January 21, 2019

Europe, ISIS and us: Now what?

Simon Wiesenthal Center officials sat across from French President Francois Hollande at the Elysee Palace some 18 months ago, sometime between the Toulouse Day School and the Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Cacher massacres. His words were devastating: “I can confirm that 1,000 French citizens went to Syria and Iraq” to train with ISIS or al-Qaeda, the somber French leader told us, adding…”They have returned to France, melted into the general population–many of them armed–and we do not know where they are.”

Rabbi Marvin Hier asked— “How many imams are there in France, and how many have condemned terrorist attacks”? “Six thousand imams…and about 10 have publicly spoken out…” These days the number has been reduced to one: Imam Chalgoumi of Drancy. The others have been cowered into silence…

So, a year and a half later, here we are, the morning after ISIS plunged the City of Lights into darkness. Now what?

Without question, the terrorist leaders are triumphant:

–Despite France’s heightened alerts, the three cells converged on Paris, apparently undetected. One suicide bomber reached the entrance of France’s largest stadium during a soccer match and almost succeeded in detonating himself in the venue where 80,000 fans—including President Hollande were in attendance. How could that happen? Without a doubt, the latest off-the-shelf encryption apps and other Internet technologies must have been deployed to enable the terrorist networks to communicate and evade surveillance.

–ISIS was able to infiltrate at least one terrorist within the mass migration to Europe. He was processed along with other refugees on the Greek Island of Lesbos before making his way to Europe’s heartland. This fact, puts more pressure on the entire European Union, but especially on Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel to stop her open-door policy to Middle East refugees and migrants.

–ISIS is enjoying a huge propaganda victory. There were reports of more than 50,000 tweets on Twitter in the immediate aftermath of the bloodbath celebrating the mass murders. With a boost from their sophisticated social media marketing strategy, their “triumph” is sure to attract more young recruits and more supporters for the global food-chain of terrorism.

–ISIS sees a world leadership deeply divided in what, if anything, to do next. Statements by the United States' president and Secretary of State that “we will do everything it takes to defeat ISIL” are not taken seriously. The president himself has admitted that we have no strategy.  Despite the aerial assassinations of a few ISIS leaders, the terrorists are convinced that America has no appetite for boots on the ground. The Democratic presidential debate on Nov. 14 yielded a half hour of semantic sparring over the Islamist terrorists, but no specific ideas as to how they would protect the homeland. Beyond declaring that we are at war with radical Islamists, most Republican candidates have yet to articulate how they would take on the evildoers.

— ISIS and its supporters are thrilled by every drop of infidel blood spilled, by every tear shed. Their greatest export is fear, and they take great pride that they brought the greatest carnage to the streets of Paris since World War II.

So what needs to be done to ensure that the Paris attacks will serve as a turning point and not merely another bloody stop on the highway to hell?

First, President Hollande declared war on ISIS. The United States and other NATO allies should join with France, whether Russia agrees or not.

Yes, with all due respect to Hillary Clinton, these terrorists are at war with us. It’s time to articulate an effective strategy. Someone’s boots—perhaps NATO's— will have to get on the ground so that the ISIS snake can be beheaded, not innocent Christians, Muslims, and Yazidis. Large-scale ISIS casualties and destruction of their training bases will destroy their nexus to extremists who have returned to Europe. A NATO force would also help secure an immediate humanitarian goal of establishing a safe-haven/no fly zone for the millions of displaced Syrians that would at least slow the flood of humanity storming the shores of Europe.

Secondly, in 2015, we must reject the mantra that “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” ISIS and all groups associated with Islamic extremism are determined to bring humanity back to the Dark Ages. These groups attacking soccer stadiums, concert halls, and restaurants in Paris, or stabbing women and children in streets of Jerusalem, have one thing in common–they have declared war on the basic tenets of humanity and decency. Leaders, whether stationed in the halls of political power, on university campuses or in the pulpits of houses of worship, must demand that their constituents denounce all acts of terrorism.

Finally, social media giants must join the war against terror. When will Twitter finally wake up? Why do they continue to allow themselves to serve as the key platform for the cheerleaders of depravity? And Silicon Valley leaders may want to take note that the apps they are generating are not only allowing teens to hide their sexual antics from their parents, but enabling mass murderers to threaten us all.

During the Cold War there was a doomsday clock always set a few minutes before a feared midnight of a nuclear war. Humanity was lucky that no lunatic got close to that button. But a new doomsday clock lurks. We need leaders who will forge new alliances to defeat movements who will stop at nothing to destroy our values and our lives.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.