Don’t give ISIL the Islamophobia it wants
Last Friday’s terrorist attacks on Paris were brutal, cruel, and evil. In the face of such barbarism, anyone who respects human life should stand with the French people, as I do. As a Muslim, I also feel very uneasy that the murderers acted in the name of my faith. What I feel about them is what sane Christians would feel in the face of the Crusaders who slaughtered innocents or Inquisitors who burnt “heretics.” They are the most extreme fanatics of Islam, coming out of a toxic synthesis of age-old dogmatism and modern-day political grievances.
What should France, and the whole Western civilization, do in the face of these fanatics? Well, of course, they should defend themselves with better intelligence at home and a better military strategy against the territories of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). But they should also be very careful to not to give ISIL what it wants, which is an irrational and disproportionate response. In a nutshell, this would mean “total war” against ISIL, which would kill many civilians, and thus only embolden the zeal for jihad, deepening an already vicious cycle. It would also mean more Islamophobia in the West, which will make more Muslims believe that the West is their enemy.
A great article that stressed this risk ahead of us came out in the Washington Post the other day, titled, “The Islamic State’s trap for Europe.” The author, Harleen Gambhir, a counterterrorism analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, noted:
“The Islamic State’s strategy is to polarize Western society — to ‘destroy the grayzone,’ as it says in its publications. The group hopes frequent, devastating attacks in its name will provoke overreactions by European governments against innocent Muslims, thereby alienating and radicalizing Muslim communities throughout the continent. The atrocities in Paris are only the most recent instances of this accelerating campaign.”
Gambhir also reminded readers:
“The Islamic State explained after the January attacks on Charlie Hebdo magazine that such attacks ‘compel the Crusaders to actively destroy the grayzone themselves. . . . Muslims in the West will quickly find themselves between one of two choices, they either apostatize... or they [emigrate] to the Islamic State [ISIL] and thereby escape persecution from the Crusader governments and citizens.’”
Yes, destruction of the “grayzone” — the space in which one can be both Muslim and Western, or Muslim and democratic — is the very purpose of ISIL and its ilk. Therefore, Europeans would be giving these terrorists a great service if they help destroy that grayzone, by following their own far-right. Measures such as closing down mosques, banning Muslim practices and practically treating every Muslim as potential terrorist would only make ISIL happy. A Europe defined by Islamophobic politicians such as Geert Wilders, in fact, would be ISIL’s victory.
Let’s not forget that the United States fell into the same trap after 9/11, by invading Iraq to “end terrorism.” That irrational and disproportionate response did not end terrorism, but quite the contrary only helped it metastasize. The radical movement that would ultimately culminate as ISIL was born in Iraq after the U.S. occupation, and exactly as a response to it.
I know many people in France are angry these days, and rightly so. But anger is a bad substitute for wisdom. And the latter begins by understanding what your enemy expects you to do and resisting the temptation to do it.