After the killing of Samuel Paty, a high school teacher in Paris, by a jihadi teenager, the French government has not only launched a crackdown on radical Islamic outfits but also opened a rhetorical offensive led by President Emmanuel Macron against the violent ideology that motivates Muslims to kill kafirs with impunity without any fear of consequences.
What the French government is doing is something that the liberal West has shied away from for far too long — naming and shaming Islamism as well as delivering a disproportionate response.
In the last few years, the Western world has witnessed a shift in the form of terrorism threat it faces — from large militant organisations to lone wolf jihadis. This has meant that an individual radicalised terrorist can launch a shooting or knife or a truck attack on the streets, and kill scores of people and is usually killed by the police on the spot or is taken into custody and charged with violent crime.
But in this evolved scenario, Islamist attackers enjoy great asymmetry akin to those of the suicide bombers, who blow themselves up for the sake of their religion thereby killing many innocent people while suffering minimum in the process (in fact, they die as martyrs with cheques going to their families and with the hope of getting 72 virgins in the afterlife). There is no downside, but only upside, in this equation.
The lone wolf attackers, who also kill in the name of Islam — or like the Paris teenager — to silence those who act in contravention of Islamic mores, also enjoy the same asymmetry.
They know their acts have only upside and no downside since the Western states (thanks to their modern criminal laws) will only punish them individually. And since they care more about their religion, less about themselves, their religion only stands to benefit by their violent acts (replacing modern society’s rules with a Muslim veto).
Unless the retribution of the state for such individuals is disproportionate and, more importantly, goes beyond punishing the individuals to harming the persons or institutions they value more than themselves, deterrence can’t be achieved.
And the actions of President Emanuel Macron point towards this possible change in attitude that may go viral in Europe in particular and the Western world in general. France has not only stopped at encountering the terrorist teen but also after other actors who played a role in radicalising him (or others like him) or giving him any kind of help.
France has shut down a mosque in Pantin which had disseminated a video of Paty, days before his murder. The father of a student in the school, where Paty taught, has also been arrested because he ran an online campaign against him.
An Islamic preacher who did the same has also been booked. One Islamic organisation Collective Against Islamophobia in France (CCIF) has been labelled an “enemy of the state”.
Such seemingly moderate institutions play a key role in preventing people from commenting against Islamic radicalism in the event of terrorist attacks by making bogus allegations of ‘Islamophobia’.
Additionally, France has announced that it was monitoring 51 French Muslim associations and if found to be indulging in spreading hate, they would be shut down too.
By these actions, France is trying to create a deterrent by conveying to radicals that the state’s response won’t end at their death and they better know it.
As philosopher and author Nassim Nicholas Taleb says in context of suicide bombers, “The only way we have left to control suicide-terrorists would be precisely to convince them that blowing themselves up is not the worst-case scenario for them, nor the end scenario at all. Making their families and loved ones bear a financial burden — just as Germans still pay for war crimes — would immediately add consequences to their actions.”
In case of terrorists, Taleb recommends a way to put their skin in the game.
“The rule should be: You kill my family with supposed impunity; I will make yours pay some indirect price for it. Indirect responsibility isn’t part of the standard crime-and-punishment methodology of a civilized society, but confronting terrorists (who threaten innocents) isn’t standard either. For we have rarely in history faced a situation in which the perpetrator of a crime has a completely asymmetric payoff and upside from death itself. Hammurabi’s code actually makes such a provision,” he writes in his book The Skin In The Game.
Hammurabi was a Babylonian ruler in the seventeenth century BC and his code, inscribed on basalt stele, is a set of 282 laws which may not be the oldest but has survived as one of the most influential ancient codes. Taleb is a fan of Hammurabi code as it is highly intolerant of asymmetries in transactions between entities.
For instance, it prescribes that “if a builder builds a house and the house collapses and causes the death of the owner of the house — the builder shall be put to death” and other such injunctions. This classic “eye for an eye” approach (which also comes from this code) is about putting the skin of others in your game.
Interestingly, the Hammurabi Code inscription is currently in the Louvre Museum in Paris. So, Macron and France may like to read it as they reformulate their strategy in dealing with asymmetric assaults on their republic by Islamic terrorists.
Yogi Adityanath, the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, also understands the virtue of disproportionate response and has also employed unconventional methods while dealing with criminals and Islamic extremists.
Whether it is demolishing houses and properties of gangsters like Vikas Dubey, Atiq Ahmed, Mukhtar Ansari and others or deciding to recover losses to state assets in rioting my Muslim mobs by taking over their private property, Adityanath has taken many steps to achieve deterrence by such actions.
Many may feel queasy about this emerging trend of resorting to not so modern ways of dealing with extremists in a civilised society but the state cannot afford to be tolerant of the intolerant lest the tolerance itself is destroyed. From Macron to Adityanath, world leaders have understood the need to adapt to changing times.