On September 20th, 2001 George W. Bush declared a ‘War on Terror’ that would not end until every terrorist group had been ‘found, stopped and defeated’. It was in this vein that French President Francois Hollande called the coordinated attacks on Paris two Fridays ago an ‘act of war’, and announced France’s intention to destroy ISIL. War is the ultimate escalation of rivalry, enmity or discord, but if we are really at war, what does that mean for our domestic and foreign policy? What does it mean for our way of life?
The government will undoubtedly use the recent attacks as further justification for new cyber espionage powers. It would be unwise for Parliament to allow such measures to be rushed through without proper scrutiny, as has happened in the past. We must recognise the right of government to gather intelligence, but it is inconsistent to trample on civil liberties in the name of defending liberty. Many also fear that if – or indeed, sadly, when – an attack strikes Britain, we will struggle to muster the forces to fight back. Police budgets are foolishly being cut to the bone. Without routinely armed police officers, how well could Britain respond to a multiple location attack?
In an international context, ISIL survives because its destruction is no country’s sole and overriding priority. Turkey is busy retrenching authoritarian rule at home and fighting the Kurds; Europe is desperately seeking a resolution to the refugee crisis beleaguering its frontiers; President Obama is showing his timidity as his presidency draws to a close; Russia is concerned about securing its power base in the Middle East and halting American influence; Saudi Arabia and its allies are unwilling to confront the poisonous Wahhabi ideology flowing from its clerics, which serves to legitimise much of what ISIL does. The threat of ISIL transcends traditional power structures: Iran and Saudi Arabia, the USA and Russia. All find themselves with a common enemy, but without a common strategy.
“The government will undoubtedly use the recent attacks as further justification for new cyber espionage powers”
This totalitarian death cult will ultimately only be defeated by military means. Its fighters are not interested in dialogue. This makes a political settlement for the rest of the Syrian Civil War even more pressing. President Assad is the roadblock to Russo-American cooperation: President Putin claims to be striking ISIL but his jets are in fact primarily targeting moderate rebel groups fighting regime troops. The regime’s barrel bombs serve as one of the biggest recruiting tools for ISIL. The sooner Russia and the US-led coalition can begin coordinated aerial attacks against the group in tandem with a Syrian government of unity, the better.
The common retort is that more foreign powers bombing targets in Syria will simply lead to more civilian death and displacement – exacerbating the refugee crisis. The truth, though, is that the majority of refugees are fleeing bombing from the regime. An end to the Civil War will bring a degree of peace and will start to slow the mass migration we have witnessed this year.
There is evidence that some of the Paris attackers arrived in Europe posing as refugees. As Europe’s peoples become ever more concerned at the volume of refugees entering the continent, reports like this will only increase anti-immigrant rhetoric. Even as far away as the USA, presidential candidates are calling for no non-Christian Syrian refugees to be admitted.
The substantive threat from ISIL is no greater now than before the Paris attacks. But the atrocious events of Friday 13th have made that threat starkly more obvious. The fight against ISIL has so far been a piecemeal aggregation of diverging interests in the Middle East. As people look to governments to adopt a decisive strategy to defeat this wannabe world caliphate, they ask the question: is Paris the turning point?
By Max George