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Analysis

A three-step plan for facing down Islamist terrorism

Op-ed: The City of Light was darkened on Friday night in yet another terrorist outrage. It’s long past time for the free world to get serious about fighting back

David Horovitz

David Horovitz is the founding editor of The Times of Israel. He is the author of "Still Life with Bombers" (2004) and "A Little Too Close to God" (2000), and co-author of "Shalom Friend: The Life and Legacy of Yitzhak Rabin" (1996). He previously edited The Jerusalem Post (2004-2011) and The Jerusalem Report (1998-2004).

A woman reacts as she looks at the flowers and messages left at a rail cordon close to the Bataclan theatre in the 11th district of Paris on November 14, 2015, the day after a series of attack on the city killed 130 people. (AFP PHOTO / KENZO TRIBOUILLARD)
A woman reacts as she looks at the flowers and messages left at a rail cordon close to the Bataclan theatre in the 11th district of Paris on November 14, 2015, the day after a series of attack on the city killed 130 people. (AFP PHOTO / KENZO TRIBOUILLARD)

Holding mass solidarity marches, and vowing, stern-faced, to fight back against Islamic State just isn’t going to do it. Islamic extremist terror groups, and the states that sponsor them, are seeking to destroy open, democratic, egalitarian Western society and impose their bleak, bloody, perverted version of Islam.

Facing them down will obviously not be simple. But it will be impossible unless the reality of the threat is genuinely internalized and the fight back mounted in earnest.

If the West continues to delude itself about the scale of the challenge, those who delight in the divine gift of life will find themselves becoming increasingly constrained and terrified by those who assert an imperative to kill and be killed in the name of God.

The struggle to maintain fundamental Western freedoms involves a three-step process.

First, name and acknowledge the enemy.

The killers who struck in Paris — like those who brought down a Russian civilian airliner in the Sinai, and who carried out suicide bombings in Beirut last week, and who struck at Charlie Hebdo and the Hyper Cacher in Paris in January, and in London on July 7, 2005, and on September 11, 2001, in New York, and who blew up the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires in 1994, and, yes, who killed hundreds of Israelis in suicide bombings in the Second Intifada, and on and on and on through an endless list of outrages worldwide — are not vague “militants.” They are Islamic extremists, adherents of that toxic kill-and-be-killed Islamist ideology.

And their actions are not mere “violence” but terrorism — killing in order to terrorize, in order to weaken and cow their opposition, the better to impose that rapacious ideology. Islamic State is an exponent of particular depravity.

Second, defend more effectively against Islamist terror.

Global leaders keep talking a good fight, but they’re not actually fighting a good fight. This means relentless, concerted action to make the killing of innocents more difficult for the Islamist terrorists. Better security at places where people gather in large numbers — Israel-style. (Suicide bombers should not be able to walk into concert halls.) The allocation of more resources to intelligence hierarchies, and constant cooperation between international agencies, to identify potential killers and to spot terror plans in the making. Effective surveillance. Preventive arrests. With most every recent murderous attack in Europe, it turns out afterward that this or that killer was on an intelligence “watch list.” Evidently not watched carefully enough.

At a deeper, strategic level, it means a far more resolute fight against the terror groups and their state sponsors in their home headquarter territory, and effective support for those people in our part of the world who seek to rise up against extremist oppressors and rulers. Take Syria, Iran and Egypt, for example.

Trying to keep the Middle East at arm’s length, Europe now has the region’s most extreme elements opening fire in its museums and magazine offices, at its restaurants and in its concert halls

At the start of the uprising against Bashar Assad in Syria, there was a secular, relatively moderate opposition. But the Western world did little to help it, and in time, it was marginalized by murderous Islamic extremist groups, and Syria became a battleground in which there was no “good” side for the West to assist. Panicked at the thought of getting dragged into another war, first Britain’s Parliament and then America’s president decided that they could even let Assad gas his people without consequence. Small wonder that millions of Syrians are now fleeing — trying to reach the West, with unknown numbers of Islamist killers among them.

Rather than facing down the world’s chief sponsor of terrorism, Iran, the world powers this summer legitimized the ayatollahs’ nuclear program, and paved the way for a massive influx of funds that Tehran is already using to stir up more unrest in the Middle East and more terrorism worldwide. In 2009, when the people of Iran sought to oust the mullahs, the West chose not to lift a finger to help them. Now, the regime is entrenched in power — to the terrible cost of the people of Iran and far beyond.

