Europe faces an Islamist terror wave

Europe faces an Islamist terror wave

Update from AIJAC

July 29, 2016

Update 07/16 #06

This Update analyses Europe’s efforts to deal with the wave of near daily murderous attacks over recent weeks – especially since the July 14 Nice attack – when a truck driver killed 84 people in Nice by driving into crowds celebrating France’s national day, up until the murder of an 84-year-old priest, Fr Jacques Hamel, inside his church near Rouen on Tuesday (the several attacks in between are noted in this timeline).

First up is Israeli scholar Jonathan Spyer, who argues European, and for that matter US elites appear intellectually ill-equipped to appreciate what they are facing and devise effective strategies to respond. He says European culture has been hollowed and today’s elites are united in being “transnational, cosmopolitan, skeptical of passionately held belief, reflexively secular.” They cannot conceive the ideological nature of the attacks being perpetrated and fall back on elaborate rationales to deny this reality – such as insisting that the Nice bomber could not possibly have believed he was engaging in sectarian holy war because he wasn’t a regular mosque attendee. For his important argument in full, CLICK HERE. A similar argument about Europe’s cultural/intellectual difficulties in grasping the nature of the challenge comes from Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens.

Next up is a detailed review of the debate in France, in particular, about how to respond to the Islamist terrorist threat, written by three counter-terrorism scholars from Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies. The scholars note that French experts are debating whether the problem is “Islamization of radicalism,” –  nihilistic youth adopting Islamic jihad as a cover for socioeconomic frustration – or “radicalization of Islam” – whereby extremist Islamic leaders are exploiting the frustration of French Muslim youth to try to spark a civil war. They say these differing diagnoses suggest differing counter-terrorism strategies. They also go on to discuss what France can learn from the long experience of their Israeli counterparts. For this complex but important analysis of the crossroads for French, and by extension, European counter terrorism, CLICK HERE.

Finally, this Update features a broader look from the New York Times at Israeli lessons for French – and by implication, wider European – counter-terrorism efforts. The piece includes not only advice  from former heads of the Shin Bet, Israel’s main internal security organisation, about catching attackers before they strike and securing public space, but considerable discussion about public resilience when forced to live with terrorism. It thus also discusses what some studies show about how Israelis adjusted psychologically to near-daily attacks. For all the essential details,  CLICK HERE.

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Article 1

U.S., European Elites Just Not Equipped to Deal With Islam’s Insurgency

By Jonathan Spyer

Pajamas Media, 2016-07-25T12:32:46

The terror attacks in Nice and Wurzburg are the latest manifestations of what should now be seen as a still fairly low-level Islamist insurgency taking place in a number of west European countries. The fact that this insurgency has been allowed to kindle itself and slowly emerge before now bursting forth represents a profound failure of Western European political culture and of the continent’s elites.

This is not merely a matter of poor police or intelligence work. Rather, it is the culmination of a long process of enfeeblement. The Islamist insurgency is a disease attacking an already weakened body which lacks the means to defend itself.

What has brought about the decline of Western Europe to this point?

In the first instance, of course, one may point to the decision to admit tens of thousands of refugees from the Middle East. It is now clear that a considerable number of the refugees harbor loyalty to the violent Islamist military groups that dominate large parts of Syria. But the more profound question concerns the worldview of the political and intellectual elites in Western Europe who produced this decision. The decision, after all, is just the latest manifestation of a longstanding policy of somnambulance toward the threat of political Islam.

A hollowing-out of European culture has taken place over recent years.  The elites of the continent are united by a set of joint perceptions deriving from a shared experience of life. They are transnational, cosmopolitan, skeptical of passionately held belief, reflexively secular. Their shared experience of the world is of a safe place, in which a certain set of attitudes and connections enables life to be lived in a pleasant and free way.

