Sunday 15 November 2015

After the Paris Attacks

Near the beginning of the year I had to write about a set of Paris attacks, and as it comes to a close here we are again. As 129 innocent people lie dead thanks to the cowardly actions of self-styled warriors of Allah, the awful shock is tempered by a world-weary inevitability, a sense that something like the Charlie Hebdo massacre was always going to happen again. And again. And again. For the murderous thugs and zealots of IS, there is no out-of-bounds, no target too soft to be the object of an outrage, but to defeat them the powers ranged against IS can't carry on as they have been doing. Here are some scattered thoughts on military "hard" power, and the crucial importance of the "soft".

1. Up until now their jerry-rigged caliphate in Iraq and Syria has concentrated Islamists from across the globe. For the thousands of volunteers pulled in from Western Europe and North America, there's a place on the map they can go; an imagined community of small minds for whom medievalism backed by selective Qu'ranic verse is their vision of heaven on earth. Here they can live out their brutalised fantasies against defenceless Yazidi, or pretend domestic bliss under self-ordained Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Now that its supply lines from Turkey are under regular attack by the Russians, no matter how attractive IS territory may appear to the jihadi imagination, getting there is much more difficult. As the siege ratchets up and their pocket of territory contracts, that leaves more would-be fighters in the West available for operations like yesterday's outrage. Perversely, as IS weakens in its stronghold the capacity for (semi-autonomous) terror attacks in the West become more potent.

2. Nevertheless, there are military options. The blood price paid by Russian tourists and pleasure-seeking Parisians has redrawn the complex alignments in Syria, again. Francois Hollande and Vladimir Putin are on the same page and, understandably, there's probably a unanimity of public opinion across Europe against Islamism. Who wouldn't want to see IS perish beneath a whirlwind of bombs? The danger of entanglements between Western and Russian aircraft in Syrian skies has receded and a unified response is now, for the moment, possible. But as an objective, given the above, is it possible and desirable? First of all the crushing of IS cannot be accomplished by upping the number of sorties flown. It requires troops, and is there any appetite that same public opinion to put Western and Russian soldiers in harm's way? Is that even the case in a France raw with grief? It's unlikely. However, there are already troops on the ground who are proving effective against the Islamists. The problem is there's not enough of them, and Turkey are intent on bombing them behind their lines. If the West/Russia are not intent on fielding soldiers against IS, they're going to have to cut a deal with the Kurds and offer them more than the present alliance of convenience between them and the US State Department.

If, however, the unthinkable happens and ground troops are sent against IS, as much as the latter would relish the fight the modern firepower and well-trained forces France, Russia, and Britain have at their disposal shouldn't have too much trouble rooting out and destroying IS. IS aren't going up against the ramshackle Iraqi army, and neither would the great powers be facing a well-motivated indigenous insurgency as per Basra and Helmand. Were IS to be eradicated from their homeland, it might, might, rob IS sympathisers elsewhere of a focus and demonstrate the futility of their impoverished politics. If not here, where? If not now, when? What's the point if your efforts are doomed to perish? Then again, their bit-part theology is hardly conducive to rational thought. Its other-worldly orientation can easily adapt itself to life without the so-called caliphate and alibi terrorism for terrorism's sake. And, of course, pasting IS territory with bombs isn't very likely to well-dispose civilians to the West, threatening a renewed cycle of radicalisation and violence.

3. Speaking on BBC News this lunch time, Lord Carlile - the so-called terrorism expert - called for Muslim leaders and young Muslims to come forward and be more forthright in their condemnation. What on earth does he think they have been doing? British mosques regularly ring out with denunciation against Islamic State and extremism. There are plenty of Muslims making plain their opposition to fundamentalist terrorism. Should Carlile pause before speaking ill-informed bollocks in future, perhaps he might like to reflect why the Muslim voices the media much prefers to give national platforms to are unrepresentative self-publicists like the rancid Anjem Choudary, or dishonest frauds like Mo Ansar. Where's the call for the media to act responsibly and reflect the popular opinion of British Muslims? Your voice can only carry so far if the press and the broadcasters are utterly uninterested in what you have to say.

And here is the problem the political and security establishment refuse to confront. While it is crass and stupid to say the West is to blame for Islamist extremism, radicalisation doesn't happen in a vacuum. It's not as if young Muslims stumble on propaganda videos and are turned into hate-filled zealots on the basis of IS battle images or pictures of fighters with kittens. They appeal to some because they seize on real grievances and work on them. Every time there is an Islamist outrage, Muslims are targeted in sporadic revenge attacks by far right thugs, are blamed by politicians and media figures, and told in no uncertain terms that they must integrate better. Often times, the need for terror is surplus to requirements - politicians and the media froth away anyway. A perception that Muslims are treated as second class citizens at home is repeated by what happens abroad. Contrast the sensitive and humanising coverage the Paris victims have - rightly - received with Palestinians murdered by Israelis, civilians killed by US drone attacks, or people blown apart by suicide bombs in Baghdad or Beirut. The second class status of Muslims is perpetuated in the way the tragedies befalling the Muslim world are covered. Is it any wonder that some might find themselves alienated from official society? That a rational kernel wrapped in an IS shell can cut through and mobilise a very small minority of disaffected young Muslims?

