Condemnations of political Islam following the decapitation of teacher Samuel Paty on October 16 have led to
furious demonstrations in parts of the Islamic world. A number of violent incidents of Islamist terrorism have followed, including the murder of three people in a church in Nice, by a recent Tunisian immigrant to France. It seems likely, though it cannot yet
be confirmed, that the terrorist attack in Vienna on November 2, in which four people died, was also related to the mood of fury among sections of European and global Islamic opinion related to the depiction of images of Muhammad, the prophet of Islam.
Outbursts of murderous fury of this kind, often not directed or organized by Islamist terrorist networks, form a tragic by-product of the arrival in recent years to the European heartland of significant
numbers of people with Islamist sympathies. This outlook brings with it a desire to ensure – by whatever means deemed necessary – an elevated level of respect for Muslim religious sensitivities, over and above those of any other religion or creed.
This latter situation is a state of affairs that exists in most Islamic countries. Some European commentators have concluded that such acts are intended to bring about the enforcement of Islamic blasphemy laws in non-Islamic countries.
So far, so familiar. But the current moment differs from previous episodes of Islamist political violence in Western countries in two significant ways.
First, these latest attacks come at a time when the actual organized networks of Salafi jihadi terrorists are weaker than at any time over the last two decades. The al-Qaeda network is aging, and closely observed by Western security services. The Islamic State, meanwhile, has yet to recover from the loss of its last territorial holdings in Iraq and Syria in March 2019, and the killing of its leader,
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, by the US in October 2019.
The murders of Paty and the three other French citizens in Nice were not, it appears, the result of a direct decision by an Islamist
terrorist network. It is too soon to draw any conclusions on this subject regarding the Vienna attack. ISIS has now claimed responsibility for this. But it is possible that ISIS sympathizers chose to act with no specific order from a chain of command.
Second, and most significantly, the atmosphere of fury and desire for retribution are no longer being stirred up only by Islamist preachers and jihadi organizations. Rather, the incitement, the
steady drum beat of accusations and threats are coming now from the leaders and official mouthpieces of a number of Muslim states. This is a new situation. It is one of profound importance. The states in question are, most importantly, Turkey, and also Pakistan.
The Turkish and Pakistani efforts in this regard appear designed to generate among Muslim populations in Western countries a sort of “soft power” for the governments of Recep Tayyip
Erdogan and Imran Khan. They thus include within them a dismissal of the notion of legitimate sovereignty, according to which the internal affairs of other states are those states’ business alone.