Why we’re not winning against Islamic State

"Let us state a fundamental truth: There is no legitimate reason to attack innocent men, women and children who have no military value."

November 25, 2015 21:39
4 minute read.
Mourners gather at memorial sites outside of the Casa Nostra restaurant and the cafe "Bonne biere" i

Mourners gather at memorial sites outside of the Casa Nostra restaurant and the cafe "Bonne biere" in Paris, on November 15, 2015, following a series of coordinated attacks in and around Paris on November 13. (photo credit: PATRICK KOVARIK / AFP)

“There’s something different about what happened from Charlie Hebdo, and I think everybody would feel that. There was a sort of particularized focus and perhaps even a legitimacy in terms of – not a legitimacy but a rationale that you could attach yourself to and say, ‘Okay. They’re really angry because of this or that.’

This Friday was absolutely indiscriminate. It wasn’t to aggrieve [sic] one particular sense of wrong. It was to terrorize people” – US Secretary of State John Kerry The above statement, part of Secretary Kerry’s remarks at the American Embassy in Paris following the November 13 Islamic State attacks that killed 129 civilians and wounded 350 more, exposes an appalling blindness regarding the challenges posed by IS and radical Islam.

To begin with, there is more than a hint of blaming the victim. After all, if an attack is caused by my actions, then I could have prevented the attack by acting differently. Speaking of “legitimacy” and “rationale” in this context is misguided in the extreme, and offensive to the victims of these wanton acts of violence.

Let us state a fundamental truth: There is no legitimate reason to attack innocent men, women and children who have no military value. That does not mean that there may never be civilian casualties in the course of military operations.

Indeed, “proportionality” in war requires balancing the value of a given military target against the likely number of civilian casualties. Absent a valid military objective, however, civilian deaths are unacceptable.

Even assuming that Kerry is correct in stating that there was a “particularized focus” in last January’s attacks, he misunderstands their purpose. The attack on Charlie Hebdo was not just to punish individuals for the publication of offensive cartoons. More importantly, it was meant to strike fear in the general public, especially among those who might contemplate any future offense to “The Prophet.” It fit the classic definition of terrorism: the threat or use of force against civilians to cause fear in furtherance of political or religious ideology.

Note that Kerry ignored the other murderous event that took place on the same day as the Charlie Hebdo attack – the killing of four customers at the Hyper Cacher supermarket. What possible offense could these victims have committed? Their only “crime” was patronizing a store serving the Jewish community.

Thus, the “rationale” for this attack was not any specific act that could be remedied, but rather the mere fact of Jewishness.

Sadly, Kerry’s failure to recognize the centrality of the victims’ religion in these episodes manifests the administration’s gravely mistaken approach toward the Israeli/Palestinian dispute. He revealed his misguided position recently when he linked the spike in Palestinian terrorism to “a massive increase in settlements.”

Put aside the fact that Kerry’s assertion that there has been such an increase is demonstrably false. His suggestion that settlement construction could be a rationale for stabbing or running down parents, children and old people is inexcusable.

Also, he conveniently forgot Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s failure to reciprocate positively when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu implemented a 10-month moratorium on construction some years ago.

Settlements are a convenient excuse for murderous attacks; they are not the root cause.

This brings us to the critical flaw in Kerry’s statement. He says that the most recent slaughter was “absolutely indiscriminate.”

Far from it. These were well planned and professionally executed attacks on a major Western city that represents modern tolerance. The French values of liberte, egalite and fraternite stand in stark contrast to medieval beliefs espoused by IS. They were the “offenses” that had to be confronted by IS’s adherents. Though larger in scope, this attack was a logical continuation of the “legitimacy” and “rationale” that were the underpinnings of the Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Cacher murders.

Indiscriminate killing is a central tactic of terrorism. This very lack of predictability magnifies its effectiveness beyond the number of casualties in any single attack. (Interestingly, President Barack Obama initially characterized the Hyper Cacher murderers as “vicious zealots who randomly shoot a bunch of folks in a deli.”) Secretary Kerry and President Obama are stunned when groups such as IS perpetrate “indiscriminate” acts of violence because they are unwilling to identify the radical Islamic theology at the core of such groups. This is why Kerry/Obama have utterly failed to formulate a strategy to eradicate these groups. In continuing to look for specific grievances to which the West could respond positively, Kerry/Obama disregard the broader threat to our very way of life. They refuse to admit that the only responses acceptable to IS would be for Jews to cease to exist and for the civilized world to cease to be civilized.

The author is a former US diplomat now living in Israel. He is a Fellow at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism and co-founder of The Zichron Project, an organization dedicated to developing creative means to advance Israel’s public diplomacy.

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