Civilizational conflict, passionate religious ideological commitment, even fervently experienced patriotism do not feature very highly on the elite’s radar. Such sentiments are to be dismissed with a smile, or treated with bewildered fear and apprehension if they appear to be persistent and potent.

This is an elite which takes in representatives of both the traditional European left and center right — social democrats and free market liberals. Indeed, one can easily discern a sort of slightly more leftist and slightly more conservative variation within its basic type. Yes, it is a global elite, with its powerful representatives in the U.S., in Eastern Europe, in Asia and so on — but it is in Western Europe where its influence on culture and on the atmosphere in which policy is made has reached its apogee.

Until recent years — in all major countries of Western Europe — the leading elements in the main political parties, academia, and the mainstream media were clearly representatives of this group.

The problem with this elite is not that they are evil or decadent. It is that their worldview is inadequate to grasp the nature of the time in which they are living. They are an easy generation, made for prosperous times, for the cool management of systems, for times of plenty.

But the times of plenty have gone.

The Middle East is in the midst of a massive historic convulsion. Political Islam, in its many variations, has captured the minds of millions and is now leading to war and state fragmentation in the Middle East. And through the process whereby Mideastern refugees seek to quit the region and enter Europe, these ideas enter Europe, carried by some of the young men making their way behind the walls, like a plague bacillus.

The result is the current insurgency. It is erupting out of parts of the society untouched and undreamt of by the elite.

The response is denial. Ways are found to maintain that the insurgents are not in fact Islamists or jihadis at all.

Absurdly high levels of knowledge and religious commitment are required for the perpetrator to be considered an Islamist, as if such knowledge tests were ever demanded in ascertaining the affiliation of terrorists past.

Mohammed Lahouaiyej Bouhlel drives a truck into a crowd of passersby screaming “Allahu Akbar”? This is found to have nothing to do with Islam because of his poor record of mosque attendance. And so on. It would be comical if it were not so serious.

The current European intellectual and political elite is simply not equipped to understand what is taking place. Denial and stopping its ears is thus the only option available to it.  This is an elite uniquely unprepared to understand the nature of sectarian holy war; such things are utterly outside of its experience. What is clearly unfolding before their eyes — a largely homegrown Islamist insurgency running on the fuel of ideas coming out of the Middle East — cannot be happening. So it isn’t. Their solution is to block their ears.

Europe is not equiped to understand what motivates someone like Muhammed Riyad, the 17-year-old who stabbed numerous people on a train in Wruzburg, Germany, on behalf of ISIS.

Does this mean that Western Europe is doomed and must resign itself to seeing its cities turned permanently into battlegrounds for Islamist insurgency? As things currently appear, the answer is “not necessarily.”

When faced with external threats and tests, cultures can do one of two things.

If they are played out and decadent and old, they can admit defeat. Yet if something of vitality remains, the culture will produce antibodies, alternative voices, and modes of resistance. History is replete with examples of both.

As of now, the growth of voices and political parties outside of the mainstream who are prepared to speak openly about the challenge attests to a residual will to survival in a number of European countries.

However, since the Islamist side is entrenched, well-financed, and full of wild desire for the fight, we should assume that the efforts at resistance will presage not an early return to order, but rather the prospect of further and increased civil strife in Western Europe in the period ahead.


