This is the second part of the series looking for a third way to – truly – fight against the Islamic State’s – and other salafi-jihadi’s – terrorist attacks at home, away from polarisation. Unfortunately, in the light of the spat of terrorist attacks in Bangladesh, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, in France again and again, in Germany and on 22 March 2017 in London, especially considering the way these attacks were carried out, this series of two articles becomes even more salient (e.g. “1–2 July 2016 Dhaka attack“, Wikipedia; “Istanbul airport attack: Isis behind deaths of at least 41, PM says“, The Guardian, 29 June 2016; “Nineteen people arrested over Saudi Arabia attacks“, Al Jazeera, 8 July 2016, “Nice attack: At least 84 killed during Bastille Day celebrations“, BBC News, 15 July 2016;  BBC News, London Attacks – Live updates” March 2017).*

Previously, we underlined that a false lull had been taking placing, when the threat and its impacts were still very high. Then, we stressed the main characteristics of the threat and suggested that, should it last and increase, as possible, it could not be properly faced without involving the population of the target societies. Now, considering these specific elements, we shall envision possible options available, not only to defend oneself but also to strike back.

Also a corporate sector responsibility?

As a preamble, and most obviously, we should stress that all places where people gather and move should be properly screened and equipped with adequate security services, in a way that foresees all possible types of attacks, not only the more classical ones.

Unfortunately, if we take the example of the Thalys high-speed cross-European train, only stations in France found useful to proceed with such security measures (e.g. Thalys Press release, 17 Dec 2015; Rory Mulholland, “French plans for anti-terror security gates in train stations ‘won’t stop terrorists’“, The Telegraph, 11 Dec 2015; Carla Bleiker, “Security on Europe’s trains a tricky task in wake of Thalys attack“, Deutsche Welle, 24 August 2015).** Thus, to date, you can still be easily killed by terrorists boarding the train in Holland, Germany or Belgium.

Considering the highly uncertain situation not only in Belgium but also in Germany this seems to be extraordinary (e.g. Alastair Jamieson and Elizabeth Chuck, “Belgium Police Charge 3 Suspected of Planning New Terror Attack“, 19 June 2016; “Details of Düsseldorf terror plot begin to emerge“, Deutsche Welle, 3 June 2016; Lizzie Dearden, “More than 180 terror suspects under investigation in Germany after Isis plot to attack Düsseldorf“, The Independent, 3 June 2016).

A shop in Oxford Street in London during World War II, where a V1 had exploded. Business as usual. From Bo Bengtson m.fl. (ed.): Prins Bertil berättar. Höganäs 1983, Bra Böcker. – Public Domain

Meanwhile, safety measures in shopping malls and department stores appear to be all but perfunctory, most of the time. The logic behind such decisions is most probably related to cost compared with a risk seen as highly improbable. Yet, once is enough to be killed and lose your company. Furthermore, absence of security and hidden fear also impacts business. Furthermore, good actionable foresight – as for example expressed through wild cards scenarios demand that low probability high impact be considered (Steinmüller, Karlheinz “The future as Wild Card. A short introduction to a new concept,” Berlin, 2003; Dewar, James A., “The Importance of “Wild Card” Scenarios,” Discussion Paper, RAND).

Should the retail and transportation sectors, the entertainment and holiday industries take the threat seriously, then smart, safe and “cost-aware” solutions can be designed. Security may even become a marketing argument and bring back patrons, while contributing to lower the overall level of tension.

Facing a permanent omnipresent threat…

If everyone is in danger all the time and everywhere and, as a result, cannot be protected constantly by someone else, citizens may nonetheless be taught to detect threats and trained to face danger.

Children of an eastern suburb of London, who have been made homeless during the Blitz – Sept 1940. New York Times Paris Bureau Collection – U.S. National Archives and Records Administration – Public Domain.

Let us take the example of the 2015 Thalys attack (see detailed description on Wikipedia) and compare it briefly with the Orlando and Paris 13 November attacks (e.g. BBC News, 13 June 2016; “November 2015 Paris attacks“, Wikipedia). In the first case, an armed jihadi was stopped to transform a train in a slaughter-house because courageous civilians and two trained soldiers stood up and neutralised him. By contrast, in Orlando (BBC News, Ibid.), a single armed jihadi could kill 50 people and wound 48, without apparently anyone doing anything, in a club, probably packed on a Saturday evening. In the Bataclan (“November 2015 Paris Attacks”, Ibid.), 3 armed jihadis with explosive belts could kill 90 people, wound many more, meanwhile immobilizing approximately 1500 people. Would the same attacks have been possible had the people dancing in Orlando and those listening to music in the Bataclan in Paris received minimal training in facing terrorist attacks and even, possibly, counter-attacking?

