Al Qaeda sit back and gloat 
Now that a little time has passed on which to reflect on the Paris attacks, it seems clear to me that AQ have achieved, at minimal cost to themselves, one of their worst successes in a decade; indeed they achieved far more than they probably hoped for, confirmed by the massed rallies in Paris. This is not the message you would believe if you follow the reaction in the media, no matter how sombre its tone, as they do AQ’s bidding and flood the media with reproductions of cheap jibe cartoons that only hurt ordinary, peace-hungry, western Muslims, cartoons that in other circumstances would justify criminal incitement charges.

Firstly the cartoons. AQ and its cronies have not the slightest concern about the ethics of westerners ridiculing the Messenger of Allah (S). Cynicism alone is their currency. They have always known that the response of western media to even to the threat of vengeance would be defiantly to publish more. On this occasion, the response has been overwhelming, with even the BBC throwing aside its own editorial guidelines and the Guardian its inclusive principles in the race to show how they would not be cowed. So what does this matter if AQ has no concern? AQ and ISIS, in slightly different ways, are playing the long game. They want power, not over the west, in which they have no interest, but over Muslims, all Muslims. Their aim is to construct the hitherto theoretical notion of Dar-ul Harb and its corollary, Dar-ul-Islam: a binary world view, the havens of "War" and "Peace" respectively. But there is no way such a thing can come about when patently ordinary Muslims in the west have no inclination at all to jump to the edicts of their self-proclaimed khalifas. Nor is it going to happen when many, many other Muslims would very much like to live by western values. to western standards of living, preferably also in western countries. Why should cartoons matter? In their own way, they matter just as much as the slaughter at the twin towers. Everything, big or small, that AQ can achieve that makes ordinary life for ordinary Muslims more unpleasant, and their aspirations for life in the west more unobtainable, brings AQ (or ISIS, or any other pretenders to the khilafa), significant steps closer to their goal. It is not simply a rhetorical point that places ISIS on the extreme edge of the political spectrum shared by neo-fascists - they want the west de-populated of Muslims just as much as does the BNP, EDL, Pegida and the Front National.

The people most affected will be those with the most to lose, the intellectuals, professionals, engineers and scientists, whose careers are blighted by association with a religion as violent and irrational as AQ can force it to appear to be. The more conscientious and sincere the Muslim, the more undermined he is by AQ. The more susceptible he is to explanations of his frustrations that can demonstrate western behaviour that is hostile to his creed, the more the balance shifts in AQ's favour. It only takes a tiny trickle of frustrated zealots to set the chain reaction in motion - a few dozen to Bosnia, a few scores to Afghanistan, a few hundreds to Syria ... All AQ has to do is to engineer western behaviour into hostility to ordinary Muslims, and the cycle begins. 9/11 was a starting pistol in a way that the Kenyan embassy bombings never could be. Cartoons supposedly depicting the Messenger of Allah, whether in a scurrilous context or not, don't offend AQ for a moment, it is what they want. When those cartoons appear at the margins, in semi-underground satires like Charlie Hebdo or overtly racist productions like Jyllands-Posten, they are merely true to type. When the mainstream media defend the liberal western value of freedom of speech and plaster the offending pictures all over their pages, no matter under what twisted justification of bad taste, AQ are dancing in the streets! The only ones whose sensibilities are offended are the ordinary Muslims living peacefully in the west, who now have demonstrable evidence that their feelings are valued at nothing by media and politicians. This is not an argument for appeasement of ordinary Muslims sensibilities, it is merely to point out that supposed defiance of AQ by the press is achieved by dumping the western value of tolerance and mutual respect. Would it be appropriate to counter the challenge of a latter-day Black Panther movement by re-instating "Little Black Sambo" to the place where I first remember it, as a standard primary school reading book?

AQ also play to the mob in the Muslim heartlands. Their Rambo-style murderous "revenge" on Charlie H delights the masses in Pakistan who nurture a self-righteous indignation over the antics of a far-away super-power. Among them will be many who see AQ as the renewed champion of their grievances and some who will be jump at the chance to join the cause, and a body blow to the reasonable people who call for patience and tolerance. That super-power's antics in their own lands only redoubles their enthusiasm to score against it. Among those, no doubt there will be a few who have already swapped their green passports for red or blue ones, and the cycle can turn around again.

Having watched AQ rub its hands with glee at the "punishment" of Charlie Hebdo, they will be over the moon with the execution of a Muslim police officer. There are few things that can undermine the cycle of violence and oppression, the standard model for assymetric warfare that we understand as terrorism. One of those few things is for the people under subjection, to take it on themselves to oppose the terrorists directly, not by co-option, not by tokenism, but by individual choice. They are the very symbols of the possibility of normality of Muslim life in the west, and AQ cannot permit that symbolism to endure. So while decent people praise the heroism of Ahmed Merabet, sacrificed doing nothing more or less than what his profession required, AQ will crow with delight at the bonus achievement of one of its recently avowed aims, the assassination of those Muslims who uphold law and public safety. In rhetoric they can and do denounce such people as murtads, heretics, but that is an empty rhetoric that speaks only to their converts. To actually achieve the execution of one such, and by evil chance circumstance, was something they could hardly have hoped for. So celebrate Ahmed Merabet's life and mourn his death, and remember that there are others who willingly take his place, for the sake of their religion and for the sake of your society and the place of Muslims within it, and be mindful that AQ, ISIS and the like, have a desperate need to single them out as targets. As long as such people continue to adhere to the principles of their religion, and are not driven to hide it, the rhetoric from AQ's sea-lawyers will sound hollow.

