Datelined London

Photo: The Guardian

Harry C. Blaney III

Last night Friday on a TV screen in London we watched in real time the horrific unfolding of the terrorism acts which at this report time cost the lives of some 129 persons and many more wounded as the total is likely to grow over time. The analysis is that it was an organized series of such attacks which were designed to cause major fear not only in Paris but in France and beyond. It has had already reverberations throughout Europe and even in America.

Friday night UK time, President Obama said while the events were still active, that this was an attack on all humanity and this view was echoed by statements by President Holland and Prime Minister Cameron and others.

This attack has had many implications for both France’s own security and the possible impacts on its politics, economy, and not least the relationship with Muslims in France that constitute, by some estimates, 4.7% of the population, the largest in Europe.

ISIS almost immediately took “credit” for these acts of brutality. ISIS said this was a retaliation for France’s acts of bombing against it. President Holland in the immediate aftermath said that this was “war” and promised swift action and France will be “merciless against the terrorists.” These were acts of war Holland stated on Saturday that the attacks were planned abroad. Two people were arrested in Belgium and two attackers were said to come from Syria and Egypt. An American student and a British London School of Economics student were killed at last reports.

This act has been called a massacre – the worst attack in France’s recent history. Paris is in shock but the reactions take a wide range of anger, horror, revulsion, fear, and a determination to both carry on and to respond against the terrorists. But people in Paris are clearly very uncertain and cautious. Holland has taken a hard stance, which is understandable given the brutality of the attack. Holland has called a state of emergency and the French Prime Minister has said on Saturday that France will enhance its attacks on ISIS and will not be deterred by threats.

If ISIS thought the attacks would frighten France and other countries to stop their attacks it looks that this has likely backfired. But the other danger is that the attacks increased polarization and racist and right wing groups may use these attacks to instigate hatred for migrants, the domestic Islamic community, and citizens and create even more fear for political reasons. This could backfire and increase the sense of alienation which has already led to disaffected and angry Muslim youth joining ISIS. Thus national authorities need to find a fine line between cracking down on likely terrorists but at the same time assuring regular Muslim citizens that they live in a welcoming and safe environment.

The reaction from other countries was with statements of sympathy and solidarity. Both President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron promised to be of help in any way they can. Here in London tonight there was a large vigil and gathering of citizens showing solidarity with Paris and France, with the tricolor lights of the French flag projected against the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square which I and my wife went to. I could not be but aware of the irony that a few weeks earlier there were many statements related to Britain leaving the EU by the Tory leaders, including Cameron, about how UK was different from the Continental Europeans. That party’s majority MPs desires to separate from countries like France that they wish little ties with that are seeking for more European unity.

One interesting element which some have commented on is that at the moment when ISIS is under siege at their home base in Syria/Iraq, they have carried out their most successful major and effective massive attack in Paris and created a sense of fear throughout Europe and beyond. This brutality gives ISIS major international profile and forced focus on their presence abroad while at the same time facing increased military action against them. This pressure is due to American bombing and more effective moderate reinforcements on the ground of allied groups fighting in their home bases.

As for Paris, one concern is that if this can happen in Paris, it could happen again and anywhere. Thus the international dimension has now been established and it is clear that the G-20 meeting in Turkey this week attended in advance by Secretary Kerry and the Russian Foreign Minister with President Obama soon arriving, will strongly focus on what can be done on an international level to deal with such horrific and massive attacks and what are the implication of these more professional and devastating attacks on citizens and how to prevent or mitigate them. But also how to solve the basic problem of how to put an end to ISIS and get rid of Assad and create a more safe and stable region.

What does all this mean? As noted, one danger is a backlash over Europe against Muslims and this anger being exploited by right-wing racists parties like UKIP and the Le Pen party in France.

The other question is where does the Western nations and their Islamic allies go next against ISIS both in their Syria/Iraq stronghold and to counter their international reach. This is not a new question but the Paris attacks gives it new urgency and profile to these questions. What has been said and I think still stands is that what is most needed is a viable diplomatic solution likely backed up by some sort of military action also.

Many are saying too little is being done while others think American engagement in the region is too much. Will the attacks in France change any of this? Will changes on the ground change anything also? The Question for the major powers and many members of the G-20 and also Muslim nations in the region is can there be a way of putting the necessary elements together to achieve sooner rather than later a dismemberment of ISIS and a political structure on the ground to replace the present chaos and brutality. This will take major decisions by all, that enough is enough and all are in peril if this ISIS and other Jihadis forces remain powerful and dominant and attract each day new and committed recruits.

The key must be in the long term to return the region to some sense of normality and hope for security and some decent economy and employment of youth. But also at the heart of any solution must be a mitigation of the religious and political conflict between the Sunni and Shia sects which really means Shia Iran, its allies, and Sunni Saudi Arabia and Gulf States and others. It may also mean bringing peace to the Israeli and Palestinian situation via a two state solution and now the sooner the better. On seeking security and security for the region here American power and European and regional allies and perhaps even Russia and Iran might just find some common ground. This is probably asking too much now, but if not now when? If one waits, will not all be caught by a maelstrom of disaster and destruction from which none will survive intact.

More in time on these issues and related events from Europe.

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