France un­der at­tack

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

In the past year, France has ex­pe­ri­enced three such acts: the Char­lie-Hebdo and kosher su­per­mar­ket mur­ders of Jan­uary, the botched (thanks to a French civil­ian, three US sol­diers and a 62-year old Bri­tish IT man­ager) mass-shoot­ing at­tempt on an Am­s­ter­dam-Paris train, and Fri­day’s mul­ti­pronged at­tack against en­ter­tain­ment ar­eas in the French cap­i­tal. Of the three, Fri­day’s at­tacks were the most shock­ing as their care­ful plan­ning, metic­u­lous ex­e­cu­tion, and the grim death-toll in­volved makes it clear that this was not the work of “lone-wolves”, but an or­ches­trated op­er­a­tion a la 9/11.

Con­tin­u­ing the anal­ogy with the Ir­ish Repub­li­can Army, or even Al-Qaeda, leaves one with an un­com­fort­able feel­ing as at least the Ir­ish ter­ror­ists, and even the ni­hilists at Al Qaeda, had po­lit­i­cal goals. The first wanted to see the Bri­tish leave North­ern Ire­land; the sec­ond wanted to see an end of the US mil­i­tary sup­port to Saudi Ara­bia. To­day, what are the po­lit­i­cal goals of ISIS vis a vis France? What is the aim of th­ese killings?

For the past few years, the Mid­dle East has been gripped by a civil war (broadly pit­ting Sun­nis against Shias, but also sec­u­lar­ist Sun­nis ver­sus fundamentalists, as well as Kurds against Turks) that is more com­pli­cated than the Span­ish Civil War (where com­mu­nists liq­ui­dated an­ar­chists, be­fore be­ing in turn put to the sword by Fran­quists, them­selves di­vided be­tween fas­cists and catholic tra­di­tion­al­ists). Still, if for Spain the broader arch of the civil war was Fran­quists (sup­ported by fas­cist Ger­many and Italy) against the pop­u­lar front (very loosely sup­ported by Bri­tain, France and then the Soviet union), the broader arch of the Mid­dle East­ern civil war has been Shias led by Iran, and sup­ported by Rus­sia, against Sun­nis which are sup­ported by Saudi Ara­bia and Qatar.

And this is where it gets com­pli­cated be­cause of all the Western pow­ers, France has un­de­ni­ably been the one lean­ing the most ag­gres­sively against the Shias in favour of the Sunni side of the ledger (the side of the civil war ledger that ISIS it­self em­anates from). It was France which re­vealed that As­sad had crossed the “red line” of us­ing chem­i­cal weapons, and it was France that agi­tated to in­ter­vene against As­sad’s regime be­fore Pres­i­dent Obama and the Bri­tish Par­lia­ment de­cided that let­ting the Rus­sians han­dle the sit­u­a­tion was a bet­ter course of ac­tion.

And so to­day, as the Mid­dle East­ern civil war leaks over into Europe, one is forced to con­front the ques­tion of ISIS’s po­lit­i­cal goals in at­tack­ing France. Clearly, ISIS does not sub­scribe to the old “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” mantra. And so the only pos­si­ble an­swer to the ques­tion of what ISIS is try­ing to achieve by at­tack­ing France is “noth­ing”.

The Is­lamists sim­ply at­tack us be­cause they hate us. And the only goal to be achieved with th­ese killings is to cower an en­tire pop­u­la­tion into chang­ing its way of life, whether that be im­pos­ing re­stric­tions on free speech (de­pict­ing the prophet Mo­hammed, or even discussing the more dis­turb­ing part of the prophet’s bi­og­ra­phy), or now, sim­ply go­ing out and let­ting loose on a Fri­day night. In that re­spect, the choice of en­ter­tain­ment venues as at­tack points is surely not co­in­ci­den­tal.

In­deed, when Al-Qaeda at­tacked the World Trade Cen­tre, the goal was to bring US fi­nance to its knees (and from there the US econ­omy). When, a year later, Al-Qaeda at­tacked Span­ish trains on the eve of Spain’s elec­tion, the aim was also clear: tip the elec­toral scale away from the Peo­ple’s Party which had sup­ported the de­ploy­ment of US troops in Afghanistan and Iraq in favour of the Span­ish So­cial­ist Work­ers’ Party, which did not sup­port the de­ploy­ments.

With Fri­day’s at­tack on Paris, ISIS has clearly shown that its goal is noth­ing short of up­end­ing our en­tire way of life.

Like the Tal­iban which banned sports events, mu­sic, and cel­e­bra­tions, the ISIS ni­hilists of­fer a vi­sion of the world so for­eign to any of us as to be in­com­pre­hen­si­ble. And this ni­hilist vi­sion now presents the French gov­ern­ment with a gen­uine “how to re­spond” chal­lenge. With the ob­vi­ous an­swer be­ing that the ter­ror­ist safe-haven that is the ISIS “state” in Syria and Iraq, and the source of much of the desta­bil­i­sa­tion cur­rently un­fold­ing in Europe, must now be taken out.

Con­cep­tu­ally, could the scale of th­ese at­tacks mean that France would be able to re­quest the help of its NATO al­lies in an “Ar­ti­cle 5” re­tal­i­a­tion against ISIS? Af­ter all, if Churchill could do a deal with Stalin against the Nazi ni­hilists (and state in the House of Com­mons: “If Hitler in­vaded hell, I would, at the very least, make a favourable ref­er­ence to the

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