Unless you have been absent from the planet Earth for the last week or so, you will know that Islamist terrorists killed 17 people in France over three days from the 7th to the 9th of January 2015.
This was the most deadly act of terror in France since 1961.
The attack on the offices of the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo (Charlie Weekly) was carried out by Islamists apparently connected to al-Qaeda’s Yemeni branch, while the gunman who struck the kosher supermarket Hypercasher near the Port de Vincennes self-declared his membership of ISIS.
On the 11th of January, 3.7 million people marched in Paris and other cities throughout France to show their unity in the face of these terrorist networks’ actions. The march was led by the families of the victims and more than 40 world leaders, including the French President, the British Prime Minister and German Chancellor.
These were the largest rallies in France since the liberation of Paris from Nazi German occupation in 1944. They were also a moving demonstration of the unity of not just the French people but the global community in the face of the despicable, murderous actions of Islamist extremists. The fact that the rally was attended by both the Prime Minister of Israel and the President of Palestine underscores just how important a show of unity this march was.
And then, on the 12th of January, France announced it would deploy 10,000 soldiers and armed police onto its streets.
I understand, the political necessity for such a show of strength.Hollande, France’s embattled President, needs to salvage some credibility from the disaster that this attack has been. It may also be that there is a valid strategic and security reason for this massive mobilisation, which has already begun. But the deployment has been accompanied by such violent, warmongering rhetoric that I fear the consequences.
In less than a week since the shootings, more than 50 anti-Muslim hate crime incidents have been registered across France. That is a worrying trend. The presence of ten thousand armed men on the streets will not calm this – it will fuel the fires. What is suspiciously close to a declaration of martial law is a move which will cause further polarisation, in France and across Europe.
And that’s what they want. The Porte de Vincennes gunman, Amedy Coulibaly, said in his ISIS propaganda video that his actions were in defence of the Palestinian people and in protest of the Coalition actions in Syria, Afghanistan, Mali and Iraq. Make no mistake, in his mind his murders were an act of war. Responding to rhetoric of war in kind will only worsen the situation. And the more Muslims in European countries suffer as a result of the backlash against these incidents, the easier it will be for Islamists to radicalise young Muslims in future.
The ideology of these people – Salafi-Jihadism (ultraconservative Wahhabist Islam mixed with a quasi-fascistic personality cult and the willingness to undertake violent jihad) – is vile, make no mistake. It should be eradicated. But we must remember firstly that the ideology is our enemy first and foremost, and that the young men brainwashed by its demagogic leaders are victims of the virus.
That does not mean we should not defend ourselves against them.I am no pacifist. But we also cannot afford to become locked into an exchange of violent and ever-ratcheting rhetoric with the adherents of Salafi-Jihadism. That will only play into the hands of warmongers like Marine le Pen in France and Britain First here in Britain. And we especially must not allow our justified anger to spill over into attacks on moderate, law-abiding Muslims in our own countries or overseas.
We may be Charlie. But we are all humans first.
This article is cross-posted with the author’s blog, Cynical Optimist