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December 7, 2015

In the face of hideous terrorist attacks on Paris, Beirut, Mali, a Russian airliner and other innocents, the Western world must respond, not with blind retribution, but by dealing with the root causes of violence. Too often in the past, the desire of Western nations to "do something" in response to violent attacks, while appeasing outrage at home, has inflamed the very problems such action was intended to undermine.

Terrorism does not emerge full-blown from the agitation of crazed leaders. Negative social conditions have typically provided fertile ground for demagogues to recruit the disenchanted. In some of the terrorist attacks listed above, it appears the perpetrators were mainly resident Europeans.

However, treating the root causes of terrorism is no easy matter. The French, who invited Algerian workers in the 1960s to help overcome a labour shortage, did make serious but unsuccessful efforts to integrate them and their families.

On one hand, the French policy of complete separation of religion and state is irreconcilable with the belief of many Muslims that faith and governance must be totally integrated. On the other hand, the labour shortage is long gone and the children of those first workers are segregated economically and socially from mainstream society which in turn has grown increasingly suspicious of Muslims.

It is also no accident that recruitment by the Islamic State (IS) has been successful in Belgium, a country which itself lacks internal unity and is thus hamstrung in both integrating Muslims into society and combatting the prejudice which deepens marginalization.

The urging of Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois of Paris to his flock to be "messengers of hope in the heart of human suffering" ought to be taken seriously by Christians worldwide. This "hope" is not an empty word; it begs for action.

In Canada, the effort of churches and community groups to sponsor refugees is an act of hope. Grassroots refugee sponsorship reduces the fear of the newcomer among long-time Canadians; it also helps integrate newcomers into Canadian society. Bonds of friendship, secure employment and quality education have positive long-term effects.

IS has repeatedly said its recruitment efforts in Western nations are aided when Muslims here are persecuted. Its control over those living in the territories it controls in Syria and Iraq is also enhanced when those people believe Westerners hate Muslims.

To be sure, efforts to integrate Muslims and end prejudice against them in the West must be supplemented by effective intelligence activities and possibly by military action in Syria and Iraq. Any military action, however, must be morally justified. It must be an option of last resort, be proportionate to the harm done and be effective.

Previous military strikes against Iraq and Syria have been none of those things. The West has a lot of bad history in the Middle East to live down. Now, it needs to take strong, intelligent action against terrorists while recognizing that military strikes provide at best only temporary relief; it also needs to strike deeply at the societal roots which give birth to such terrorism.