A matter of soul searching
The world must get ready for more fear and panic following the Paris attacks.
November 13, 2015 will be remembered in Europe for a long time because of deadly attacks launched at several points in Paris killing around 130 people. The mayhem in Paris reminded people of terrorist attacks in Madrid and London in 2004 and 2005 which killed and injured hundreds of people.
When the Islamic State (IS) claimed the Paris attacks, all of Europe and the West vowed to track down the killers and the planners behind the attacks. Syria, where IS groups are involved in large-scale violence and massacre, all in the name of Islam, invited French bombing of IS hideouts. In fact, as reported on November 16, 2015 by the New York Times “the Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the catastrophic attacks in the French capital, calling them the first of the storm and mocking France as a capital of prostitution and obscenity.” IS went further in its responsibility of launching attacks in France by stating that, “Let France and those who walk in the path know that they will remain on the top of the list of targets of the Islamic State.”
France retaliated by vowing to avenge the massacre of innocent people carried out by IS by liquidating its command and control system primarily located in Syria and eliminating it from the scene with the help of its allies. Recently the German parliament Bundestag approved Berlin joining action against IS, a step taken to support the French appeal for joining war against the IS.
As France is trying to settle down and restore normalcy, other European countries are trying to figure out a firm policy to prevent such attacks in future. At stake is the future of the Schengen Visa regime which for the last two decades has established free movement of people in Europe. The November 21 issue of The Economist stated that, “the assault on Paris by
the Islamic State (IS) on November 13 was an attack on life’s innocent pleasures. The terrorists shot anyone who strayed into them. The deadly grasp of IS now reaches out from its base in Syria and Iraq. A day before the Paris, suicide bombers killed 43 people in Lebanon. 224 died when a bomb destroyed a Russian aircraft flying over Egypt.” Back to back terrorist attacks in different parts of the world seem to have launched another spell of terrorism unleashed by the socalled Islamic groups.
The Paris attacks will have far reaching implications as far as Europe and the Middle East are concerned. There will be four major ramifications of the November 13 carnage in Paris.
First, Europe will have to do enough soul searching and will need to pay the price of preventing terrorist attacks on its soil by curtailing the free movement of people, goods, services and capital. Since the formation of the European Union ( EU) in November 1993 and transformation of the vision of European from the Atlantic to the Urals and United States of Europe sharedh by Charles de Gaulle, Kurt Adenaur and Mikhail Gorbachev into a reality,e it is for the first time that the EU will have to enforce travel restrictions by imposing border controls. It is not only because of the Paris terrorist attacks that the EU may revise its Schengen Visa regime but the influx o of hundreds of thousands of refugees fr from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and North African countries to Europe via Greece has also contributed to the redefining of a borderless Europe. Second, the sp spillover effect of Paris terrorist attacks on Muslims living in Europe will also be substantial, particularly in France, Germany, Britain, the Netherlands and Belgium where there is a large concentration of Muslims. Mosques and religious schools where patronization of extremism and indoctrination of Islamic militancy is suspected will be the targets of police and security agencies of these countries. The lives of Muslims living in other parts of Europe will also be disturbed because of racist and xenophobic groups getting further space in the aftermath of the Paris terrorist attacks. If intolerance, extremism and militancy permeates to European culture, it will have a devastating impact on the whole world because democracy, multiculturalism and freedom which have been considered as the hallmarks of Western civilization will be seriously questioned.
Third, following the Paris terrorist attacks, one can expect France and its NATO allies to deepen their military operations against the IS in Syria. In that case, the sufferings of the people of Syria will be further augmented, resulting in a fresh exodus of refugees. Already millions of Syrian refugees have taken shelter in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon and their plight will worsen in the coming days with fresh bombings of French and allied powers. Following the recent outbreak of tensions between Russia and Turkey over the shooting of a Russian war plane by the Turks, prospects to establish peace in Syria will diminish further. Moscow’s allegation of Turkey using stolen oil from Syria and Iraq by IS is like a ‘bombshell’ as such an allegation has put Ankara in an embarrassing position.
Nevertheless, enough destruction has been caused to Syria following the outbreak of civil war in 2011 and the emergence of IS. Conflict between Turkey and Russia, the two major players in Syria, will further deteriorate the situation and provide space to the forces of militancy and extremism. Finally, the Paris terrorist attacks will unleash phase two of the so-called war on terror which was first launched following terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 in New York and Washington. The resolve of the French President to track down the attackers and their perpetrators would mean a new phase of war on terror which may cause more instability around the world. One can understand the French sentiments but by unleashing another war in Syria under the resolve to eliminate IS will destabilize not only the Middle East but will also deepen the West’s military intervention in the region.
One can take note of several conspiracy theories emerging after the collapse of the Soviet bloc and the end of the cold war about the promotion of new threats to the West. Since the ideological war between communism and capitalism was over in 1991, the vacuum which existed in global power politics had to be filled. Samuel Huntington’s theory of ‘clash of civilizations’ was considered one such assumption that in the postcold war era, the vacuum created as a result of the cessation of the threat to the Western world will be filled with the emergence of threats from Islamist forces. The formation of Al-Qaeda and now the Islamic State is considered to be part of the conspiracy theory perceived to be shaped by the West in order to justify its interventions in many Muslim countries. The socalled U.S. led war on terror following the events of 9/11, the attack over Afghanistan and Iraq and the vicious cycle of violence emanating from the Arab Spring in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Syria, in a way provided space to so-called Islamist forces who challenge the U.S.-led Western world by carrying out lethal terrorist/suicide attacks in Europe and in the United States. As a result, from Morocco to Indonesia, the surge of Jihadi culture threatening the Western world has provided a sort of justification for the West to use military force against the Islamist groups namely Al-Qaeda and now IS.
But, the Western approach to deal with the rise of Islamic militancy has been counter-productive because of two main reasons. First, the use of excessive force in the form of aerial bombing in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan tends to cause damage to innocent people, thus triggering the rise of anti-American and anti-western sentiments. Second, despite the use of hard power against Islamist groups, there is no end to terrorist attacks. As a result, the vicious cycle of terrorism and the use of hard power continue to plunge almost the whole world in a perpetual state of chaos and disorder. Around thirteen years of war on terror by spending trillions of dollars seem to have not yielded positive results because of a flawed approach and the misguided strategy of the West and its allies.
Europe’s soul searching in the backdrop of terrorist attacks in Paris needs to take into account the gains and benefits since the formation of the European Union. Will EU not fall in the trap of those who want to reverse the process of a border-free Europe? By overreacting to the Paris attacks, the EU will certainly damage the gains which it accomplished since 1993 and will be back to square one. What is required is a wise and prudent approach on the part of France and the other EU members while dealing with terrorist threats by strengthening the intelligence network and denying visas to those who have suspicious credentials and want to use their entry to the EU for the implementation of their notorious plans to create fear and panic by launching another phase of terrorist attacks. Most importantly, a political settlement of the Syrian conflict must be reached soon as a bulwark against the forces of militancy and extremism. The writer is Meritorious Professor and Dean Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Karachi.