When French President Francois Hollande referred to the terrorist attacks in Paris as an “act of war,” while at the same time stating that his country’s response would be merciless, it felt like war was officially declared last Friday. This is a war featuring strong elements of a conflict of cultures, which to a very large extent were developed by two different religions, Christianity on the one hand, and Islam on the other. Seen through that prism, this is a religious war, one which involves Europe, but also the entire Western world, which better include Russia in its ranks as well.
This point of view is not far from reality, although such an admission by the West’s leadership would be particularly dangerous as it would “unleash” its own extremist powers. It’s clearly obvious, however, that ISIS is trying to drag Western democracies into a religious kind of warfare, given that its very existence is based on religion in the first place. Even the choice of the actual day on which the multiple attacks were carried out in the French capital – Friday is a day of prayer, dedicated to God for Muslims, but a day for relaxing and having some fun at the end of the working week for Europeans – point to the jihadis’ desire to give the conflict a cultural and religious dimension.
The extremist fanaticism of ISIS goes hand in hand with the logic of terror, massive loss of life, chaos and disaster which defines its way of life. Last Friday’s attacks were not the first with many victims among unsuspecting, innocent people. The same happened in the attacks that took place in New York, Boston, Bombay, London, Madrid, Ankara, Moscow, on the Russian airplane and Beirut. Nevertheless France, and especially Paris, seemed to be, and still is, a target of immediate priority.
Millions of Muslims of Arab descent live in France and particularly in Paris. ISIS considers them its potential fifth column and has already managed to enlist a number of them. These people know the country and the language, they are capable of moving around and they feel the hatred. When it comes to France, therefore, they are punishing, in a most sensational and provocative way, the Western way of life, while on the other hand mobilizing extremist European powers – far-rightists and religious nationalists – who are willing to enter a totalitarian religious conflict which will, in turn, rally Sunni Muslims around ISIS.
This constitutes a major threat and a trap for the whole of Europe. While on the one hand ISIS must be dealt with effectively, and no Western country should abstain from this, on the other hand individual freedoms must be maintained, while it has to be made clear that not all Muslims are the enemy.