My Word: Figuring out Paris and terrorism

Despite an early love of France, where I spent many happy summer holidays as a child, I was not among those who obscured their Facebook profile pictures in shades of blue, white and red this week.

Police stand guard in Place de la Republique following the series of deadly attacks in Paris, November 15, 2015. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Police stand guard in Place de la Republique following the series of deadly attacks in Paris, November 15, 2015.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
I owe a writer an apology. Reviewing Isobel Coleman’s Paradise Beneath Her Feet: How Women Are Transforming the Middle East, I wrote in July 2010 that “the lively reports about life in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Indonesia and Malaysia make an important contribution to our understanding of the issues,” but including them in a book about “the Middle East is pushing the geographic boundaries of the region to the outer limits.”
I take it back. I don’t think the Middle East has limits anymore. As jihadi terrorism goes truly global the whole world is the playground for its depravity.
Despite an early love of France, where I spent many happy summer holidays as a child, I was not among those who obscured their Facebook profile pictures in shades of blue, white and red this week.
I followed the news of the November 13 attacks with pain rather than shock. Welcome to the new Middle East.
Terrorism just put Paris on its revised map.
Like all Israelis, I can sympathize with the victims of Islamist terrorism. It gives me no joy to be able to identify with them.
As I watched the reports from France on television on Saturday night, after Shabbat, I also learned of a local tragedy: Rabbi Ya’akov Litman, 40, and his son Netanel, 18, were gunned down in a roadside ambush as the family traveled to a Sabbath that should have marked the start of the wedding celebrations for their daughter/sister, Sarah-Tehiya. The Litmans were murdered by Palestinian terrorists for being Jewish.
When four Jews were killed at a kosher supermarket in January, a few days after the Charlie Hebdo massacre, US President Barack Obama dismissively referred to the perpetrators as “a bunch of violent, vicious zealots who behead people or randomly shoot a bunch of folks in a deli in Paris.”
Even now he can’t bring himself to name the terrorists as Islamist. Nor can he see that attacks on Jews and Israelis should serve as a red light. It often starts with the Jews but rarely ends with them.
The more than 130 victims in Paris on November 13 weren’t a “random bunch of folk” at a restaurant, concert hall or football stadium either. They were in a neighborhood frequented by what the French call “Bobos” – bourgeois bohèmes: The specific people were not chosen for death, but the targets were carefully selected to include all that the young, carefree, French way of life represents.
I heard witnesses say that the incident brought out the best in people, with strangers sharing cabs and opening their homes to those escaping the nightmare. Israelis can relate to that, too. Terrorism and wars bring us together all too frequently.
I’m sure there were many individual heroes. I’d like to parochially single out members of the American Eagles of Death Metal band. They defied boycott calls to perform in Israel last summer and, despite their own tragedy – their marketing manager was one of those killed as the band played at the Bataclan theater – they later reportedly said they’ll be performing in Israel again next summer.
Life goes on although – as Islamic State demonstrated with attacks in Beirut, Sinai and Paris within a week – no place is guaranteed to be safe.
Expressions of sympathy for France sounded around the world. Not all were noble. In a now well-known (and unfortunately not unique) television interview, Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström seemed to link the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the Paris attacks, saying: “Obviously, we have reason to be worried, not just in Sweden but across the world, because there are so many that are being radicalized. Here, once again, we are brought back to situations like the one in the Middle East, where not least, the Palestinians see that there isn’t a future. We must either accept a desperate situation or resort to violence.”
The BDS South Africa group denounced the terror attacks in Paris and Beirut in a press release that read: “We condemn extremism and barbarity, be it the extremism and barbarity of Netanyahu and Israel or that of ISIS and Boko Haram.”
Perhaps this is progress: Israel is no longer Nazi, it’s Islamic State.
As for reports that due to a new Spanish court order Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and several other top Israeli officials could face arrest for their role in the Mavi Marmara flotilla affair if they set foot in Spain, well, suffice to say I think it would make more sense to pursue terrorists than to persecute those who fight them.
