French youth in a united France can stop ISIS
By Irene Fowler LL.B B.L LL.M (Harvard)
11 May 2016 - There must be a new, innovative and effective way of dealing with home grown terrorism in France, which relies on an available pool of recruits. The truth is that the French government needs to win the war for the minds and hearts of those susceptible to the spiritually and morally bankrupt, hate filled vitriol of the terrorists. Their leaders are adept at exploiting the misguided and vulnerable, ultimately stripping them of any vestiges of humanity and transforming them into mindless zombies.
It is unequivocal that international terrorists can scarcely act alone on French soil. In order to be successful, they need the full complicity and co operation of locals. Unless the French government is prepared to think and act outside the box to shut down the revolving door of recruits, the recently declared war on ISIS will result in carnage, mayhem and devastation on French soil. The French government, private sector and indeed all French civil society will have to make a concerted, united push to reverse the gains made by ISIS for the hearts and minds of disaffected and malleable youths. Strategies to combat ISIS cannot stop at forceful, decisive military action and aggressive policing. This will only cause ISIS to up the ante in their level of audacity and brutality, culminating in atrocious and appalling scenarios. It is now time to admit that the aforementioned isolated strategies are not working. Albert Einstein defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” This is not the time to allow arrogance, petty self ambition, political brinksmanship, party politics or sheer obstinacy to prevent new, sensible solutions from being explored, which may improve the present dire situation.
Wars are generally waged, fought and won or lost on several fronts. The war on terror will not be an exception! A key front which may determine the outcome of this war is the ability to neutralise and dismantle enemy propaganda. Terror groups use young people to effectively recruit other young people to grow their evil enterprises exponentially. This tactic could be considered to be a faultless marketing model, were it not so inherently evil in its intent and purpose. Not only is it free, it is immensely effective as young people are always on line and are easily influenced by their peers. However, this tool can also be used for good, as when young people are “won over” by forces of unity, peace and progress, they can spread this positive messaging convincingly to their peers by the same means and with similar frequency.
No war can be won without properly utilising and prioritising all available resources. As a matter of fact, new resources may have to be tapped to intensify proceedings. This will require the active and effective collaboration of all sectors of French national life including local, regional and national governmental agencies, major corporations, industries, retail conglomerates, sports organisations, religious authorities and the like. These entities should design and implement targeted, appropriate community based youth programmes, which are enriching and empowering. These initiatives will signify a new beginning of inclusiveness, care and concern, which will not go unnoticed by the beneficiaries and their respective communities and will be building blocks in bridging divides. This will indeed give new meaning to the French motto – “Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.”
Another key factor in warfare is intelligence gathering and utilisation. The United Kingdom recently announced that they have increased the number of spies on their payroll to over 1000 in their fight against terrorism. Efforts and energy must be deployed in winning the hearts, minds and imaginations of youths who are targeted by terror groups. These youths can then willingly and without subterfuge or duplicity be ears and eyes on the ground. Wars are generally fought on battle grounds, especially after there has been a public declaration of war on both sides. The battle ground in this war is the mind and heart of a specific segment of the youthful French population. In this connection, the primary and secondary school curricula should be amended to include a body of information and learning which could be called, “One France.” The subject would draw on age appropriate material and would have as its central themes dignity of human life, individual and collective responsibility, conflict resolution, universal human values and coping skills. This interactive subject could draw on disciplines such as drama, art, dance, debate and writing. Another effective school programme would be to create an elected student position of “Peace Ambassador” in every class. This position would be symbolic; however, school authorities could build interesting activities around the post, which would serve to reinforce core values of peace, non-violence and unity throughout the school. Members of the local community and local government leaders would be invited to take part in some “Peace Ambassador” activities. Community centres and local and regional governments could organise multi-disciplinary competitions, with ethnically diverse opposing teams. These initiatives would be given appropriate media coverage as “a picture paints a thousand words.” This tide of events will help in the fight against radicalisation as participants will carry this message to their peers through social media and community interaction.
Finally, in fighting a war, defectors are considered to be invaluable tools and resources. There have been several terror camp defectors, who have been recently profiled on CNN. These individuals should be given high visibility in schools and community centres, where they can engage with young people and explain why they should avoid terrorism.
Nathalie Goulet, a French senator, said in recent CNN interviews, “We did not do enough after the Charlie Hebdo attacks” and “France is angry and sad.” These emotions are shared by all decent and peace loving people all over the world, including myself. However, these emotions can and should be channelled positively into creating and forging greater cohesion within French society, and that is why there must be timely and effective outreach programmes. The French establishment must now take ownership of the underlying problems and challenges in France, which made these horrendous attacks possible. Now is not the time for denial or oversimplification of facts. Now is the time for mending very deep divides. There will be no quick fix, magic bullet or overnight pill to remedy the situation, which if left unaddressed and allowed to fester will no doubt cause more innocent blood to be shed on the streets of France. A factor which may make an otherwise daunting task easier is that it is universally acknowledged that survival is the strongest human instinct.