In the News: Fighting Terrorism at its Roots

April 4, 2014

Three AK-47s left by jihad terrorists in Israel.

What’s the most effective way to combat terrorism? As pockets of radicalism and extremism continue to fester throughout the globe, governments everywhere are asking themselves this very question. While many countries rely on a reactive approach—finding, capturing, and prosecuting known or suspected terrorists—the government of France has recently decided to take a step in a different direction: fight terrorism not where it ends, but where it begins.

As reported in the Washington Post, France’s new anti-terrorism plan arose in response to fears that young radical Muslims who travel to Syria may return to France as jihadists, with the skills and motivation to carry out an attack. Fears of such terrorism were rekindled last week when police found pop cans filled with nails, bolts, and explosives while bomb-making instructions were found in the apartment of a young man who had recently returned from Syria. According to authorities, Syria has become a popular destination for vulnerable Muslim youth, with hundreds traveling to the country each month.

Though France’s plan has yet to be officially released, sources say it will adopt a localized, preventative approach involving schools, parents, and religious leaders, as well as the French Council for the Muslim Faith. Local prevention centres will be put in place, with the goal of identifying and counselling vulnerable Muslim youth.

The plan, however, is not without challenges or criticism. For one, France has been accused in the past of having a discriminatory stance towards Muslims, such as when it banned the wearing of burqas in 2010; as such, the proposed anti-terrorism plan may be interpreted as yet another affront against this population. Others, reflecting on similar programs that have been used in Britain, feel that it puts schools and teachers “in difficult positions, expecting them to rat on students.”

But Louis Caprioli, a former French counterterrorism official makes an even more pertinent observation: that we are now living in an age in which radicalization no longer happens within the community—which we can control—but online, via social networks, which he points out is “a dimension that no one masters anymore.”

The relationship between Islam and terrorism is complex, being deeply steeped in history and politics. If you want to explore the topic a little further, take a look at “Seeking the Roots of Terrorism: An Islamic Traditional Perspective,” from Journal of Religion and Popular Culture 10.1. In it, author Mbaye Yo presents a fascinating analysis of the associational relationship between Islam and terrorism. Be sure to also check out

“Suicide Bombing: The Cultural Foundations of Morocco’s New Version of Martyrdom” (Journal of Religion and Popular Culture 25.1)

“Choices and Approaches: Anti-Terrorism Law and Civil Society in the United States and the United Kingdom After September 11” (University of Toronto Law Journal 61.1)

“The 9/11 Effect: Comparative Counter-Terrorism” (University of Toronto Law Journal 63.4)

“Reframing Islam in Television: Alexander Kluge’s Interviews on Islam and Terrorism since 9/1 1” (Seminar: A Journal of Germanic Studies 41.3)

“Fatal (In)Tolerance? The Portrayal of Radical Islamists in Recent German Literature and Film” (Seminar: A Journal of Germanic Studies 47.5)

What do you think is the most effective way to combat terrorism? What do you think of France’s plan? Tweet us your thoughts @utpjournals.

Source: All quotations in this piece were taken from “France in new tack to fight roots of terrorism” (The Washington Post, Mar. 31, 2014).

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