‘We are at war’

Mizzima Business Weekly - - CONTENTS - Do­minique Moisi

Ever since the ter­ror­ist at­tacks in Jan­uary on the satir­i­cal mag­a­zine Char­lie Hebdo and a kosher su­per­mar­ket, Parisians knew that bar­barism lurked around the cor­ner, and that it would strike again. But it is one thing to know some­thing, to an­tic­i­pate it, and an­other to be con­fronted with the grim re­al­ity. On Fri­day night, Novem­ber 13, re­al­ity struck us with a vengeance. We are at war. It would be wrong – even dan­ger­ous – not to ad­mit it. And to win will re­quire clar­ity, unity, and firm­ness.

Clar­ity of anal­y­sis is what we now need the most. We barely know our enemy, ex­cept for the in­ten­sity of his ha­tred and the depth of his cru­elty. To understand his strat­egy, we must rec­og­nize him for what he is: an in­tel­li­gent – and, in his own way, ra­tio­nal – ad­ver­sary. For too long, we have de­spised and un­der­es­ti­mated him. It is ur­gent that we now change course.

In the last few weeks, the Is­lamic State’s strat­egy of terror has brought death to the streets of Ankara, Beirut, and Paris, and to the skies over Si­nai. The iden­tity of the vic­tims leaves no doubt about the mes­sage. “Kurds, Rus­sians, Le­banese Shia, French: You at­tack us, so we will kill you.”

The tim­ing of the at­tacks is as re­veal­ing as the tar­gets’ na­tion­al­ity. The more the Is­lamic State is de­feated on the ground and loses con­trol of ter­ri­tory in Syria and Iraq, the more it is tempted to ex­ter­nal­ize the war to de­ter fur­ther in­ter­ven­tion. The syn­chro­nized at­tacks in Paris, for ex­am­ple, co­in­cided with the Is­lamic State’s loss of the Iraqi city of Sin­jar.

Of course, the ter­ror­ist cell that struck Paris was not cre­ated in the wake of the Is­lamic State’s re­cent battlefiel­d losses. It was al­ready in place, wait­ing to be ac­ti­vated (as oth­ers may be). That demon­strates the Is­lamic State’s tac­ti­cal flex­i­bil­ity, not to men­tion the avail­abil­ity of peo­ple will­ing to com­mit sui­cide.

If the Is­lamic State chose this time, in Paris, to tar­get peo­ple who are not satirists, po­lice­men, or Jews, it is pre­cisely be­cause their “or­di­nar­i­ness” left them un­pro­tected. This time, the at­tack­ers chose “quan­tity” over “qual­ity” (if one may be par­doned for such a crude for­mu­la­tion). The goal was to kill as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble.

This strat­egy is pos­si­ble be­cause the ter­ri­tory con­trolled by the Is­lamic State pro­vides a sanc­tu­ary and train­ing ground. The self-pro­claimed caliphate’s ter­ri­to­ries rep­re­sent for the group what Tal­iban-con­trolled Afghanista­n meant for Al Qaeda in the 1990s.

It is im­per­a­tive to re­gain con­trol of this ter­ri­tory. And de­stroy­ing the Is­lamic State’s “prov­inces” in Libya, Si­nai, and else­where must be­come the num­ber one pri­or­ity of the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity.

Be­yond an­a­lyt­i­cal clar­ity, there is a need for unity, be­gin­ning in France, where cit­i­zens would re­ject their po­lit­i­cal class were its mem­bers to con­tinue to be­have di­vi­sively at such an ob­vi­ous his­tor­i­cal turn­ing point.

Unity must also be achieved within Europe. We are re­peat­edly told that Europe is in the midst of an iden­tity cri­sis, in need of some new project. Well, now Europe has found one. To be Euro­pean means to con­front to­gether the scourge of bar­barism, to de­fend our val­ues, our way of life, and our way of liv­ing to­gether, de­spite our dif­fer­ences.

Unity is also re­quired of the Western world as a whole. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s state­ment af­ter the Paris at­tacks demon­strates that what unites Europe and the United States is much more sig- nif­i­cant than what di­vides us. We are in the same boat, faced with the same enemy. And this sense of unity must go be­yond the Euro­pean and Western world, be­cause the Is­lamic State threat­ens coun­tries such as Iran and Rus­sia, not to men­tion Tur­key, as much – if not more – than it does the West.

Of course, we must be re­al­ists. Our al­liance of cir­cum­stance with th­ese coun­tries will not over­come all prob­lems be­tween them and us. So, be­yond clar­ity and unity, we need firm­ness, both in con­fronting the threat of ISIS and in de­fend­ing our val­ues, es­pe­cially ad­her­ence to the rule of law.

The Is­lamic State expects from us a com­bi­na­tion of cow­ardice and over­re­ac­tion. Its ul­ti­mate am­bi­tion is to pro­voke a clash of civ­i­liza­tions be­tween the West and the Mus­lim world. We must not fall prey to that strat­egy.

But clar­ity comes first. When Paris is at­tacked as it was last Fri­day, one must speak of war. No one wants to re­peat the er­rors of the US un­der Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush; but to use those er­rors as an al­ibi to avoid con­fronting the world as it is would merely be an er­ror of a dif­fer­ent sort. Europe’s re­sponse must be tough, but it must not de­vi­ate from the rule of law. We are, af­ter all, en­gaged in a po­lit­i­cal bat­tle with the Is­lamic State, one in which our love of life must pre­vail over their love of death.

Do­minique Moisi, a pro­fes­sor at L’In­sti­tut d’études poli­tiques de Paris (Sci­ences Po), is Se­nior Ad­viser at the French In­sti­tute for In­ter­na­tional Af­fairs (IFRI) and a vis­it­ing pro­fes­sor at King’s Col­lege Lon­don. He is the au­thor of The Geopol­i­tics of Emo­tion: How Cul­tures of Fear, Hu­mil­i­a­tion, and Hope are Re­shap­ing the World.

Cour­tesy of Project Syn­di­cate

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