IS themselves are well aware their appeal lies in this tension, and their terrorist actions are designed to exploit it. Attacking soft targets puts European Muslims in general under pressure by the media, by the security apparatus, by the populist and far right. Nothing would suit IS more if the Paris attacks are followed by waves of arson and violence and, in five weeks time, a good election result for the Front National. It also helps explain why Friday's killers had fake Syrian passports - the more antipathy that can be stirred up against Muslim refugees, the more the West's human rights rhetoric are exposed as hypocrisy, the greater the pool from which IS can recruit.

Bombing IS and destroying them on the battlefield might stamp them out in the short-term, but for as long as grievances are fed there will be people ready and more than willing to exploit them. Injuncting Muslims to sort themselves out is not going to disperse the jihadi imagination. British society, French society, Western society has to look at itself and address the mainstream practices and inequalities that can turn small numbers of marginalised populations into vicious, hate-filled mass murderers.


Anonymous said...

And that's just the Tories.

Speedy said...

I find it difficult to understand how intelligent people can stick to this self-flagellating meme: that radical Islam is the fault of the West.

In a direct sense, I mean - certainly Islamism historically developed as a response to modernity, Western domination and Saudi petrodollars - but where is your evidence that these attacks are the "fault" of the West, that treats Muslims like second class citizens - where is this evidence in Britain, for example? Are Muslims treated any better or worse than other minority communities? What are these millions of people heading here for, then?

Islamist attacks on Western targets took place long before Iraq. From Nairobi to New York to Bali, non-Muslims were slaughtered because Islamists had declared war on the West. It wasn't about Israel, incidentally, that came only to be mentioned as an afterthought. No - these Islamists hated us because theirs is a creed of supremicism little different from any other form of fascism.

These young people in Paris were murdered - and some tortured to death, incidentally, as in the attack on the Nairobi shopping mall - out of pure hatred for who they were. Had white supremacists attacked a black music concert, or Neo-Nazis attacked a Jewish concert - would you allow such space for ambiguity? Of course you would not. And, incidentally, the concert hall was probably targeted because it was a famous Jewish venue, but because the murderers were Islamists instead of Nazis, we must blame ourselves.

In the West and the Rest, Scruton writes: "People turn from uncomfortable truths, and construct walls that will make those truths imperceptible". By apologising for fascism, so are you - because for you, and so many of your fellow travellers, it is preferable to appease fascists.

Otherwise you might have to confront unpalatable truths that challenge how you perceive yourself, ie in your heroic struggle against the "evil" of the capitalist West. This in itself is a form of supremacism - you're not telling me the average Guardianista doesn't ooze moral superiority.

So rather than admitting that you may be wrong, that actually there may be something worse out there, and that it is not our fault (because it has to be "our" fault, right, because we are superior to them, being Westerners) you would rather excuse our enemies.

If you want an example of genuine Western decadence, it's staring in you in the face.

BCFG said...

The Paris attacks are of course a terrible shock and distressing to witness in the all too intrusive and analysis lite media coverage but no one is actually surprised. And no one is surprised because France have been heavily involved in imperialism's murderous experiments across the Middle East and France has very deep internal problems when it comes to integration.

IS are a direct creation of imperialist policy in the Middle East, and more precisely were born out of the war crime that was the invasion of Iraq. So much for ground invasions being a solution to the problems of that region!

"thoughts on military "hard" power,"

Military hard power is every bit as thuggish and a million times more murderous than the murderous IS 'Warriors of Allah'

And you fought to get these hard military murderers re-elected.

Something you should think about now and again.

Who knows, maybe if we start thinking about these things a bit more we will start counting their dead and start telling the human stories about how they came to be murdered. And maybe then we won't see them as sub human and they won't view us with such hatred and hostility.

One thing that summed it up for me was a report on BBC news that said in light of the Paris attacks they were scaling down the entertainment at the G20. Remember the G20 was discussing the Syrian situation, which the UN have called one of the greatest humanitarian disasters in human history, and they only decided to scale back the entertainment after the attack on Paris!

Some lives are more valuable than others. Fact!

This fact needs to change and needs to change fast.

asquith said...

Igor Belanov said...

There are a lot of things to be said against people who commit mass murder, but I'd hesitate to use the word 'cowardly' in connection with people who are openly prepared to blow themselves up or be shot by the security forces.

