We were all saddened by the horrendous events in Paris last weekend – 129 killed and several hundred people seriously injured in coordinated terrorist attacks across the “city of light.” French President Hollande has now declared France at war with ISIS and US President Obama has called these events “an attack on the civilized world.”
This violence by ISIS has been linked to the recent bombing of a Russian aircraft over Egypt and horrendous suicide bombings in the suburbs of Beirut, Lebanon. In each case, the victims were innocent and unsuspecting civilians, who by virtue of travelling, shopping in public, sitting in a café, or attending a rock concert, they represented the very idea of openness that ISIS detests.
These activities and freedoms are what we often take for granted – the hallmarks of our free and civil society. To the ISIS terrorists, this way of life is the enemy – no distinction is made between civilians or combatants. All so-called “unbelievers” who don’t support a radical interpretation of Islam, are enemies and conflict and mayhem in the West is what they want.
In this week’s high school assembly I spoke to LCC students about the origins and motivation of ISIS, also known as the Islamic State. I noted that even Al Qaeda disowned the group in 2014 because of its sheer brutality, driven literally by a medieval interpretation of the Koran. This includes stoning, crucifixion, mass beheadings, and very limited rights for women.
ISIS controls some oil fields in both Syria and Iraq. It is estimated that by selling it on the black market, it earns about $3 million/day to fund its operations.
The group has effectively used the Internet and social media as a way to lure disaffected youth to join their twisted cause. It is estimated that up to 10,000 young people have gone to Iraq and Syria from the West to join the Jihadi movement – and the largest proportion of those people who have been radicalized from the west have come from France.
France has been targeted for being a former colonial nation in the Muslim world. Many second and third generation Muslim youth have found full integration into French society to be challenging – a perfect breeding ground for the unemployed and frustrated to be “radicalized” by ISIS.
France was first targeted in last January’s attacks on free expression at Charlie Hebdo France has also been fighting Muslim extremism for several years in Mali in West Africa, while sending more bombers to ISIS targets in the Middle East than any other nation. At home, France is a very secular society, with a very clear division in political life between religion and politics – the complete opposite of ISIS which is driven by a radical religious foundation – a twisted interpretation of a faith that is actually dedicated to peace.
ISIS believes in an unavoidable apocalypse – that the end is coming in a kind of modern crusade that will also destroy most Muslims who do not share their skewed medieval worldview.
They believe in waging war, not in creating treaties. So analysts tell us to expect more attacks and disturbances from ISIS. However, I recall similar claims years ago at the start of the 1st Gulf War against Saddam Hussein – and also following the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington. Sometimes these radicals find most satisfaction in the psychological aftermath of terrorist acts – the upset, unease and nervousness they unleash in the mind.
Since 9/11, collaboration amongst Western allies has actually tilted the War Against Terrorism in our favour. Like journalist Gwynne Dyer, who spoke to LCC students last year, I believe this trend will continue. Yet, we need to be prudent and remember what we value and what we are proud of in our open democracies. Let’s celebrate our core values, but not be drawn into an unwinnable war. That’s exactly what ISIS wants. – Chris Shannon, Headmaster