The deadly terror attacks in Paris indicate that today’s terrorists are becoming even more brazen in their attempt to launch a war without rules and limits in order to intimidate Europe and the world.
A mourner in front of the Carillon cafe, one of the sides of the terrorist attacks in Paris on Nov. 13, 2015. Photo: AP
The latest series of terrorist attacks in Paris has put France in the global spotlight. Politicians and experts have dubbed Nov. 13 “Black Friday” and “France’s 9/11.” And it is not even about the unimaginable cruelty of those who masterminded the attacks, the scale of the tragedy, or the methods used in the name of “religious feelings.”
The Paris incidents clearly highlight a range of serious issues relating to international security. They have not appeared out of nowhere, yet time after time, any meaningful discussion of them has been supplanted by considerations of instant PR.
In response to the events in France, there is no shortage of sound bites: "the clash of civilizations," "the threat of immigration," "the challenge of international terrorism." Instead of regurgitating familiar phrases, it would be more expedient to consider their semantic content. The aim here is not to provide food for speculative thought about abstract phenomena, but to minimize the global risks.
"Terrorism is the subject of countless works. The phenomenon seems to have been studied in every possible detail, yet there remains something mysteriously evil, somewhat irrational, that is not properly understood,” says Georgy Mirsky, a renowned Russian expert.
It is hard not to agree. However, the "evil" and "mysterious" elements of terrorism are largely the consequence of the reluctance to properly analyze the challenge it poses.
Terrorism as a tool of violence
What exactly is "international terrorism"? What form do its structure and institutions take? Is it a kind of global terrorist UN with divisions responsible for various ethno-political or religious policies? To what extent are terrorists around the world interested in coordinating and helping each other?
And finally, what unites terrorists from ethno-nationalist and religious groups and terrorists who fight for social revolution and believe that ethnicity and religious disputes only distract the masses from the righteous class struggle?
In the Middle East and Afghanistan, we see not just rivalry, but direct clashes between structures such as the infamous Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and Jabhat al-Nusra, Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Taliban.
It is clear that, besides a passion for explosives, terrorists of various creeds have little, if anything, in common. Terrorism itself is not an end, but a means of politically motivated violence employed by various forces. At the very minimum, these forces turn a blind eye to the excesses perpetrated by those "fighting for purity of faith" or “defending national liberation.”
As a result, we observe unwillingness on the part of the key international players to cooperate in earnest. In just the past 15 years, the world has been shaken by terror attacks monstrous in terms of both scope and cynicism. They include 9/11, the Madrid bombings, the school hostage crisis in Beslan, Russia, the attacks in Mumbai in November 2008, and the shooting of students in Peshawar, Pakistan, in December 2014, to name just a few.
Multifaceted nature of terrorism
The discussions about forming a broad front against the "organizers of great upheaval" are already more than a year old. But no real international coalition has taken shape. Moreover, the priority tasks seem to have been replaced by utopian ideas of building "democracy in the Middle East" or overthrowing undesirable regimes. As a result, the enemy has not been clearly identified.
The terror attacks in Paris have once again disproved the assertion that terrorism only happens in poor countries racked with poverty and devastation. The villains of the Paris attack were driven not by the struggle for higher living standards, but by ideological and political dissatisfaction, whatever we care to think about the content or orientation of their radical and openly extremist views.
Today, most publications on the problems of European Muslims and the spread of radical attitudes in such communities are centered on immigration. However, this complex issue is not limited to immigration. It is far more important to talk about the effectiveness of integration strategies to involve representatives of "other" ethnic and religious groups in European society.
It should also be noted that the path to religious radicalism can be trodden without visiting a "hot spot" or making the personal acquaintance of influential warlords from the socially disadvantaged Arab or African world. For starters, it is enough simply to communicate with people who do not talk about the fight between "good" and "evil," but instead present a clear set of principles, programs and views on the world.
This is more than just a “clash of civilizations”
There are no quick fixes or easy recipes for such problems, however vividly they are portrayed by those calling for a "crusade" as part of a "clash of civilizations." First, the existence of the very real and dangerous problem of Islamic radicalism and extremism does not mean that there is a clearly marked line of confrontation on religious grounds.
European countries have become home to Islamic communities, many of whose members have successfully integrated themselves into the government and law enforcement structures, not to mention sports stars such as French football superstar Zinedine Zidane. It would be a gross oversimplification to view all European Muslims as supporters of the recent events in Paris or those in Copenhagen five years ago.
Second, in the Middle East, North Africa and Southeast Asia, Islamic radicals and extremists have been waging war for many years against supporters of a secular model in which religion is not a substitute for political and social diversity. We can see similarities (albeit on a non-comparable scale) in Russia’s Caucasus and Volga regions.
Unfortunately, in the post-Cold War period the West and Russia have been unable to develop a coordinated strategy to minimize the Islamist (not Islamic!) threat. Stock phrases have been plenty, but there have been no tangible deeds.
War without rules and limits
According to renowned political scientist and essayist David von Drehle, today’s terrorism is a “gray war without fronts, without armies, without rules — long-term and large-scale."
It is through networked terrorist structures that Islamists – once considered marginalized and powerless to match the world’s leading countries militarily or economically - are able to repeatedly challenge the United States, Israel, Russia and the European Union.
States with a well-organized military structure and strong administrative institutions find themselves unable to get the better of terrorist networks free of major political constraints.
And until countries realize the danger of networked terrorist structures, which threaten not only national security, but the principle of statehood as the organizational basis for human life, nothing will change. Therefore, the overriding task is to stop viewing the world through the lens of political correctness and restore value-conscious certainty.
If the political challenge today comes from radical Islamism, totalitarian sects or nationalist groups, then it must be stated openly without historical guilt for the colonial past. The world is developing, and the past sins of Europeans or Americans cannot serve as justification for those fighting for “purity of faith.”
In the fight against terrorism, strong-arm tactics are important, but not a universal remedy. It is far easier to arrest or eliminate a frenzied radical than minimize the symptoms of his mania.
Whatever the case, the coexistence of different cultures in contemporary Europe (including Russia, where 80 percent of the population lives in the European part of the country) is becoming the number one issue.
How to find an adequate response to the challenge of religious radicalism, while screening off multidirectional xenophobia and cultural “pupation”?
Talk of “terrorism without nationality” will not suffice. There needs to be a deep meaningful discussion about the integration potential of Europe. Russia, too, which has many similar problems, should take a look in this mirror.
The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.