become very French problems.

The route taken into France by one of these attackers is less of an issue than the route taken out by many more disillusioned citizens. France has marginalised its Muslim youth and some, as a result, have decided to join IS and return to kill. Religious fanatics perhaps have to be answered with violence – and maybe France has every right to tighten its border controls and strongly resist the mass influx of refugees from Syria.

Maybe Syrians will be sent back to countries such as Turkey, which are arguably safe. But none of these solutions addresses the fundamental and structural flaws that seem to be fanning the flames of terrorism. The solution to terrorism is a more equitable distribution of dignity and opportunity, not the closing down of borders. Durukan Kuzu is a Research Associate at Coventry University, UK

At that time, I thought the scale of ISIS’ attacks on Western targets was contained by its avowed doctrine of territorial legitimacy. I assumed any attacks in the West would be carried out by lone wolves or with one or two partners.


I was wrong.


Ever since it first declared a caliphate, ISIS’ leadership consistently expressed the intent of fighting a more or less conventional war in a well-defined piece of territory spreading across Iraq and Syria.


Their surprising initial victories reinforced that strategy. And it allowed them to pursue a war against the Yazidis, which the American Holocaust Museum has declared a genocide.


But then the Americans arrived, eager to engage a Jihadist army in direct combat.


And the Kurdish Peshmerga fighters began to make inroads.


So ISIS responded, by shifting its strategy towards new tactics: fighting a more common, irregular, guerrilla war, as the Taliban had often done successfully in Afghanistan and militants had done in Iraq before them.

New tactics

Then the Russians arrived to support Syrian President Al Assad.


Although their initial targets have not been ISIS strongholds, it has changed the dynamic once again.


ISIS leaders understand that with the US on one side and the characteristically merciless Russians on the other, time is running out.


It is one thing to take on one of them. It is quite another to take on both.


They can replenish their forces with raw new recruits. But they probably can’t do it fast enough to hold off all sides. And the apparent execution by drone of Jihadi John, their poster child, threatens a further dent in their recruitment campaign.


So, the ever flexible ISIS leadership has moved to a new stage in their tactics – war by terror.

New goals

The goals are predictable.

  • First, killing civilians at home in Europe in highly symbolic settings. Their intent here is to provoke a debate about these countries’ involvement in Syria and Iraq and thus break the political will of the western countries. There is, in other words, a cost to be paid for military intervention.
  • Second, to convince potential new recruits that with limited training they can still play a crucial role as a martyr. After all, if you are going to die as a martyr, you don’t want to do so by the side of the road in the middle of the desert. You want to do so on the streets of Paris where everyone will know who you were and what you did.
  • Third, to convince the west that you are still a formidable force – everywhere.


The new tactic involves soft civilian targets. They involve country nationals and foreign recruits. The enemy is everywhere and nowhere. It is a classic terrorist response.


First came the Russian plane crash in the Sinai – most probably caused by an ISIS bomb. Then these horrific attacks in Paris – claimed by ISIS and blamed on ISIS – in Paris in neighborhoods that I, and many American tourists, frequent when we visit.


I spent the evening of the attacks frantically trying to reach my family and friends. My sister-in-law, Lorene Aldabra, a professional singer and musician who often visits the Bataclan concert hall, scene of so much carnage. When you have to spend time tracking down loved ones, you really understand what this new war means.

The declarations of support are encouraging and touching. President Obama was as eloquent as ever. London’s mayor Boris Johnson sounded mildly Churchillian. Benjamin Netanyahu from Israel was blunt and forthright. But we can assume these attacks won’t be the last ones.


France is in a state of emergency. The security services in Europe and North America are on a state of alert. My spouse traveled on the Washington, DC-to-New York train Friday night and it was full of sniffer dogs and police. We risk a return to the national fear that gripped us after 9/11.


Parisians got it right when they assembled in large numbers and unfurled a sign saying “not afraid” in the hours after these attacks.


But not afraid of what?


The terrorists for sure. But also let’s not be afraid to distinguish between terrorists and Syrian asylum seekers. Between those who invoke the forces of evil and those imams who decry it. Between our Muslim friends and neighbors and our fanatical enemies.


The lives of Parisians will not be the same after November 13. But, knowing the city and its inhabitants well, I believe that they will not be deprived of oxygen and disappear into the vortex of hate preached by jihadists – or Europe’s extreme nationalists. Civility, albeit wrapped in an iron fist, will be their response.


Simon Reich is Professor in The Division of Global Affairs and The Department of Political Science, Rutgers University Newark

This article first appeared at The Conversation. Click here to go to the original.

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