Article 2

French Counterterrorism Strategy at a Crossroads

Yoram Schweitzer , Sarah Fainberg , Einav Yogev

INSS Insight No. 838, July 26, 2016

It is now clear to France that it is in the midst of an all-out war against the threat of terror from both internal and external sources. The assessment by the French of their security situation stems from their concern about additional attacks planned by either terrorist networks or individuals, some of whom are driven by external organized directives, particularly from the Islamic State. There is a fundamental debate underway in France between two schools of thought. One argues that the current wave of terrorist attacks derives from the “Islamization of radicalism,” whereby a minority of nihilistic youth adopt Islamic jihad as a cover for socioeconomic frustration, and stage violent activities under the guise of Salafi jihadism. A second school of thought attributes the threat of terrorist attacks to the “radicalization of Islam,” whereby extremist Islamic leaders exploit frustrated French Muslims to spark a civil war in France. The issue is not merely an intellectual and semantic debate, as each theory dictates different operational responses by the security authorities and demands that the cultural and social problems in France be addressed.
The terrorist attack in Nice in the heart of the Riviera on July 14, 2016, in which a Tunisian immigrant drove a truck into throngs of people celebrating Bastille Day and killed 84 people – citizens and tourists – and severely injured dozens more, traumatized France. Apart from instilling a sense of helplessness and fear in the face of this lethal mode of terrorism, the attack, which was assisted by a local terror cell, exacerbated the public rage over the government’s string of failures, in face of the series of deadly terrorist attacks that France has suffered over the last two years. The brutal murder of Jacques Hamel, a priest from Normandy, by two assailants who identified with the Islamic State one of whom appeared on the watch list in France added to the rage, fear, and confusion.
It is now clear to France that it is in the midst of an all-out war against the threat of terror from both internal and external sources. The assessment by the French of their security situation stems from their concern about additional terrorist attacks planned by terrorist networks and individuals spurred to violence, sometimes by external organized directives, particularly from the Islamic State. Some of the attacks in France were committed at the personal initiative of second and third-generation immigrants who were raised and educated in France. Following the attacks in January 2015 at the headquarters of the Charlie Hebdo magazine and the Hyper Cacher grocery store, the French government launched a series of measures to prevent and curb terrorist attacks, including increased deployment of security forces throughout the country tasked with protecting symbolic public targets such as airports, religious institutions, and schools. However, the critical conclusions of a parliamentary committee of inquiry that examined the counterterrorism efforts cast doubt on the efficacy of the government’s handling of the threat. Subsequently, in May 2016, the French government presented a comprehensive strategic plan, the first of its kind, to thwart terrorist attacks and radicalization in France.
The plan included a recommendation to institute new measures to heighten prevention, including surveillance of known radicals who are liable to pose a threat to public safety; the establishment of telephone hotlines enabling people to report relatives, neighbors, or others anonymously who are perceived as becoming radicalized; the activation of a system to document airline PNRs (passenger name records); and the formation of intelligence units inside prisons that can monitor signs of radicalization among inmates. Following the terrorist attack in Nice, the government decided to extend the state of emergency declared in France on November 13, 2015 (which was scheduled to expire at the end of July) for another six months. The security deployment has also been adjusted: 12,000 police reservists have been called up to assist in the domestic counterterrorism efforts, and France has coordinated with the United States on a military response to the Islamic State.
Notwithstanding these efforts, French President François Hollande and his government face much public reproach that the past, existing, and future efforts are “too little, too late.” The public pressure to find a response to escalating sources and evidence of home-grown terrorism is intensifying: a survey conducted by the Institut Français d’Opinion Publique (IFOP) and published a day after the terrorist attack in Nice, found that 67 percent of the French public have no faith in the government’s ability to contend with terrorist threats adequately, and that 81 percent were willing to impose particular restrictions on the country’s traditional liberal-democratic lifestyle.
Indeed, the intellectual debate about the threat raises complex dilemmas. Thus, for example, a fundamental public debate is underway between two leading French experts in Islamic studies, Olivier Roy and Gilles Kepel. Roy argues that the current wave of terrorist attacks derives from the “Islamization of radicalism,” whereby a minority of nihilistic youth adopt Islamic jihad as a cover for socioeconomic frustration and sometimes even for mental disorders, and stage violent activities under the guise of Salafi jihadism. In contrast, Kepel attributes the threat of terrorist attacks to the “radicalization of Islam” throughout the world and in France in particular, whereby extremist Islamic leaders are exploiting frustrated French Muslims to spark a civil war in France. The issue is not merely an intellectual and semantic debate, as each theory dictates different operational responses by the security authorities and demands that the cultural and social problems in France be effectively addressed.
