Islamic terrorism is a long-term threat that emerged in the early 1990s. Al-Qaeda declared war on the USA in 1996 and, despite the huge assets deployed against it by the international coalition, it is still active and has spawned innumerable jihadist groups worldwide.
The conditions favoring Islamic terrorism will persist far into the future due to the vigor of Salafism and Wahabbism supported by the Gulf States, the endemic chaos of the Arab and Muslim world, the frustration of Muslim populations in the West, the economic crisis that makes their integration problematic and the subsequent feelings of victimization.
In France, the danger is not so much from abroad as from the suburbs. Most of the perpetrators of the attacks in 2015 and 2016 were French nationals. The same is true for Belgium, the UK and Germany. The problem is thus one of domestic security.
It is understandable that our citizens are concerned about the erosion of basic freedoms entailed by the increased powers given to law enforcement. But we are in a situation of real and present danger, and that danger is not coming from law enforcement or the intelligence services, but from Salafism and jihad. The public must understand that in the absence of tough measures, the threat will grow faster than our ability to contain it.
The number one threat is radical Islamic ideology rather than terrorist attacks. France has the highest proportion of Muslim residents in Europe. While 90% of them may be upstanding citizens practicing a moderate Islam, an active minority of several hundred thousand is seeking to destabilize the country by imposing their norms. This subset of the population advocates an archaic and intolerant strain of Islam and is a vector of hate speech that encourages some young people to wage jihad.
Since the emergence of global jihad in 2001, and following the attacks of 2015 and 2016, numerous measures have been taken by successive governments. But they are slow, timid and partial and always come after the attacks instead of before. We need to be more proactive and tough.
The fight against Islamic terrorism can only succeed if it is broad-based, ranging from the enforcement of criminal law and state of emergency powers through education of the populace in detecting suspicious behavior (something that has never been done, unlike in Israel) to strengthening intelligence gathering, security and judicial investigations and law enforcement. New legislation relating to public security (transport, large public gatherings) needs to be enacted. Finally, more needs to be done to understand the psychological drivers of jihad.
We need to review our foreign policy and identify who the enemy is and who is supporting it. We have uncoupled the fight against terrorism and the fight against Salafism, Wahabbism and the Muslim Brotherhood political ideology that is driving them.
We are conducting an irresponsible foreign policy by allying with states that support Islamism and terrorism — Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, among others. This policy prevents us working with the Syrian intelligence services, which can help us curb the activities of returning jihadists.
We need to call into question our relations with these Islamic states. Without a major shift in foreign policy, we cannot expect to win the war against Islamic terrorism.
The threat from Islamic terrorism is here to stay. Whatever resources we deploy against it, we cannot expect to eliminate the attacks. This is why we need straight talk so our population understands what is going on and acts accordingly to make our society more resilient, like in Israel.