I would also suggest that 'the West' are involving themselves in an unwinnable war against movements such as IS. All the wars and military occupations that have taken place in Iraq and Afghanistan have only succeeded in creating a power vacuum that has been filled by the most barbaric opposition forces. There is no evidence to suggest that Western force will solve problems like IS- that will have to be the job of people in the Middle East itself. 'Security' in Western countries is also jeopardised rather than achieved by the use of force in the Middle East.

Robert said...

In a struggle against terrorism keeping the moral high ground is absolutely vital: you have to do your utmost to deny your enemy the status of "freedom fighter". To do that, you absolutely must keep your hands as clean as possible and you have to only engage in those actions which, if discovered, would make you look honourable. Dick Cheney's notion that "now the gloves are off" is just a reflection of his lack of sophistication. The same thing can be said of the CIA's "plausible deniability"

In the short term, the public needs to be openly told that terrorism cannot be eradicated, that this is a pipe dream cooked up by dishonest politicians. But if no nation or government can really eradicate terrorism, one can learn how to live with it. After all, the actual amount of victims of terrorism is small, far less than, say, road accidents. The real power of terrorism resides in the psychological effect it has not on its direct victims, but on those who witness it. As soon as the general public accepts the notion that even if terrorist attacks can be brought down to a minimum, some will always remain possible, terrorism will lose its real force. Terrorism can either be accepted as a fact of life, or a nation can be drawn in an endless spiral of futile counter-terrorist measures which are as damaging as the terrorism which triggered them. Bombs or no bombs business as usual.

Anonymous said...

Interesting, men who walk into a public places and kill innocent people are called "cowardly", men who are in untouchable flying machines bombing innocent people are called...?

Alex Dawson said...

It probably didn't help when the west funded and armed Bin Laden against the Soviets and handed Afghanistan to the Taliban.

Or destroy an unpleasant but relatively stable secular dictatorship in Iraq. And Libya.

Or carried on sending endless guns to the Wahabbist capital Saudi Arabia.

Or insisted on trying to get rid of Assad by funding and arming crazies, not for "human rights" reasons as is constantly parroted, but instead so there is a regime change and the sole Russian Mediterranean base in Tartus is closed down.

Our governments are still playing a 1980s Cold War foreign policy playbook as the overriding objective. However unpleasant we may find regimes like Russia or Syria, these endless indiscriminate attacks by borderless fascist psychopaths surely prove that these regimes are infinitely preferable to the chaos of blundering western meddling for bizarre, pointless and outdated geopolitical goals.

It's not unpatriotic or lily livered liberal apologising to point out how foreign policy actions in our name have set the conditions for fascist nutters over many decades. But comparing them to the Nazis in 1930s Germany is just plain wrong. This is not a straight state on state is a guerilla movement which will move and morph and change to adapt.

That's why Trident is no use. As the Tories sack 36,000 police officers at the same time as committing hundreds of billions of pounds of future revenue to unusable nukes, you might think people might begin to realise how ludicrous this country's defence policy has become in light of what has happened in Paris.

Anonymous said...

Speedy, turn that comment you made on yourself. Your projecting. Phil was really clear on whom we oght to blame for the attacks, read it again. You dont give . Stop identyfing so much with "The West" or your country snd youll be able to read without a nationalist lens. Try to read some books about 9/11, many people were thinking like you after that, and they didnt stop or supported their goverment das it did horrible things like killing and destroying one country under the excuse that this country was supporting terrorists. This fueled more islamism there and Some of the prisoners that they were there with others eventually became Isis. (Google for info: how isis formed itself, be critical) you see what i did? Its called an argument to prove that the 'West' is partly responsible for the vents leading to this. And theres many more for this whole tragedy, but again, if you read this in nationalist black/white lens, you just get 'YOU ARE SAYING, WE THE WEST ARE TO BE BLAME, WE DID THIS.' take care of yourself. john.

Anonymous said...

The point of Muslim leaders coming forward is lost if no-one listens to them. There isn't even and Archbishop of Canterbury figure, let alone a quasi-papal authority. So the news judgment is that finding one inflammatory preacher is more relevant than 99 'peaceable' ones (still gay-hating misogynistic and non-integrationist I'm sure, but you can't have everything)preachers. Because you only need one inflammatory one, over whom no-one has any authority (no more than anyone does over the 99) for the presumed problem to be unchanged. But the pointlessness of Muslim condemnation is more deep-rooted, the widespread suspicion that the radicalisation takes place on the internet and that anyone of interest stopped listening to them ages ago.
And the message that these 'peaceable' muslims, promulgate that the jihadis are not 'true' muslims, is equally a cliche of a debate their audience is incapable of judging, and one that they undermine often in the same breath asking for special consideration not to be provoked into violence by cartoons or novels. Their peacefulness revealed to be more a judgment that they don't believe they are yet strong enough to be violent.