Incidentally, a year ago this week Israel witnessed a particularly shocking act of terrorism when two Palestinians wielding axes, butchers’ knives and a gun slaughtered Jewish men wrapped in prayer shawls and phylacteries deeply immersed in morning prayers at a synagogue in Jerusalem’s Har Nof neighborhood. Four worshipers and a Druse policeman who rushed to their aid were killed in the incident. A fifth victim succumbed to his wounds last month, as the country was being rocked by another wave of Palestinian stabbings and car-rammings. Just yesterday five people were killed in two terrorist attacks in Tel Aviv and Gush Etzion.
THOSE PEOPLE who complain that there are far more overlooked victims of terrorism than the slightly more than 130 who died in Paris are correct. The Institute for Economics and Peace this week published its annual Global Terrorism Index for 2014: More than 32,500 people were killed in attacks around the world. According to the report, deaths in terrorist incidents have increased nine-fold since 2000. The dry statistics give a general picture: Who can do justice to all the tragedy, suffering and tears behind such figures? The 32,685 victims of terrorism last year comprised an 80 percent increase on 2013, when 18,111 people were killed by terrorists. Similar to the previous year, the vast majority of terrorist attacks were carried out in just five countries: Iraq, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria.
And although there were more terrorist attacks in Iraq, there were more deaths in Nigeria, where Boko Haram operates. A branch of Islamic State since March this year, in 2014 Boko Haram overtook its IS mentor to become the world’s deadliest terrorist group, according to the report.
The terrorism fatality rate in Nigeria rose by over 300% to 7,512 fatalities in 2014, but Nigeria’s white-and-green flag did not grace Facebook profiles or major public buildings around the world.
An ABC news story, by the way, pointed out that “the number of people dying due to terrorism has increased dramatically in the past 15 years. But it’s still significantly below the global homicide rate; 13 times more people die from homicide than from terrorism.”
Israelis are still at greater risk from road accidents than terrorism.
Not surprisingly, the index showed that in the countries where deaths as a result of terrorism are increasing, there’s a corresponding rise in people seeking asylum, although the issue wasn’t on the European radar until the refugees started reaching its shores in massive numbers. Often overlooked is the scale of the flow in the other direction: The report says that in 2014 there were some 25,000 to 30,000 foreign fighters, from roughly 100 countries, in Iraq and Syria.
The report claims that Islamic fundamentalism is not the main driver of terrorism in Western countries, where most incidents are so-called lone wolf attacks, and 80% of these fatalities are “by political extremists, nationalists, racial and religious supremacists.”
It’s possible the figures for 2015 will be different. My gut feeling, based on the Israeli experience, is that the report isn’t taking into account the role of incitement or the despicable inspiration impressionable youths find in social media videos by terrorist organizations. I don’t know how the researchers defined the different categories.
This week Israel outlawed the northern branch of the Islamic Movement, led by Sheikh Raed Salah, which fosters terrorist attacks in the name of jihad. An Israel Radio report said that it had obtained documents showing that the Islamic Movement had received millions of dollars in recent years from Turkey, Kuwait and other countries.
The question isn’t only where it’s receiving its funding but what it’s spending the money on: apparently incitement and terrorism.
Predictably, after the black Friday in Paris, the Allied forces increased air attacks on Islamic State-held areas. I’m among those perplexed that there is enough intelligence (in both senses of the word) for a drone to reportedly rid the world of “Jihadi John” and yet not enough to pinpoint and wipe out the IS headquarters in Raqqa.
Similarly, I wonder whether enough is being done to follow the money trail. It has become accepted wisdom that Islamic State is being strengthened by its hold on lucrative captured oil wells. If no one was buying the oil from the terrorist organization, it wouldn’t be lucrative any more.
Paris has been another wake-up call in a long series in which the West has repeatedly preferred to hit the snooze button. But Europe and the rest of the so-called enlightened world does not stand a chance of beating global jihad until it can recognize its existence.
As Israel’s former ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor put it in an Israel Radio interview this week, instead of labeling Israeli products from over the Green Line, Europe needs to start labeling the terrorists.
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