Things Not To Do After the Paris Attacks

symbol of Paris attacks

‘ISIS has declared war on Europe!’, ‘If this is not war, what is it then?’, etc. Yes, my friends, ISIS has declared war on Europe; however, it did not happen yesterday, but over a year ago. Europe simply did not want to believe it. Now it is starting to. Whereas I myself, while serious about making such a statement at the time, am rather doubtful now. This is not a war – not in terms of the number of victims nor the scale of military operations. It was just what it was: a coordinated terrorist attack. And it needs to be fought against not by military means, but by intensifying the anti-terrorism fight.

There are two things not to be done now.

Firstly, panicking. The actions in response must be balanced, thought through, fast, and merciless. I would refer to how George W. Bush acted when terrorists destroyed the twin towers. While liberals suddenly forgot all their liberal ideas and required bloody revenge on Muslims or who really knows on whom (Al Gore, who lost the presidential elections by a thin margin, called for using nuclear weapons when it wasn’t even known who should be the target yet), Bush rushed to meet local Muslims to calm them down and did not hurry the response actions until the circumstances became more or less exactly known.

Secondly, we should not rake over the coals, such as: ‘It’s our (e.g. or their own) fault’, ‘We interfered with their business (e.g. kicked the hornet’s nest)’. While this is simply not true, such an attitude is very harmful psychologically: we are not guilty of these events in any way, just as the attendees of the concert or the football match in Paris weren’t.

If we delve into the depths of history, then the key issue that radical Islam cannot forgive isn’t interference in Syria or Iraq, but the crusades (should Estonians organise ‘justified terror attacks’ on Germany based on this logic?). Islamists demand their lands back, and these do not only include Israel, but also a large part of the Balkans and Al-Andalus (understood not just as Andalusia, but the whole Iberian peninsula). The discussion of historic bills in the context of Paris terror acts would be totally inappropriate.

A few more things should be warned against. Firstly, Islamophobia. Muslims are among the victims of this terror act. The absolute majority of Muslims are, in fact, peace-loving and dignified people. They must not be insulted or excluded. A marginalised Muslim community is a potential nursery for radicals.

Really, I would like to bring it to attention that a larger part of the Islamists’ victims are Muslims themselves, and that in the European Union, which is a secular structure, representatives of all religions and ethnic groups must feel equally safe. Currently, it is the Muslim people who are the most vulnerable.

There are over a billion Muslims living in the world, and only the tiniest few of them are radicals and terrorists. However, there is a serious problem with Islam and terrorism. Namely, Islam is a total religion (NB: not totalitarian! What I mean is that Islam is not just a faith, but also a legal, social, dietary, etc. system that regulates everything from what is appropriate to wear to, for example, the rules for composing music and writing poetry), but it does not have a centre (This holds particularly true for the Sunnis who form the absolute majority of Muslims).

One or another Islamic religious leader may condemn terrorism, but they always find a spiritual leader among some sheikh, imam, or mullah – when one side claims that Islam is peace-loving, the other side responds that it is exactly to securing the peace that non-believers have to be eliminated.

There is one thing that the global Muslim community (umma) has not done in connection to terrorism – the announcement of an authoritative fatwa. Well, the Muslim leaders of India declared a fatwa against ISIS, but for the terrorists rooted in Iraq, Syria, and Europe its authority is close to zero. It is noteworthy that the two most authoritative spiritual centres for the Sunni Muslims – Al-Azhar University in Cairo (known as the Muslim fraternity’s alma mater) and Islamic University in Medinah – are remaining silent. Both have issued rather vague messages that can be interpreted as being in favour of terrorism. I think that declaring the authoritative opinion of these spiritual centres would benefit the global Muslim community.

Update: The most important thing has slipped my mind, so to say. Terrorism aims to spread fear. However, there is no single reason for us to follow terrorists and become really afraid of them. Let them be afraid!

Mihhail Lotman is a member of the Semiotics Research Group at the University of Tartu and Professor of Semiotics and Literary Theory at Tallinn University. In Tartu, Lotman also teaches in the international master’s programme in semiotics.

The Estonian version of this post originally appeared on Mihhail Lotman’s blog.

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One Response to Things Not To Do After the Paris Attacks

  1. Sajid Hussain Azad says:

    Being a Muslim, I appreciate your analysis based on research about Islamic teachings and facts and figures. Of course, today Muslims around the world are the victims of War on Terror.
    I have seen hundreds of such suicide attacks in Pakistan (97% Muslim population) in the past 10 years, killing thousands of innocent people. An example is the attack on Army Public School Peshawar on 16 December 2014, where terrorists killed 141 including 132 school children inside their classrooms ( But we faced with tolerance and unity. We did multi-tiered military operations in our own country against the enemies of humanity, and finally, we succeeded. At international level Pakistan’s pro-active counter terrorism strategies have been praised. US National Security Adviser Susan Rice appreciated Pakistan Army’s role in war on terror. We haven’t blamed any other religion for all that. We have treated them as terrorists and nothing else.
    I would like to add here that the Mufti Azam (the Grand Mufti) Abdul-Aziz ibn Abdullah Al ash-Sheikh of Saudi Arabia issued a fatwa on September 12, 2013 that suicide bombers are criminal who rush themselves to hell by their actions ( Being issued by the Grand Mufti, this fatwa is acceptable for all the Muslim Ummah around the world. I will also disagree with the world “radical Islam”.
    After the Paris attack, I usually observe the comments of European people about Islam on social media. For me and all the peace loving Muslim Ummah, it’s really very disappointing. It is mainly because of their lake of knowledge about Islamic teachings.
    Islam is a religion of peace and it has nothing to do with terrorism. According to the Holy Quran “Killing an innocent person is like killing the humanity”. As Muslims, it is our belief that God will forgive every sin that we commit but not killing a human being as it is a great crime that cannot be forgiven.
    Based on my knowledge about Quranic teachings I can say that;
    A true Muslim cannot be a terrorist and if he/she is a terrorist, he/she is not a Muslim at all. Terrorism has no religion. If a terrorist call himself a Muslim or using the Holy Quran for killing innocent people, it doesn’t mean he is actually a Muslim. He is a criminal and he must be treated like that.

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