Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 15 December 2019

France must know who its enemy is

Muslims must not be scapegoated in the zeal to eliminate the ISIL terrorists
People place flowers and light candles in tribute for the victims of the Paris attacks. (Etienne Laurent / EPA)
People place flowers and light candles in tribute for the victims of the Paris attacks. (Etienne Laurent / EPA)

As France mourns its dead, treats its wounded and pursues those responsible for the heinous terror attacks in Paris, it faces a challenge that is much greater than one country can handle. Francois Hollande, the French president, has declared that the attacks on the Bataclan Club, Stade de France and several restaurants on Friday night were an “act of war”. If France and its allies in Europe and beyond are on a war footing, then they must consider their next move very carefully, so they don’t repeat the mistakes of the recent past, including targeting the wrong enemy.

While there is an appetite for revenge, the response must be more nuanced than meeting hatred with more hatred. Social media is already awash with commentary blaming all Muslims for the actions of ISIL, which has admitted the attacks. In particular, many are targeting the Syrian refugees who are flowing into Europe – despite the obvious fact that these people are actually fleeing terrorism in their homeland.

This is, in the first instance, a policing operation. There were reports yesterday of arrests of relatives of one of the suicide bombers. They and any others who are arrested are entitled to due process of the law. What must not happen is that Muslims as a whole are scapegoated for this terrible crime.

If some French Muslims are being drawn towards ISIL, then the authorities must find out why. The answer cannot be, as some have claimed, that Islam is a religion of hate, because that is shallow and demonstrably untrue. The vast majority of Muslims live in peace with their neighbours of all faiths – as we in the UAE know well.

We also know that the Paris bombings form part of a campaign that included attacks in Sousse in June, Ankara in October and Beirut on Thursday. ISIL, which seemed to give up territory in Sinjar, Iraq, without much of a fight, may or may not be on the run. It is certainly moving away from its stated goal of creating a “caliphate”, and transitioning into a terrorist group determined to carry out ruthless attacks on soft targets in this region and, now, in Europe. The ISIL recruits who might have gone to fight in Syria have remained in Europe to create havoc.

Mr Hollande’s war cannot be like America’s adventure in Iraq, which created more problems than it solved. France must work together with all its allies, in Europe and in this region, to destroy terrorism, and that includes tackling it at its root cause.

Updated: November 15, 2015 04:00 AM