ROME – Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi warned Thursday that bombing the Islamic State group in Syria would not, on its own, eliminate a terror threat with its roots in Europe’s own backyard.
Opening a three-day conference on security in the Mediterranean region, Renzi expanded on Italy’s decision to stay out of the intensified air strikes on IS targets and instead emphasised the role of culture and education in addressing jihadist radicalisation, particularly amongst Muslim youth in Europe.
“So soon after the shocking attacks on Paris, it is not easy to find the right way to respond,” Renzi said, stressing that Rome is fully behind efforts to destroy IS and other radical groups.
“But we can’t have gut, instinctive or kneejerk reactions,” he said. “It is easy to be ironic and say ‘we are facing kamikaze bombers and you say it is a cultural challenge’ — but I say that it is.
“To think we can beat our enemy by striking against it far from our homes, is to mask the reality.”
Renzi added: “First and foremost, radicalisation is a pathological expression of an identity crisis suffered in European countries.”
Renzi said the radical Islamists now threatening European cities were “nearly all raised in our suburbs, educated in our schools. They played football with our kids and walked the same sidewalks on which they carried out these acts of barbarism.”
“If young people on our peripheries lose a sense of belonging, we are no longer faced with an urban problem but with a political problem.”
Renzi’s comments may raise eyebrows in France, where President Francois Hollande’s government has responded to last month’s Paris attacks by calling on allies to back intensified bombing, an appeal which Britain has heeded by joining the air strikes.
Hollande and his ministers have largely avoided articulating a link between the atrocity and the marginalisation of some of France’s third and fourth generation of North African immigrants.
This has been in sharp contrast to the aftermath of January’s jihadist attack on the Charlie Hebdo satirical newspaper, during which Prime Minister Manuel Valls said France had to address systemic discrimination against its Muslim community.
The broad sweep of Renzi’s comments was endorsed by Gilles Kepel, one of France’s leading experts on Islam and the Islamic world, who questioned Hollande’s emphasis on the country now being “at war”.
“Why continue bombing when that does not serve much purpose?” the academic commented. “It is not by saying ‘war, war’ that you will solve anything.”
France’s stance was defended by Elisabeth Guigou, the chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the country’s National Assembly.
“There has to be military action,” she said. “If we had not intervened militarily in Mali we would today have a terrorist state in Africa.
“And don’t come and tell me that an international coalition cannot beat Daesh with its 30,000-40,000 fighters,” she said, using an alternative name for IS.
Guigou said military action was not a panacea and accepted radicalisation had to be combatted in Europe.
“But there is a limited amount governments can do. It is up to civil society, including the Muslim community itself, to construct an alternative discourse.”