Right now, in Egypt, President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi is publicly urging the advance of moderate Islam, warning that his religion is now perceived globally as a faith predominantly interested in killing. Sissi came to power violently, ousting a democratically elected president. But the Muslim Brotherhood would never have held another democratic election, and Sissi is trying to prevent his country’s descent into Islamic extremism. Rather than seeking to create conditions in which it could help heal the Egyptian economy, and enable Egypt to feed and employ its 80 million people, much of the West — emphatically including the United States — seems content to stay away. The cost of helping Sissi toward a constructive transition for Egypt will be dwarfed by the cost of grappling with an Egypt in the firm grip of Islamic extremism.

Extremists are brainwashing too many of the children of Islam, wooing them to a death cult. Those who value life need to get to them first

The West’s desire to avoid being dragged into new wars in our part of the world is understandable. Israel — despicably battered and demonized internationally as it battles Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah and other purveyors of Islamic extremist terror — deeply shares the desire to avert further conflicts. But Islamic extremist leaders are not going to be talked into compromise. They must be faced down.

And only if they are faced down is there a hope that new generations will grow up in a functional climate, with some prospect of decent education, opportunity and a life worth living, making them less vulnerable to the Islamist recruiters.

Trying to keep the Middle East at arm’s length, Europe now has the region’s most extreme elements opening fire in its museums and magazine offices, at its restaurants and in its concert halls.

Third, prevent the recruitment of new waves of Islamist terrorists.

Islamist killers are not born Islamist killers. They are (mis)educated. Indoctrinated. Filled with hatred and false prophecy. They are skewed by parents and teachers, politicians and spiritual leaders, books and websites, conventional media and social media.

The long process of reversing the rising tide of hatred requires international cooperation toward grassroots change. Fund moderate educational hierarchies and websites and media outlets, and close those that peddle extremism. Help moderate spiritual leaders gain greater resonance and prominence (– replicate this small example a few thousand times — ) and prosecute those who preach murder.

A friend once told me when I was a young parent that I ought to brainwash my children, because otherwise other people would. Well, extremists are brainwashing too many of the children of Islam, wooing them to a death cult. Those who value life need to get to them first.

***

World leaders and local officials marching in Paris on January 11, 2015. (photo credit: AFP/ERIC FEFERBERG)
After terror attacks in the French capital earlier in the month, world leaders and local officials march in Paris on January 11, 2015. (photo credit: AFP/ERIC FEFERBERG)

Guns and explosives are not hard to come by, even in well-policed Western countries. The toxic Islamist ideology that encourages followers to kill and be killed in the name of Allah spews from innumerable websites and social media outlets with ever-increasing sophistication. There is self-evidently no shortage of hate-filled adherents, some of them returning to the West from the battlefields of the Middle East, ready to act on the perverted Islamist ideology. And therefore, amid all the now familiar vows from Western leaders to strike back effectively against Islamist terrorism, the dismal truth is that the West is going to be hit again and again and again with acts of unspeakable evil such as befell Paris on Friday unless it adopts a far more serious, strategic approach to tackling Islamist terror.

On Charonne Street in Paris, moments after Islamist gunmen had opened fire on Friday night, eyewitness Sebastian Jagreau told the Associated Press he saw a woman slumped at a table. “I thought she had a bump, but then we realized it was a bullet in her head, and not a bump. She was stretched on the table with her beer next to her,” he said. “Then I see a guy crying because his wife was dead.”

A street scene from what used to be known as “The City of Light.” If we want to avoid a world plunged ever-deeper into the darkness of Islamist terrorism, now would be a good time to begin the strategic counterattack.

A bullet hole in the window of the restaurant on Rue de Charonne, Paris, Sunday, Nov. 15, 2015, where attacks took place on Friday. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for Friday's attacks on a stadium, a concert hall and Paris cafes that left more than 120 people dead and over 350 wounded. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
A bullet hole in the window of the restaurant on Rue de Charonne, Paris, Sunday, Nov. 15, 2015, where attacks took place on Friday. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for Friday’s attacks on a stadium, a concert hall and Paris cafes that left more than 120 people dead and over 350 wounded. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

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