This is not to say that it is easy to face fighters with automatic weapons and explosive belt, but that, should citizens be properly trained to face such situations, casualties would be, most probably, lower. Meanwhile, terrorist might have to think twice before to carry out such attacks.

Furthermore, proper training delivered to citizens would also enhance their capacity to face the whole possible range of terrorist attacks, including attacks closer to the “lone actions” type (see first part).

Should this training be favoured and framed by political authorities, then the latter would also have properly evaluated the threat and carried out their mission to provide security to citizens, which, in turn would start re-building an ailing legitimacy. As a result, the overall level of tension would also be lowered.

… Yet a low intensity threat

Nonetheless, we are also here facing another challenging peculiarity of the Islamic State’s terrorist attacks. The population needs to remain alert all the time when, actually, attacks on a single society are still relatively sparse (Karen Yourish, Derek Watkins, Tom Giratikanon and Jasmine C. Lee, ISIS terror attacks historical database, the New York Times). This specific hurdle will impact security staff and citizens alike, notably should they also come to be involved in their security.

To understand better, let us compare the Islamic State’s terrorist attacks with another war, which was also waged on civilians, the Blitz. The Blitz is the name given to the aerial raids carried out by the German Luftwaffe on Hitler’s order against London and so many other British cities, favouring civilian and industrial targets between August 1940 and May 1941  (for an overview, Amanda Mason, “The Blitz around Britain“, Imperial War Museums). “In these nine months, over 43,500 civilians were killed.” (Ibid.) To give only a few examples, London was subjected to “57 consecutive nights of bombing” after a first daytime raid on 7 September 1940 (Ibid.). The city of Hull “was subject to 86 raids; the first, June 19/20th 1940, and the last March 17th 1945” (Hull History Center). More than 40,000 people in Plymouth, 70,000 in Liverpool or 35,000 (out of 50.000) in Clydebank, Scotland, were made homeless (Mason, Ibid.).

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A panoramic view of bomb damage caused by the Liverpool Blitz. 1942. This is photograph D 5984 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums – Public Domain.

The Blitz took place before the U.S. were forced to enter the war, notably because of Pearl Harbour and while the Soviet Union and Hitler’s Germany were still under the non-aggression Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, broken in June 1941 by Germany (e.g. David Wedgwood Benn, “Russian historians defend the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact“, International Affairs, May 2011, Volume 87, Number 3). Standing alone against the enemy, the fortitude and amazing courage of British people in the face of such attacks is exemplary, including in terms of organisation. 

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Office workers making their way through debris as they go to work after a heavy air raid on London. This is photograph HU 36157 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums. Public Domain

The staggering amount of sufferings and destruction suffered by Britain helps pointing out the low-level intensity of the war currently waged on civilians by the Islamic State, and consequently, the enhanced difficulty to remain alert and committed to defence.

1940. Men of the Auxililary Fire Service (AFS) play their hose on the rubble of a bomb-damaged building in a London street, whilst engineers from the London Electric Supply Corporation work deep amongst the debris to reconnect the electricity supply, following an air raid. This is photograph D 1475 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums – Public Domain.

When one is shelled night after night, it is impossible to believe there is no war going on and to continue living as if nothing happened. On the contrary, when terrorist attacks are carried out haphazardly, and relatively rarely – compared with the Blitz shelling – then it is extremely difficult to remain alert and to pay attention all the time. Unfortunately, this also favours terrorist attacks. True enough the devastation brought by terrorist attacks is – so far – nowhere near what constant air raids inflicted on Britain, but the fear terrorism creates, and the potential destruction the Islamic State’s worldview involves, as far as the darkest scenarios are concerned, also transform the threat in a grimmer reality.

As a result, the lull into which people are held (see first part), by media, politicians, as well as by ideologues promoting a childish “not even afraid” attitude, is not only counter-productive, but also dangerous and playing in the hands of the terrorists. Indeed if people are not alert and refuse to consider the threat, then it is so much easier to carry out terrorist attacks.

Again, a middle ground must be found between panic and denial.

