Paris terrorism: now what?

The biggest news item of the week was undoubtedly the Paris terrorism, and we need a clear strategy to deal with this sort of activity. The first step in forming a strategy is to clearly define where you are. We all know that ISIS developed as a consequence of inept US management of Iraq, following the Bush led invasion, but thinking about that is irrelevant. We are here, and we cannot alter the past. “Here” involves a large number of religious fanatics following some extreme form of Wahhabi doctrine and who have occupied significant territory in Iraq and Syria; some people, mainly Kurds and Shias, who are fighting back; a huge number of displaced persons fleeing from ISIS; some nations of the West who want to get rid of ISIS, and are prepared to bomb ISIS but will not commit ground troops; Assad, who has promoted a secular government in order to protect his Alawite (Shia) minority, and who sees his control of his country diminishing daily as a consequence of the Arab spring revolutions that were encouraged by the West; Saudi Arabia, which is funding so-called “moderate” opposition to Assad, but is to all intents and purposes funding Sunni extremists who wish to “put the Shias in their place”; Iran and Hezbollah, who will defend the Shias; some nations of the West that want to get rid of Assad and are funding and arming the “moderate opposition”; the “moderate opposition” who are effectively supporting ISIS; and finally the Russians who are prepared to bomb both ISIS and the so-called moderate opposition to Assad. As you can see, where we are is a turgid mess, and in reality it is a lot more complicated than that.

It is not made any easier when we try to define the forces. The West, mainly Europe, has offered sanctuary to a number of Muslim refugees, but many of the Muslims refuse to integrate and accept a secular society. Once there, they see being there as a right, but many of them refuse to accept the obligation of integrating into, or at least accepting, our society. They are welcome to add to our culture, but they have no right to impose theirs. Of course everyone should have freedom of religion, but unfortunately, anyone can declare themselves a Muslim cleric. The net effect of this has been a number of fanatics having an institutional infrastructure to spout hate, to alienate a number of younger Muslims, who have grown up with all the advantages of a Western education, and they have become radicalized. In short, the enemy is within. According to The Telegraph, about 750 young people have left Britain and gone to Syria to train, and many are returning. Once back, they are potential terrorists.

Once we know where we are, the next step is to clearly define your own objectives, and those of your opponent, and here we have a problem. ISIS apparently has no clearly defined goal other than to kill as many infidels as it can. It has the loose objective of wishing to impose its interpretation of Sharia law over the world, but I doubt it really sees this as practical. What about those opposing ISIS? To me, there are only two obvious strategies available: withdraw totally from the region, or wipe out ISIS, but everyone seems reluctant to do either. To be fair, neither has any guaranteed favourable outcome. A further option is to try to get a negotiated peace, and John Kerry has apparently proposed peace talks, but peace talks themselves get nowhere unless there are parties that are prepared to give a bit to gain a bit. When the only objectives of some are totally unacceptable to others, it cannot work. Worse, hidden in this proposal is the concept that there will be elections to get a government, democracy will take hold, and everyone will live happily ever after. This is a classic case of requiring the world to fit in with your wishes, and in general it will not. You cannot have a democracy unless the citizens accept it, and all this will do is get in a different form of tyrant. But it will give Western politicians the chance to say, “we tried, we did something, and it isn’t our fault it all turned to custard.” Unfortunately, it will be their fault, if they succeed in their “negotiated peace”, because while they will get their publicity for “trying”, someone else will pay for the consequences.

In my opinion, ISIS cannot win by force. The problem is, unless we are very careful, we can lose quite a bit. People have the right to go to a concert and not get blown to pieces, and they expect the security forces to stop that. The problem is, if you have hundreds, or even thousands, of citizens that have gone away to train as terrorists, it is rather hard to prevent such outrages. It becomes a lot easier if all peaceful Muslims are prepared to give all information on potential terrorism, but will they? It is also a lot easier if the security forces take on capabilities that we do not like. My guess is, someone like Heydrich would eventually stop the terrorism at home, but do you want to live in that world? It becomes somewhat sad if the right to stay alive means you lose rights to live.