The outpouring of grief for the victims of last Friday’s terror attack in Paris and the tricolored expressions of solidarity show how close to home the Islamic State killings hit people around the world. For a country rocked in January by the brutal murders at Charlie Hebdo magazine and the Hyper Cacher supermarket, the French need to know that they are in our thoughts and prayers.
Still, as investigations into last week’s terror continue, questions are being raised about what exactly French authorities have been doing since January to protect their citizens from another bloodbath. As it stands now, the Paris attack was a major intelligence failure in which more than 120 people lost their lives.
It’s ironic that the Islamic State has targeted a country that has fought hard to be perceived as the most open and welcoming in Europe. But to the Islamic State the entire West, no matter how inviting, is a target. That’s why French President Francois Hollande is correct in describing the Islamic State, as he did the day after the attacks, as “evil.”
But acknowledging evil and doing something about it are two different things. And while the increased French air strikes against the Islamic State’s declared capital of Raqqa are a step in the right direction, it will not be enough to counteract an evil that has been festering in Europe for years.
France — and the West in general — has an outside problem and an inside problem. The outside problem is the Islamic State in the Middle East, which the United States and its allies have not found a way to disrupt, let alone eliminate. Indeed, in the last month, the Islamic State and groups allied to it have carried out attacks in Beirut and Ankara, and downed a Russian airplane in the Sinai.
The inside problem is the insufficient integration of Muslim immigrants in Europe. Poverty and alienation has often led to radicalization. To defuse the drift toward radicalization, France and Europe need to better demonstrate, encourage and implement the openness and modernity touted by the West in order to give Europe’s Muslims a true home at the heart of society.
The alternative is a growing Muslim radical extremism that will feed on itself, with predictable reactions and results from both sides. Europe is already seeing a growth of the xenophobic right and a retreat into tribalism, where all Muslims are viewed as a threat. To counter extremists (both Muslim and Christian) who are working to bring down a tolerant and multi-cultural Europe, governments in France and elsewhere must be vigorously open and seek to integrate new immigrants more fully. At the same time, they need to improve their intelligence gathering. Without improved policing at home, there is no way France can protect those who hold their liberty and fraternity so dear.