Right wing and extreme right wing parties in the opposition have already filed a series of draft bills, proposing the imposition of additional civil rights restrictions. The controversial bills include stripping dual nationals convicted of terrorist activities of their French citizenship and deporting foreigners suspected of incitement or involvement in terrorist attacks; forcing thousands of suspects to wear electronic ankle bracelets so they can be tracked by security forces; incarcerating radicalized people in “deradicalization and reintegration” centers; incarcerating dangerous terrorists in segregated cell blocks; expanding the intelligence tracking of French Muslims already inside prisons; closing extremist mosques; limiting entry into the country by refugees and even closing France’s borders to them; and deliberating the exit from the Schengen Agreement and its replacement with an immigration policy and border controls coordinated with Europe. The Schengen Agreement, which was signed in 1985 (even prior to the formation of the European Union) and symbolized the vision of a borderless Europe, is now perceived as a security threat, particularly given that since 2015, the influx of refugees from Syria and Afghanistan into Europe has reached more than one million.
Furthermore, the recent terrorist attacks in France have aroused a debate about the extent of the French military’s involvement outside France’s borders; in this context, doubts are raised about the actual effectiveness of these operations. Despite the fact that since 2014 the French government has sent more than 3,000 soldiers to the Sahel and 1,000 soldiers to Iraq, in addition to deploying fighter planes to conduct airstrikes over al-Raqqah and deploying the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier to the Gulf, the right wing opposition has called for intensified French operations in the Sahel, Syria, and Iraq.
In an attempt to restore calm and due to the grave concerns about violent reprisals against Muslims in France – France’s domestic intelligence chief, Patrick Calvar, warned recently that the escalating tensions are liable to bring France to the brink of civil war – the government is attempting to urge the French Muslim population to contend with the phenomenon of radicalization and combat it from within. In 2002, former French President Nicolas Sarkozy formed the French Council of the Muslim Faith, a national body to foster the creation of a unified, tolerant French Muslim community in France. Today, the government, in conjunction with the Muslim Council, is considering giving greater voice to loyal French imams challenging jihadist ideology in physical and virtual spaces, as a means to counter the pervasive impact of foreign Salafi preachers and as part of the attempt to create a counter-narrative to radical Salafi jihadist propaganda.
In its effort to contend with the threat of terrorist attacks, France is also analyzing the experiences of other countries, mainly Belgium, the United States, and Denmark. France borrowed the idea of deradicalization centers from Denmark and is considering setting up deradicalization centers in every French district. The terrorist attack in Nice serves as a reminder of the importance of such efforts, and many argue that the response to Salafi jihadism cannot be limited to reinforced security forces alone and must also include social change.
France considers Israel an important partner in the fight against Salafi jihadist terrorism, and sent a parliamentary delegation to Israel to learn from its experience. Inquiries on behalf of various French mayors, including of Cannes and Nice, have been forwarded to Israeli security experts in order to learn how mayors can reinforce their municipal security systems. Moreover, the recent terrorist attacks in Europe have weakened the earlier prevailing perception among decision makers and opinion-leaders on the European continent in general and in France in particular that the roots of the attacks by Islamic terrorists lie in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and that once the conflict is resolved, the attacks in Europe and the terrorist threats from the Islamic State will come to an end.
Israel’s professional, decades-long experience in fighting terrorism and the deep friendship between Israel and France obligate Israel to offer France assistance – to the extent requested – to fight their common enemy. Despite the legitimate disagreements between the two countries about the best way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as reflected in the Israeli reservations to the French initiative for advancing the political process, the grave security situation in France may serve to shift public sentiments in France, and make the French more attentive to Israel’s concerns and security requirements in any future agreement with the Palestinians. For its part, if Israel demonstrates initiative and willingness to promote a political process, it can expect better cooperation and understanding on the part of France and its friends in the European Union.


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