There is general agreement that last month’s attacks in Paris were a turning point toward a revised understanding of terrorism – an understanding that is not very promising for the foreseeable future.
With the string of lone wolf attacks recently, you might think they were just being committed by a few deranged, attention-seeking people who would do anything to satisfy their ideology or justify their cause. And with a lone wolf attack, you are easily lulled into thinking that, because it lacks organization, it also lacks the sting of being something to fear endemically.
I originally wrote my previous column (January 26) before the Paris attacks and began by saying the extent of anti-Semitism in Great Britain shocked me because it surprised me. However, after the Paris attacks, I changed the first paragraph to state the exact opposite. Growing evidence indicated how terrorist attacks, random attacks and targeted attacks on Jews in Europe were on the rise. Paris brought it all home.
Paris changed everything, as did recent arrests of suspected terrorists in Belgium. We now know what authorities have probably known for years and what many of us may have surmised as well but tried so hard to minimize. Denial is a safe haven from fear.
We now know there are active, well-trained, well-armed jihadi terrorist cells operating in Europe, likely in several countries. The cache of machine guns and ammunition found in France was staggering. The backgrounds of the terrorists and their travels through the home base of terrorist thinking and training in the Middle East was the clincher.
Men and women with European passports come and go, fermenting their terror, then bringing it home with them. And make no mistake about it. Whether it is France, Britain, Germany or Belgium, it is home for these people. It is where most of them were born and raised.
It is sometimes where they are imprisoned for planning terrorist acts and it is in prison where these European nationals often become even more radicalized.
As recent news coverage reminded us, 10 per cent of France’s population is Muslim. By any demographic measure, that is a lot of people, and it raises a question I have had since cafés and buses were regularly blown up in Israel in the 1990s. What percentage of the Muslim population is actually willing to martyr themselves for their cause? Those numbers are not often, if ever, put forward.
Here is one possible way to try to understand the numbers. There are an estimated 1.5 billion Muslims in the world. If one per cent is radicalized, that represents 15 million people. If it is only one-half of one per cent, it is seven million. If a measly 10th of one per cent is radicalized, it is still 1.5 million people ready and willing to do jihad. There could be more than we ever imagined.
After the attacks in Paris, many Muslims expressed their sympathy as they marched in solidarity with millions of other French citizens. On that special Sunday in Paris, those Muslims were not silent, and it was good to know they were there. But how often do Muslims not speak out against acts of terror?
I recently read a commentary published in 2007 on the Israeli Arutz Sheva site that was written by Paul E. Marek, a Canadian whose grandparents fled pre-war Czechoslovakia. His take is the number of peace-loving Muslims is irrelevant because, in his view, the fanatics rule Islam at this moment in history.
He says at first the Nazis were a minority but that the silent majority of essentially similar peaceful loving people enjoyed the return of German pride and silently sat back and watched until it was too late.
He says the same happened when the Communists took over in Russia and China and tens of millions of Russian and Chinese civilians were killed in waves of terror. He asserts that, in both cases, the peaceful majority became irrelevant because they allowed themselves to be overtaken by atrocity in the name of ideology.
So, while it is hard to get a fix on what is involved to overcome the recent waves of terrorism, if Marek is right, we should be far more concerned with the near deafening silence.