The first instinct of the chickenhawk is to proclaim the existence of a state of war where none actually exists. By "chickenhawk" I mean Canada's very own prime ministerial closet croucher, Stephen Harper, who exploited the Paris massacre as proof that radical Muslims are waging war against Canada.
A Canadian who knows a few things about war, Gwynne Dyer, says the Charlie Hebdo attacks were tragic, to be sure, but war? Not hardly.
This is not a “war of civilizations”. Seventeen innocent people killed in Paris is not the equivalent of the Crusades. For that matter, neither was 9/11. These are wicked and tragic events, but they are not a war.
There is a war going on, but it is a civil war within the “House of Islam” that occasionally spills over into non-Muslim countries. As foot-soldiers in that war, the three killers in Paris probably did not fully understand the role they were playing, but they were serving a quite sophisticated strategy.
Two of these Muslim civil wars, in Afghanistan and Iraq, were ignited by U.S.-led invasions in 2001 and 2003. Four others, in Syria, Libya, Yemen, and the northern, mostly Muslim half of Nigeria, have begun since 2011. Others go back even further, like the war in Somalia, or have flared up and then become dormant again, like Mali and Algeria.
In every one of these wars the victims are overwhelmingly Muslims killed by other Muslims. From time to time non-Muslims in other countries are killed too, as in New York in 2001, in London in 2007, in Bombay in 2008 and last week in Paris, and these killings do have a strategic purpose, but it’s not to “terrify non-Muslims into submission.” Quite the contrary.
Some aspects of modernization are very attractive to many Muslims, so stopping the changes would require a lot of violence, including the overthrow of most existing governments in Muslim countries. But that is the task that the Islamists in general, and the jihadi activists in particular, have undertaken.
As they are minorities even in their own countries, the Islamists’ hardest job is to mobilize popular support for their struggle. The best way to do this is to convince Muslims that modernization—democracy, equality, the whole cultural package—is part of a Western plot to undermine Islam.
This will be a more credible claim if Western countries are actually attacking Muslim countries, so one of the main jihadi strategies is to carry out terrorist atrocities that will trigger Western military attacks on Muslim countries. That was the real goal of 9/11, and it was spectacularly successful: it tricked the United States into invading not one but two Muslim countries.
There will be more attacks like the ones in Paris, because lost young men seeking a cause abound in every community, including the Muslim communities of the West. We can't arrest them all, so we will go on having to live with a certain amount of terrorism from both Muslim and non-Muslim extremist groups and trying not to over-react—just as we have been doing for many decades already.