Now to the murders of Jews. Amedy Coulibaly clearly hadn't planned his murder of a traffic policewoman, it was probably a cold-blooded expedient to allow him to continue his mission. His apparent statement to a bystander that "we don't kill civilians" is however revealing, not simply on account of the officer's death, but for what followed. It was probably intended as a rehearsed ironic phrase, with propaganda value to offset against the technological slaughter of innocents by western military tools. It is also a standard trope of militant anti-Israeli extremists that men, women and children are all "military" targets because of the militarisation of Israeli society, regardless of even the most primitive of human decency to spare those who are not at war with you. Coulibaly demonstrated this in his execution of his Jewish hostages. In doing so, AQ/ISIS achieved the most public and cold-blooded execution of Jews since their campaign began. They have prised the lid off the powder keg of anti-semitism and the fear of it and its backlash, and tipped the full barrel on the floor, scattering the explosive across Europe.

Coulibaly was a convert. Not only that, he was from Senegalese parents. His culture and background gave him nothing at all of the gratuitous anti-semitism that pervades much of the Muslim community. It was something he learned as part of a discourse through his introduction to Islam, which appears to have been in the course of a prison sentence. This website has a theme that runs through all its counter-extremism narrative, which is the special place that converts have taken up in the ranks of Muslim-perpetrated political violence. The conventional view is that they (we, because I am also a Muslim convert) are easily led into extremism through their naivety and suggestibility, driven by their zeal. My argument is very much the opposite, that they are the drivers, catalysts or leaders of extremist actions, whose presence in a group of potential militants motivates the remainder to show their own commitment to a warped cause; catalysts because the group tries to show the convert, who has many options to pick, that they are the most committed and therefore most sincere and true to the faith, simply by willingness to sacrifice the most. The Paris attacks demonstrated rivalry between an ISIS affiliate and some AQ affiliates, and, for the sake of the mutually desired carnage, willingness nevertheless to co-operate. This shows the convert as instigator, who twisted the cartoon grievance premise into something with very wide, painful resonance, the murder of Jews for being Jewish.

It is difficult for many people among those outside of Islam who have regular relations with Muslims, to understand just how pervasive anti-semitism is among Muslims. Tacit assumption of shared liberal values blocks off the opportunity to recognise it. But as a long-time anti-racist, anti-fascist campaigner, I am astonished, myself, at the things I hear among Muslims who believe they are free to speak openly, internally among themselves. The problem is so ingrained that it is not sufficient simply to brand anti-semite Muslims as extremist: they include large numbers of people who are otherwise considered to be worthy members of the UK's Muslim establishment. Over the last decade I have made several attempts to push this problem into the open. Because of its pervasiveness I do not believe it is capable of being addressed through the usual ultra-tolerant, mutually supportive but essentially tame forums such as Inter-Faith. It needs the willingness for holders of strong-minded views from either side, Muslims and Jews, to force themselves and their counterparts to talk frankly through the tough subjects that divide them, deeply enough to be able to recognise each others' issues and digest them, in public. This is an absolutely vital task, yet whenever I have tried to raise even the suggestion (most recently in public in a Guardian-hosted event between Jonathan Freedland and Mehdi Hasan, when I was immediately sidelined), there has been a uniform blanking from either side. Until the anti-semitic currency among Muslims has been grossly debunked, it will remain as potent a narrative for extremists, especially for converts, as it has been for particular generations in modern European history.

Coulibaly carried out his callous executions of Jews, and in doing so put into perspective the only moment of grace this whole episode achieved. The French Malian Muslim Lassana Bathily did what any decent human being would do, and saved the lives of a number of the presumably Jewish customers from the predations of Coulibaly, probably not because he was a Muslim, or because they were Jewish, but because he was a decent human being. Therein lies the point however - most Muslims are decent human beings. His simple act of humanity undermined the AQ or ISIS strategy. Celebrate his brave and selfless act loudly, and celebrate his Muslim-ness publicly, because his was the one and only element of the whole scheme that thwarted AQ/ISIS and his Muslim-ness is what will stick hard in AQ/ISIS's craw. Look after him well, because they will resent what ordinary Muslims can achieve against them, when circumstances allow it to be made so.

Finally, Coulibaly and the Kouachi brothers achieved their anticipated denouments in showers of bullets, just as they hoped, exiting like the Sun Dance Kid, swift and dramatic. That allowed them to remain transfixed in their zealotrous determination to fulfil their mission, with no remaining lifetime to fill them with thoughts of the possibility of being mistaken, regretful or simply hounded into enduring misery, unlike Adebolajo and Adebowale in the killing of Lee Rigby, who undoubtedly also believed that they could be mown down Hollywood-style in a stream of police bullets. It is again exactly what AQ and ISIS wanted, an assurance for other recruits to their nihilistic cause, that they too could avoid facing up to the consequences of their actions. I guess they probably did believe they would be shaheed in a noble cause and not pawns in a sordid one. Their selfishness will merely haunt their families dreadfully for the rest of their surviving lives.


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