Political Liason Officer, Jonathan Russell, discusses the need for comprehensive preventative strategies in order to deal with extremism.
We need comprehensive strategies to prevent new recruits joining dangerous Islamist organisations, says Jonathan Russell
Today’s terrorist attack in Paris is shocking. But it isn’t surprising.
The 12 victims are employees of Charlie Hebdo – a French satirical magazine that has previously printed cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi – or police officers that were called to the scene. Islamist extremists don’t like to be offended, certainly don’t respect the freedom of speech in the French Republic, have little respect for law enforcement agencies, and have a penchant for violence and terrorism in these instances.
Hence, we might well consider it prudent to self-censor in this climate and not do anything that might offend such violent Islamists, or indeed not try to tackle extremism at all, if this is one unintended consequence. Indeed, if François Hollande were a violent individual rather than a democratically elected official, Charlie Hebdo might think twice about drawing cartoons of him.
However, if we stop trying to counter extremism or shut down freedom of expression because of the very real threat from terrorists, we have given in, thus allowing one of the cornerstones of our liberal democracy to be eroded by violent cultish thugs.
The attack was carried out by gunmen who used automatic weapons and seem to have had infantry training, at least on some level. It looks carefully planned, with the attackers asking for particular employees at Charlie Hebdo, and having an escape route that has allowed them to remain, at least at the time of writing, on the run. The French authorities, which have foiled dozens of other planned attacks in recent years, failed to prevent this, which suggests that there is either little command and control from established organisations, or that the perpetrators have had counter-intelligence training. Attention will invariably focus on French jihadists who have returned from fighting in Syria or Iraq with Islamic State, but this is too hasty.
In the coming hours, days and weeks, there will be an increased security presence outside newspaper offices in European capital – France’s terrorism threat assessment has already increased to the maximum level – and there will be frank analysis of intelligence failures, assertions made that this is blowback from French foreign policy and renewed focus on the foreign fighter phenomenon.
But it matters not to the families of the victims or, indeed, the terrorised French population, whether there was an intelligence failure, whether this can be linked back to Islamic State, or even if sympathisers to terrorism claim that French foreign policy and cultural insensitivity is the cause of this violence. Nor, importantly, do we need to pin this on the bogeyman du jour, Baghdadi, or the most popular Islamist brand, Islamic State, even though it might be cathartic to have an enemy against whom we can unite. It is to the detriment of tackling the problem if we view things thus. Such a way of thinking just leads to quick-fix and highly visible reactions, drone attacks to remove the leadership of terrorist organisations, rather than strategies to prevent new recruits joining the organisation, let alone challenges to the ideology and world view that motivates these terrorists.
We can increase security all we like, but all we really do is plug the latest hole – it was airports after 9/11, the London underground and sales of peroxide after 7/7, European jihadists’ passports with the emergence of Islamic State. Instead, we must cut the flood off at source by winning the battle of ideas and, in that, satire certainly has a role to play.
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