Terror in Europe

From Raqqa To Paris: The Chilling Mutation Of ISIS’ Strategy

Once focused solely on gaining Middle East territory for its caliphate, the terror group is now targeting "crusader nations," those fighting it in Syria and Iraq.

ISIS has brought its war to the streets of Paris
ISIS has brought its war to the streets of Paris
Luis Lema


GENEVA â€" Friday's terror attacks in Paris seem to confirm a turning point in the ISIS strategy. Until recently, the jihadist group was almost exclusively focused on reinforcing and expanding the borders of its self-proclaimed caliphate. But now its radical ideologues are targeting "crusader nations," those participating in airstrikes against ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

In that respect, the statement the group released after the attacks shared the same hateful rhetoric against France and Germany, whose soccer teams were playing Friday evening in the Stade de France, one of the sites that was attacked.

Is this shift the result of its weakness on the battleground in Syria and Iraq? Though the Russian airstrikes haven't led to the indisputable successes claimed by its military, they have put major new pressure on the jihadist organization.

Similarly, the U.S. has reinforced its presence on the ground by creating a new militia, the Syrian Democratic Forces, which in fact relies almost exclusively on Kurdish fighters. On Friday, this organization recaptured Sinjar, a Iraqi town on the Syrian border, opening up the possibility of a future offensive against Raqqa, the Syrian "capital" of ISIS.

It's in this context that the Sinai ISIS offshoot claimed responsibility for the attack against the Russian airplane two weeks ago that killed all 224 passengers on board. The aircraft's black boxes haven't revealed all of their secrets yet. But if the terrorist lead should be confirmed, the act would in many ways represent a first for ISIS, not only in targeting the Egypt's tourism industry, but by attacking the "faraway enemy" â€" in this case, Russia.

Al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden was obsessed with this "faraway enemy," first and foremost the United States, whereas the ISIS ideologues have instead been focused on establishing their caliphate. That represents one of the main differences between the two organizations. In the millenarian ISIS vision, it's inside the caliphate borders where the final battle against non-believers must take place.

The only "infringement" until now to this ideological arsenal came when, reinforcing its might in Libya, ISIS said this other extension to its caliphate was a means of attacking "Rome," on the other side of the Mediterranean. Experts say the threat was more a reference to a millenarian perspective than to the actual Italian capital.

Today, ISIS justifies its actions as retaliation for French involvement in the international coalition bombing its positions in Syria, and for France "bragging of fighting against Islam" (potentially an allusion to anti-burqa laws), or for insulting the Prophet (Charlie Hebdo).

The tragic events in France also coincide with the recent multinational Vienna summit on Syria. The question of whether Syrian President Bashar al-Assad should be allowed to stay in power was set aside as much as possible. But the powers that gathered for the occasion â€" including the U.S., Russia, the European Union and some Arab countries and Iran â€" accepted a roadmap that seeks to organize a political transition and elections in 18 months.

The Vienna meeting is now entirely overshadowed by the attacks, German Foreign Minister Franz-Walter Steinmeier said. He added that the Paris massacres had "heightened the determination" to move forward. "The killings in Syria must end," he said. Because the war that's been raging for more than four years in Syria concerns all of us, not just the Syrians.

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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