Religious terrorism aims to divide and recruit

Terrorism aims to divide. Religious based terrorism aims to divide religions, to divide people with different religious beliefs.

They aim to disrupt societies.

By alienating one group from another, by provoking animosity and fear of each other, they think they will bolster their aim of being a superior religion.

And they aim to appeal to the disaffected of their religion, those who bear the brunt of division and animosity, because that is where they get new recruits.

Al Jazeera: Don’t let ISIL divide us

We are not united in our misery – alas, it is dividing us, for that is terror’s aim.

These terrible, daily realities are bad enough – but what makes it so much worse is the division and polarisation that such acts of terror have created. Pointless, destructive debates over the “right to offend” rage across Europe’s media landscape. So, too, do attempts to downplay or ignore the realities of either Islamophobia or anti-Semitism, as though the existence of both at the same time cannot be comprehended.

ISIL’s horrendous killing spree in Libya has prompted renewed calls for military intervention – stepping up existing bombing campaigns in Iraq and Syria, putting boots (though it is not clear whose boots) on the ground.

It is as though the endless war on terror and the horrors it unleashed – ISIL being one of them – have taught us nothing, have not instilled even the basic realisation that ideologies cannot be bombed away; that air strikes are no substitute for political so

Guardian: I was held hostage by Isis. They fear our unity more than our airstrikes

As a proud Frenchman I am as distressed as anyone about the events in Paris. But I am not shocked or incredulous. I know Islamic State. I spent 10 months as an Isis hostage, and I know for sure that our pain, our grief, our hopes, our lives do not touch them. Theirs is a world apart.

Central to their world view is the belief that communities cannot live together with Muslims, and every day their antennae will be tuned towards finding supporting evidence. The pictures from Germany of people welcoming migrants will have been particularly troubling to them. Cohesion, tolerance – it is not what they want to see.

At the moment there is no political road map and no plan to engage the Arab Sunni community. Isis will collapse, but politics will make that happen. In the meantime there is much we can achieve in the aftermath of this atrocity, and the key is strong hearts and resilience, for that is what they fear. I know them: bombing they expect. What they fear is unity.

ABC News: Paris attacks: What Islamic State is trying to achieve

If Islamist extremists can strike at will at the heart of Paris then, it seems, none of us are safe. And, of course, we all sympathise deeply with the victims of the attacks.

But while we and our allies work ourselves into another moral outrage, tighten already restrictive security provisions, and drop yet more bombs on distant targets, we seem to be missing the point.

And that point is that terrorism is, and always has been, designed to provoke exactly such a backlash. We and our allies are singing from the terrorist’s song-book.

The first aim of terrorism – and often warfare – is simple enough. It is to strike at one’s enemies, real or perceived, to punish them for their crimes. We and our allies hurt people – sometimes innocent people – where they live. IS in turn appears to have decided to hurt ‘us’ back where we live.

The second aim of terrorism is to attack specific targets, often individuals, who are seen as representing or being a leader of an enemy.

The third aim of terrorism, which is the most important, is to engender a backlash in order to bring to one’s side those who are not yet committed to the cause. The US-led invasion of Iraq created an extremist Islamist response where one had previously not existed.

This attack is intended to produce a similar backlash, to turn non-Muslim Europeans against Muslims both in Europe and elsewhere, legitimising the claim that there is war between the West and Islam. Europe’s xenophobic right-wing will be strengthened in the process, and the greatest long-term victims will be those people who have been fleeing just such terror in the Middle East.

A further aim of such terrorism is to prove that the terrorists are a force to be reckoned with and that, as such, the West will turn on itself and ultimately divide and weaken itself over its confused responses.

There are no simple answers to terrorism, and in particular this type of Islamist ideology. It is a struggle which, very likely, will be with us for decades.

However, buying into a pre-arranged narrative and responding exactly as intended is perhaps the first thing we, as a collective of nations, should not do.

If we fight amongst each other, if we fight over what sort of response is needed, if we divide along religious lines and fight, the religious terrorists are achieving their aims.