Similarly, trying to solely block all Islamic State’s messages is also counter-productive (e.g. Joseph Menn and Dustin Volz, “Google, Facebook quietly move toward automatic blocking of extremist videos“, Reuters, 25 June 2016; Glenn Greenwald, “What’s Scarier: Terrorism, or Governments Blocking Websites in its Name?“, The Intercept, 17 March 2015). It certainly has virtues, as it may stop the spread of extremist messages. Nonetheless, it would be naive to believe that “radicalised” and “interested” people will not always find a way to get the propaganda, including through going deeper and deeper into “the dark net”, jihadi forum, etc. As a result, the process of radicalization as well as criminalization may be hastened.

Mrs Hasler (aged 42) signs the warden’s log book at the Air Raid Precautions (ARP) Post where she does some part-time work. The full-time warden at the Post, Mrs M G Gibbons (aged 25) can be seen on the left of the photograph. According to the original caption, Mrs Hasler was on duty when the first London siren sounded. 1942 – This is photograph D 9377 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums – Public Domain

Meanwhile, what will also certainly be achieved is to maintain the non-jihadi population in a false belief that everything is well. The population at large will also become unable to understand the threat, all the more so that researchers and analysts will also meet rising difficulties to find out material on the Islamic State, which will reduce their capacity to explain and contextualize propaganda and actions. In turn the severity of the impacts, when attacks are successful will be heightened. The shock will again play in the hands of the jihadis.

A trained, aware and educated population – what a true democracy should want and promote – would, on the contrary, be both able to play a role in its defence and able to live with the dangers of the war (see H. Lavoix, “Democracy: the Key to Avoiding Future Wars? (2)”, RTAS, 16 September 2013).

Moving from the identification of the enemy exclusively to lowering the general tension

Remains now the probably most difficult part of the war to defend oneself from the Islamic State’s terrorist attacks: the lack of objective criteria to identify the enemy (see part 1). The problem is challenging indeed: how do you know what an individual believes and what s/he is ready to do for these beliefs, all the more so if s/he tries to hide it?

The first and direct danger is the shortening of the response time available in terms of prevention: if, to identify likely perpetrators, we do not have criteria others than weapons or explosive belts, as implicitly considered above, then we may only act when the threat is actualising, which heightens its lethality.

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St Clement Danes burning during the Blitz on 10 May 1941. By Denis Richards – Public Domain

Fear, willingness to lower the severity of the threat and need to intervene as early as possible confront us with the implied danger of this impossible objective identification of the enemy. It is this implied danger that obviously terrorizes so many western politicians: the fall into too large an identification, for example targeting all Muslims.

If we do not find smart ways to answer this hurdle, and if other terrorist attacks succeed, then it is highly likely, if not certain, that we shall see happening what is currently feared, with potentially very severe consequences. Indeed, when attacked, because they are under duress, societies do end up taking measures to protect themselves, which are also unfair and unpalatable, especially once danger has passed. For example, during World War II, not only Germans but also Austrians, and later on Italians, even if they were not Nazis, were gathered and held in internment camps in the United Kingdom (BBC, “Civilian Internment 1939 – 1945“, WW2 People’s War: An Archive of World War Two Memories“). In the  U.S., populations of Japanese descent were also held in camps (e.g. Burton, J.; Farrell, M.; Lord, F.; Lord, R., Confinement and Ethnicity: An Overview of World War II Japanese American Relocation Sites,  National Park Service, 2000).

To avoid these most extreme possibilities, what could we do?

First, we should explain clearly the specificities of the Islamic State’s Salafi Islam, and all other types of Islam, including the political Islam promoted by the Muslim Brotherhood (e.g. Article on Muslim Brotherhood Website: Implement Shari’a in Phases, June 11, 2011; MEMRI, July 5, 2011, Special Dispatch No.3969). This would enhance the odds to see confusions avoided. Meanwhile, societies would not trade one threat for another, for example the Islamic State’s threat for the Muslim Brotherhood one, which if it promotes gradual action, nonetheless aims to attain the same goal as the Islamic State, the restoration of the Khilafah and supremacy of Shari’a (Ibid.).

Understanding as well and as clearly as possible the various types of Islam is a necessary condition, but it is most probably insufficient. It is also not very helpful in identifying practically the enemy.

