I wish to join all the compassionate men and women of this world in sending my most prayerful condolence to the government and people of France following the night of terror in Paris that left a trail of death and injury. My thoughts and prayers are with the families, friends and relations of the victims of this senseless campaign of violence.
Following the latest Paris attacks, the civilised world is, once again, asking itself the hard questions — how could people in their right senses do such things? What can cause people to be so hateful? These are the same questions that we Kenyans asked ourselves following the Westgate Mall and Garissa University College attacks. Unfortunately, once the victims of such attacks are buried and the wounds of the survivors have healed, our collective conscience goes back to ‘business as usual.’
The militant Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has claimed responsibility for the Paris attacks, and this comes slightly over two weeks after the Egyptian wing of the same group claimed responsibility for the downing of the passenger aircraft operated by Russian Metrojet Airlines that crashed in the Sinai Peninsula on 31 October, killing all 224 on board shortly after leaving the resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh. The sad, and most disturbing, thing about all these acts of terrorism is that they are carried out in the name of Islam — consequently bringing all Muslims and the entire religion under the spotlight.
But it is important to point out that an honest study of the Quran shows that the current terror organizations going by Islamic names are in complete defiance of the injunctions of Islam. The Quran, for instance, equates one murder to the elimination of the whole human race (5:32), and considers persecution and disorder on earth as an even worse offense (2:217). It lays emphasis on peace, justice and human rights. It champions freedom of conscience.
A study of the traditions of the holy Prophet Muhammad also demonstrates that he warned us of the rise of religious extremism in this age in astonishing detail. 1,400 years ago, he prophesied that a time would come when nothing would remain of Islam but its name, nothing of the Quran but its word, and that many "mosques would be splendidly furnished but destitute of guidance" (Mishkatul Masabih).
In these latter days, the true spiritual essence of Islam would be lost, and religion, for the most part, would be reduced to a ritualistic compulsion. He foretold that the clergy would be corrupt and be a source of strife during these times. How true this is of the extremist clerics in parts of the Muslim world that abuse the pulpit to preach division and hate.
The holy Prophet went on to describe terrorist groups that would try to hijack the Islamic faith. At this time of dissension, he said there would appear "a group of young people who would be immature in thought and foolish. They would speak beautiful words but commit the most heinous of deeds. They would engage in so much prayer and fasting that the worship of the Muslims would appear insignificant in comparison. They would call people to the Quran but would have nothing to do with it in reality. The Quran would not go beyond their throats, meaning they wouldn't understand its essence at all, merely regurgitating it selectively.” The Prophet then went on to describe these people as "the worst of the creation."
As someone who has dedicated my time and energy towards unraveling and addressing issues that drive young people into violent extremism, I can say that I have some understanding of what may have driven the Paris attackers to go on the suicide mission that the attack was. Being the country with the largest Muslim population in Europe, France is faced with the daunting task of ensuring that a minority, but very angry segment, of its population is integrated and does not feel isolated to the extent of readily availing itself for use by extremist elements.
Although ISIL is based in the Middle East, their capability to coordinate and execute attacks in Paris means that they have home-grown networks that can be activated and deployed to carry out attacks across Europe without having to move attackers across well-policed borders. This became evident after security briefs pointed out that the coordinated Paris attacks were carried out by, at least, a dozen gunmen, some strapped with explosive belts.
Besides, for a country that has very few firearms in the hands of civilians, it must have taken the support of local networks to smuggle into France the AK-47s and explosive devices used in the Paris carnage. The presence of local support networks that can be used by militants groups operating from abroad is, therefore, the one thing that Kenya shares with France as the two countries confront the threat of violent extremism and terrorism. As we speak today, the trial of about five suspects charged with providing logistic support to the gunmen who attacked Garissa University College is already underway in a Kenyan court.
Be that as it may, the question remains—what is it that causes so much hatred in some people that they are willing to go to such extremes? My answer to this question, as always, lies in the very technical definition of the term ‘terrorism.’ It is important to point out that terrorism is a combination of two factors, namely— ideological motivation and operational capabilities. Hence, ideological motivation + operational capability = terrorism. What happened Friday night in Paris was ideological motivation meeting operational capability to strike at targets at their most vulnerable.
It is in this direction that my efforts towards countering violence extremism are focused. Indeed, I am one of those who believe that the war on terrorism cannot be won through military means alone. I, therefore, stand by the position that, if the ideological motivation that leads young people, especially Muslim youth, into violent extremism is addressed effectively, then the operational capability that makes terrorism a reality will be weakened and diminished significantly.
In this regard, as French President Francois Hollande vows to deploy the military to attack the Islamic State group without mercy in retaliation for the Paris attacks, my advice is that France should also consider the non-military means of fighting terrorism by embarking on a long-term and all-inclusive counter violent extremism campaign targeting its disgruntled Muslim population.
A soft-power counter violent extremism campaign is something that the French society should now think seriously about given that President Hollande himself acknowledged that local networks facilitated the Paris attacks — he described the carnage as "an act of war that was prepared, organized, planned from abroad with internal help."
Hence, since it is clear to the international community that there are people out there who have a thirst for innocent blood in an attempt to spread and impose their ideology across the globe, those of us who are compassionate and value the dividends of liberty must redouble our efforts and our resolve to resist them — not only to contain them, but to eliminate the kind of hatred that comes with the spread of violent extremist narrative.
The writer is the deputy secretary general of the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims.