Coping with the terrorist mind will be our reality for some time

It’s an understatement to agree that the prime minister of France got it right when, in the wake of the terrorist acts in Paris last Wednesday and Thursday that left 17 innocent people murdered, he stated that the nation is “at war against terrorists, jihadists, Islamic fundamentalists.”

Much of the western world agrees, as witnessed by the leaders from 40 nations who joined the nearly four million French citizens who rallied Sunday against the terrorist acts that decimated the editorial staff of the satirical paper Charlie Hebdo, killing 12, and in two related incidents over the next days murdered a Paris policewoman on duty and then occupied a Jewish supermarket where four hostages were also gunned down.

The paper has been satirizing everyone and everything for nearly 50 years. No cows were sacred and, in fact, its offices had been firebombed several years ago when Charlie Hebdo republished the then-famous Danish newspaper’s caricatures of the Muslim prophet Mohammed. (Muslim tradition dictates that any renditions of the prophet’s image constitute blasphemy.)

Most recently, the paper had caricatured the leader of the organization battling to establish an Islamic State across Iran, Syria and beyond.

It is now understood that the two terrorists who murdered the editor and much of the editorial staff of Charlie Hebdo and their counterpart who occupied a Jewish-owned supermarket and murdered four hostages there are all directly connected to the Islamic State terrorist organization and have likely had some training in terror techniques in Yemen.

Similar to Canada’s two terrorists who, last fall, in apparent independent actions two days apart, took the lives of two Canadian soldiers, the three people who wreaked havoc in Paris last week were local citizens. In Canada’s case, the two were Canadians and the perpetrators of the Paris outrage were native-born Frenchmen.

Except for a clear admiration of the terror techniques Al-Qaeda uses to attempt to reach its goals (such as the destabilization of Afghanistan, support for the Islamic State movement) the direct similarities between the Canadian attacks and the Paris outrage would seem to end there.

But perhaps not.

It’s clear that the most radical faction of the followers of the Muslim faith represents only a very tiny percentage of the millions of people around the world who worship Allah as their deity.

But, sadly, there is an element of Islam that is militant in its nature, dating from the Middle Ages when the faith went through a period of militant proselytization as its zealots spread it throughout the Middle East, European Turkey, the present-day Balkan region and western and central Asia.

Christianity went through a similar phase at the same time, in fact focussing on armed conflict with Muslim forces when Europe funded brigades of Crusaders to wrest back the Holy Land (with a focus on Jerusalem) from the Arab Muslims that had occupied it.

In fact, Europeans were successful in ruling parts of present-day Israel but this militant Christianity fell out of fashion well before the European Renaissance period.

But in Islam, this tradition of holy war has never gone out of fashion and for individuals who are for one reason or another unhappy with the status quo in, say, France or Canada, the notion of “fighting for Islam” has appeal when, perhaps, nothing else does.

Of the two individuals who murdered the two military personnel last fall (one of whom also attempted to disrupt the Government of Canada in a way in which, had he been better organized, could have mirrored the horror of what Charlie Hebdo’s staff faced) one was mentally ill and the other had made a vain attempt to go to Syria to join the Islamic state fighting forces.

The people who caused the trauma in Paris last week were all French citizens, as noted, and were all members of the Muslim faith.

France has a substantial (10 percent) population of Muslim citizens, most of whose ancestors came from the old French colony of Algeria.

This population is also a disproportionately large part of France’s poorest sector and the “native French” population is often resentful of their Muslim neighbours.

And then there is this tradition of holy war and, for most of the past century, terrorist tactics have been justified by this notion of a holy war, at least for people who subscribe to these extreme measures and justify them in the cause of their faith.

As long as there is an alignment of the traditions of militant Islam, holy wars and terrorist activities, there will be people from the Muslim tradition who are, for one reason or another, angry at the hand they’ve been dealt and so feel justified in becoming part of this tradition of mayhem. This also appeals to non-Muslims who feel disenfranchised by society and thus we presently have nearly 100 Canadians who have made their way to Syria and Iraq to join the Islamic State’s fighting forces, not all of whom were born into Muslim families.

That is why the French prime minister’s statement about the need to wage war on a largely invisible enemy is something that we must all take seriously.

What is the resolution to such an international issue, some of whose most extreme adherents are capable of strapping explosives to children, sending them into a target area, and then remotely detonating the bomb (as happened this past weekend, courtesy of the Boko Haram terrorist Islamic group in Baga, Nigeria)?

What indeed, except worldwide vigilance…and the corresponding loss of privacy for law abiding citizens as the international community has no option other than to mine messages of all sort for leads to terrorist acts.

In Canada, that we know of, we’ve had the recent examples in Ottawa and near Montreal and almost a decade ago the “Toronto 18” group of Islamic terrorists whose plan to sabotage nearly that same number of buildings in Ontario’s capitol city was discovered and arrests were made that led to convictions.

We’ve not had a 9/11 or a Charlie Hebdo or, as in Spain, the Madrid subway bombing or a London subway bombing, but all of these are examples of what the terrorist mind is capable of…and this mind will likely continue to be part of our reality for time to come.

We can predict, with some confidence, that the west in general including nations like our own will be drawn more and more into conflicts on offensive basis to aid the peoples of the middle east and Africa who choose to resist the aggressive and inhumane tactics of militant Islamist organizations that now include Al-Qaeda, ISIS, and Boka Haram. (And who knows what other anti-social organizations are evolving.)

We can also predict that, defensively, our country and western nations generally will continue to guard against domestic, fifth column tactics that will no doubt continue to be the choice of misguided individuals who, like the two terrorists we saw in action last fall, will drawn their inspiration from the notion of a holy war and from the actions of a militant Islamist organizations increasingly active in the world.