Speedy said...

"still gay-hating misogynistic and non-integrationist I'm sure, but you can't have everything"

There you have it.

Hassan al-Banna, the driving force behind Islamism, was scandalised by US society when he lived there in the 40s, and this convinced him of the righteousness of his cause.

al-Banna essentially sought to move Islam from a passive contempt to active contempt of Western values, reframing the religion as a modern movement.

So you see (John) the West is intrinsically, ontologically linked to Islamism. They define themselves through us.

I'm well aware that IS was born out of the disasterous Western response to 9/11, and things could be better, but there is no escaping the fact that Islamist terrorism against Western targets (and Buddhist, in Thailand, and Chinese, in fact anywhere where Islam rubs up against a sizeable non-Muslim population) preceded Iraq.

The trope that the West is to "blame"is only really true by virtue of its existence.

Islamism can be seen as a broad spectrum, from the Muslim Brotherhood to IS, its Salafist, Gulf-funded bedfellow. What characterises it is its willingness to use violence. Of course, on campuses up and down the country there are plenty of peaceful Islamists, but they can talk softly because they carry a big stick.

The crucial point is this: it is the only modern Islamic alternative offered to the young from within their culture. The Left is not reaching out with a secular alternative - rather it prefers to define them as Muslims and make common cause with Islamists. BCFG above is a good example.

Of course , Islamism is the enemy of secularism and equality, of the very Western values that the Left itself supposedly embodies.

The Left is blinkered by orientalism, defining Islam on its own religious terms (as if it was Christianity) rather than understanding it as the most successful imperial ideology the world has ever known. Thus we have the decadence - a sense of superiority detached from an objective understanding, and one grounded in reckless complacency.

BCFG said...

"still gay-hating misogynistic and non-integrationist I'm sure, but you can't have everything"

Sounds very much like UKIP! Remind me who speedy supports again?

"Islamism can be seen as a broad spectrum, from the Muslim Brotherhood to IS, its Salafist, Gulf-funded bedfellow. What characterises it is its willingness to use violence."

At this point we should remind the willfully ignorant that the Muslim Brotherhood won the first genuine election in Egypt after years of 'secular liberal' backed rule. The Muslim brotherhood played the political game and won. What was the response of decent 'secular liberalism'?

Mass murder, the banning of the Muslim Brotherhood, the killing of protesters, the closing down of free speech and the installation of a military junta. Such are the characteristics of secular liberalism!

"Of course , Islamism is the enemy of secularism and equality, of the very Western values that the Left itself supposedly embodies."

The richest 1% now, for the first time, own more liquid wealth than the bottom 50% of the worlds population (which underestimates the actual gap as assets are not included). This wealth gap is replicated in almost every Western nation. I do indeed want to distance myself from such noble Western values of equality!

The West is a supremacist project, aimed solely at keeping their superiority intact. Not a project I am prepared to sign up for.

For some context, some sections of the enlightened West are starting to say Europe, one of the wealthiest parts of the world, is buckling under the strain of Syrian refugees. We should note that during the US and Britain's murderous war in Iraq over one million Iraq's fled to Syria, a relatively poor nation. Three million more fled the Iraq war. Mass murder and displacement by the West, carried out in the name of Western values and indeed these high crimes projected Western values, has caused unending misery and suffering, mass displacement and a level of sectarianism unseen. None of this horror is presented in our unfree media. All of this horror was predicted by the left before the Iraq war started.

Only a vision independent of the supremacist and murderous Western values speedy holds so dear can win the progressive battle.

speedy represents a continuation of the descent into the abyss, despite his cheap talk of the left being in cohorts with Islamism.

Speedy said...

BCFG. The first quote was not mine.

"The West is a supremacist project, aimed solely at keeping their superiority intact. Not a project I am prepared to sign up for."

Your first sentence is more or less correct, your second not. You work for the council, mate, so quite how have you not signed up for this project? By handing out a few SWP leaflets on a Saturday? Where do you think your tax money goes to? Who is keeping you employed, healthy and will pay your pension?

Or are you trying to, Gramsci-like, overthrow the organs? Well, it must be a terrible sacrifice, living in the UK, when you could bask in the workers paradise of, say, Raqqa.

"Only a vision independent of the supremacist and murderous Western values speedy holds so dear can win the progressive battle."

What exactly do you think socialism is a product "of"? Did it come from the Moon, or was it born out of the Enlightenment, Christian tradition and subsequent Western thinkers? And haven't your Leftists accounted for one or two corpses in their time too? Trotsky wasn't a babe in arms, either.

You only have to know how to use Google to understand the MB is steeped in violence.

You're in a bit of a muddle, really, but whatever floats your boat.

asquith said...

As a liberal, I am not given to agreeing with Owen Jones. But really,

As an agnostic liberal, I much prefer