Another way, that some students of genocide will recognise is to imperatively lower the overall level of tension of the societies where the risk of Islamic State’s terrorist attacks exist (e.g. Martin Shaw, War and Genocide, 2003; Helene Lavoix,  ‘Nationalism’ and ‘genocide’, 2005). In this way, we would not have to fear the dangerous consequences of the problem of identification because the low-level of tension diffuses the danger. Furthermore, ideally, because root causes would most probably have been addressed in the meantime, the fundamental danger of radicalization would probably have been lowered.

Reducing an overall level of tension may be particularly difficult to do when a society is under attack. It is nonetheless most probably indispensable.

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Click to watch rare Blitz colour footage: air warden training filmed in 1940 by Filmed by A.E. Reneson Coucher OBE on The Telegraph website (06 Sep 2010) – Original in 5 parts on the St Marylebone Society website

Solutions modelled after the British Air Raid Wardens – and of course adapted to the current reality – or any other civilian mobilisation unit could very practically and immediately contribute to lower tension in a bottom-up fashion (e.g. Tabatha Parker, “The Dual Role of Air Raid Wardens“, West End at War, Amanda Mason, “How Britain Prepared For Air Raids In The Second World War”, Imperial War Museum).

Furthermore, if implemented locally, such trained civilian units could also help directly address some causes of “radicalization”, such as feelings of alienation and meaninglessness (e.g. H Lavoix, “Attracting Foreign Fighters (1)“, 23 March 2015, & “Foreign Fighters’ Complexes (2)“, 30 March 2015, RTAS; Shiraz Maher, “The roots of radicalisation? It’s identity, stupid“, ICSR Insight, 23/06/2015). Meanwhile, such trained people would also know if one individual or another met problems (within a framework strong enough to avoid any trend towards McCarthyism and denunciation).

Tea and buns are supplied by local Air Raid Precautions (ARP) workers to fellow ARP workers and civilians in this basement shelter in South East London. The boy with the tray of mugs wears a steel helmet with the letter ‘SP’ indicating that he is part of a Stretcher Party, whilst others can be identified as wardens by the ‘W’ on their helmet. This photograph was taken in November 1940. This is photograph D 1623 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums – Public Domain.

Thinking in terms of causes of tension might also stop the illusory and totalitarian attempt to try preying in the mind and heart of people, which could lead to 1984-style hyper-securitized prison societies (George Orwell, 1949).

On the longer term, we should thus consider seriously what those who join – or joined – the Islamic State tell us about their needs, wants and dreams, rather than denying them, even if we must listen to unpleasant truths. Within the framework of each society’s historically constructed values, then, root causes could be addressed and some solutions could be found for the entire society, and not only for one specific community, which could only transfer the problem somewhere else.

Meanwhile, the other tensions increasingly appearing in our societies, notably because of rising inequalities and injustice, as well as communitarianism, blooming narcissism and competing lobbying must also most probably be addressed because they too contribute to the overall level of tensions (e.g. OECD, Divided We Stand: Why Inequality Keeps Rising, 2015; Chris Brown, International Relations Theory: New Normative Approaches, 1992; Marianna Fotaki, Narcissistic elites are undermining the institutions created to promote public interest“, LSE Blog, Feb 2016; Justin Thomas, “Have our narcissistic tendencies gone too far?“, The National, March 2016; John Craig and David Madland, “How Campaign Contributions and Lobbying Can Lead to Inefficient Economic Policy“, Center for American Progress, May 2014).

The work in front of us is immense. It is likely that we shall have to go through multiple experiments and more attacks before it starts being tackled in its complexity and entirety.

About the author: Helene Lavoix, PhD Lond (International Relations), is the Director of The Red (Team) Analysis Society. She is specialised in strategic foresight and warning for national and international security issues.

Featured image: Issue of Gas Masks To British Civilians, 1940 – Air Raid Precautions (ARP) wardens fit respirators to women at a sandbagged wardens’ post in Sheffield on 24 July 1940. This is photograph HU 103753 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums. Public Domain.


*Attacks in the Islamic State’s wilayat, however murderous, such as in Baghdad, are not considered here.

**Out of personal experience, in May 2016, the situation had not changed, at least in the Netherlands.



Lavoix, Helene, ‘Nationalism’ and ‘genocide’ : the construction of nation-ness, authority, and opposition – the case of Cambodia (1861-1979) – PhD Thesis – School of Oriental and African Studies (University of London), 2005.

Shaw, Martin, War and Genocide, Cambridge: Polity, 2003.