There are many similarities between the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks and the attack on Paris — both were severe attacks on soft targets. This is the basis of terrorism. What the terrorists are doing shouldn’t surprise us. They carry out such attacks to impress the population, to terrorise it in order to change its composition and to decrease its ability to think and behave in a rational way. It’s an attempt to shift thinking. I didn’t, unfortunately, find it surprising that such an attack happened 10 months after the attack on Charlie Hebdo.
The terrorists’ idea is to get maximum leverage and there are several ways to accomplish that. They want no one in our society to feel safe, and so far, they have succeeded at this. As France is holding a general election, the reactions can be seen in the campaign. A significant portion of the population votes for populist parties — both Left and Right. The reaction from politicians, especially from the populist parties, is a call for escalation. This is not a question of the Right or the Left; it’s a question of populism, its promotion and emotional impact. This is dangerous because it increases (public) weakness, lowers the level of intelligence and the ability to understand.
Terrorists are looking for social tensions, for something that could lead to civil war in Europe. Many young jihadis joined the Islamic State (Isis) because of some kind of marginalisation. They were not well integrated into the societies in which they were living. Most of the jihadis are between 18 and 25 years of age, have had a bad education, very little culture, and a criminal record. Though this is true, we cannot generalise because the Isis also has people who do not fit into these clichés. There are women and people who are married and have children, making it even more challenging for security. It would have been easier if one could profile people and point that a particular community is at risk. This will only lead to increased surveillance, but we have to strike a balance between liberty and security. It would be stupid to deprive ourselves of liberty because of the terrorists.
Though I’m sceptical of the strength of French society, it is still very far from falling into social darkness. When the Syrian refugees came, they were welcomed by many. This is why the Isis has reacted so harshly. That was a blow to the Isis propaganda, which implies that there is no room for Muslims in Europe, that it’s not an appropriate place for them, that they do not fit into Western society, that, therefore, Muslims have to stay in Muslim lands. The fact that many people were fleeing the Sham (the Levant), which was supposed to be the holy land, was a blow to the Isis propaganda.
Here, we must remember the lessons from 9/11. The completion of a terrorist act does not depend on the perpetrator, it depends on the victim. The success of 9/11 was not the collapse of the Twin Towers, but the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. And surprisingly, Iraq then became the birthplace of the Isis. If we want to fight terrorism efficiently we need to put aside our emotions. We need to look at its socio-cultural backgrounds and at history. We need to recall that the Isis is a product of wrong Western policies, starting with the invasion of Iraq. A mistake for which we are paying.
The terrorists are the enemies of Islam; they want the West to kill more Muslims and to react. They do not believe in peaceful coexistence.
(As told to Manjula Narayan)
Nicolas Henin was an Isis hostage and is the author of ‘Jihad Academy: The Rise of Islamic State’
The views expressed are personal