Islamic State aims to spark all-out war

Liberté, égalité, fraternité: A young woman shows her support for France and for peace © PA

The terrorist attacks that flared across Paris on Friday night were the first major, complex strike by Islamic State inside the EU. What do they want? And how should we respond?

After a night of terror for the people of France, President Francois Hollande stood before his people in the Élysée Palace. What happened on Friday, he said, was ‘an act of war that was waged by a terrorist army, a jihadist army, by Daesh, against France.’

Islamic State, as Daesh prefer to be known, would agree. It listed France as a ‘top target’. This, its statement said, was the ‘start of a storm’.

What does Islamic State want? The organisation goes to great lengths to articulate its philosophy: recruiters spread its message on social media, and publish a monthly English-language magazine to voice their propaganda more clearly.

At its heart is an unwavering commitment to prophecies and teachings of early Islamic law, and the first of these involves the establishment of a caliphate: an Islamic government reaching beyond borders and politics, ruled by a single religious leader known as a caliph. This has been ‘declared’ in territories in Syria and Iraq held by Islamic State, and the act ‘awakened’ old Sharia: including the need for all Muslims to join the caliphate.

Islamic State has vowed to eradicate what it calls the ‘grayzone’ — the vast Muslim majority which does not support its actions. Just like the flag waved by its supporters, the world therefore becomes divided into black and white.

Ultimately, Islamic State believes that its story will end with the apocalypse itself. It will come with a fight against non-believers, when Jesus will return and lead believers to victory. It does not fear retaliation from the West, it longs for it — and attacks such as those in Paris are partly a way of ensuring it arrives.

But why France in particular? The country is part of the coalition against Islamic State, but it is more than that: it is the home of laïcité, an absolute absence of religion in public life. Paris is the city of light — the centre of intellectual reason established during the enlightenment. And it is a city of food, romance, and pleasure: it delights in the love and decadence that Islamic State wishes to suppress.

Moving forward

Barack Obama has sworn to ‘redouble’ the US’s response, and many argue that the world must unite its potent military forces to put a stop to Islamic State once and for all. With its leaders gone and the ‘caliphate’ in pieces, its message will fall apart — and so will its power.

But drawing the world into war is exactly what Islamic State wants, some say. The world must do the opposite, and refuse to let these brutal acts force us towards hate. The way to honour Paris is to commit to its spirit of freedom, equality and fraternity for all. Let’s fight with roses rather than guns; with love rather than fear.

You Decide

  1. What is the best way for your school to show its support for victims in Paris?
  2. Have the events in Paris changed your mind about the appropriate response?


  1. Imagine you could ask one question to a member of Islamic State — without the fear of violence. What would you ask? Share your idea with the rest of the class.
  2. Read the link from Informed Comment under Become An Expert and summarise three ways that Islam forbids terrorism.

Some People Say...

“The opposite of love is fear, not hate”

Iris Murdoch

What do you think?

Q & A

I feel very scared.
It’s a scary situation, and it’s okay to feel afraid. But try not to let that fear change your behaviour. After all, there’s not much you can do to fight Islamic State yourself, but you can control how you react. The most important thing to remember is that the world is not black and white — and we must try to have compassion for everyone, to keep it that way.
Why should we care what Islamic State wants?
It can seem baffling, even wrong, at such a time, to give consideration to the ideology of such a violent, terrifying organisation . Of course we should condemn anyone committed to suppressing basic human rights with such brutal methods. But understanding the logic of enemies is the first step towards dealing with them, and the only way you can articulate a response.

Word Watch

Élysée Palace
The official residence of the president of France.
This is the disrespectful Arabic acronym, ‘Al Dawla al-Islamyia fil Iraq wa’al Sham’. Islamic State is also known as Isis, Isil and IS.
The idea of a united Muslim community is a powerful motivator within Islam, and as old as the religion itself — although most would disagree with the brutal methods Islamic State uses. The last accepted caliphate was the Ottoman Empire which ruled from 1301 until it was abolished by Turkey in 1922.
Meaning ‘the clear, well-trodden path to water’, this is the strict Islamic law established in its central texts, well-known for its often violent punishments.
Although Jesus forms the centrepiece of Christian theology, he is acknowledged in Islam as the second most important prophet, after Muhammad.
The age of enlightenment, roughly stretching across the 18th century, was born in France and has influenced much of western thought. It challenged traditional authority, including religious doctrine, and focused instead on reason and individual freedom.

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