Once again, terrorists have struck, this time in Paris again and with devastating results.
The scenes were heartbreaking, as France faced its most deadly assault since the Second World War, and only ten months after three terrorist attacks in the French capital took the lives of 17 people.
Today, the focus is on mourning the victims, comforting their families, aiding the injured, calming the jittery public, and beefing up security, while, at the same time, ensuring there are no terrorist compatriots waiting in the wings for a new spree of violence. At the same time, the authorities must put together the pieces of exactly what happened, who the perpetrators were, where their training and weapons came from, and whether French intelligence missed signals of what was clearly a sophisticated plan, not a spontaneous action.
Tomorrow, the focus must take into account five longer-term factors.
First, solidarity among likeminded nations needs to be permanent, not episodic. The civilized world is facing a transnational threat. Terrorists move around. They take advantage of the digital age, which knows no borders. They create both formal and informal networks that may span countries, continents, or beyond.
The response, accordingly, must ensure the maximum possible consultation, cooperation, and coordination among countries in the same boat.
Second, it’s high time to drop the evasive language too often used to describe the perpetrators of these heinous crimes and get specific.
They are not just “violent extremists,” though, of course, they are. They are not just “terrorists,” though, of course, they are that as well.
They are radical Islamists inspired by their interpretation of religion, however perverted it may be. They shout “Allahu Akhbar,” “God is great,” before killing. They believe in jihad as a legitimate form of violence. They aspire to a promised place in heaven as a “martyr,” and with their just rewards. And they believe they are fulfilling God’s will.
Third, this is a time of testing for France and, indeed, all of Europe. They dare not be found wanting. Too much is at stake. And those outside who cynically deride Europe or consign it to the dustbin of history are making a monumental mistake.
Europe must prevail in this epic struggle. If it falls short, the entire world – or at least that part of it which believes in democratic values, the rule of law, pluralism, and the protection of human dignity – loses. Europe, together with its friends, must find both the will and capacity to fight back, to defend itself, and to triumph.
It won’t be easy, nor will it be quick. But hoping the problem will one day go away is not a strategy, nor is tying the hands of, or eviscerating the budgets of, law enforcement, intelligence, and the military, nor is defending privacy rights at all costs, as some policy purists would do, even if it means endangering national security and personal safety. Some judicious accommodations must be made in today’s democratic societies, or else the consequences could be profound.
Fourth, as long as the Middle East and North Africa are unstable, the geopolitical challenges will remain immense. No, there is no obvious pathway out of this. The U.S. learned that in spades by trying to engage in nation-building in Iraq, which didn’t work, then by seeking an exit strategy from Iraq, which also didn’t quite go according to plan. And we also learned it in Syria, where there simply were no good options to pick from, only bad and worse alternatives.
That said, though, we, the U.S. and Europe, can ill afford to remain at arm’s length, praying that we will remain unscathed. Recent events amply prove the failure of that approach.
Europe is inundated with migrants from failed or failing nations, with no end in sight. Whatever Europe’s noble intentions, the challenges are immense – seeking to determine who these people really are; developing short-term strategies for their care and shelter; planning for their integration and acculturation, while knowing how difficult it has often been to absorb previous generations from these regions; and looking out for dangerous or disaffected individuals who could turn against their new countries.
In other words, if we don’t go to the Middle East (and North Africa), the Middle East will come to us, and in ways that could prove disruptive, not to mention deadly.
And finally, when will Europe finally wake up and realize that democratic Israel is part of the solution, not the problem?
At the end of the day, the terrorism faced by France – or Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Spain, the U.K., etc. – is a kissing cousin of that confronted by Israel. Some European leaders go to great lengths to deny that obvious truth, seeking instead to draw distinctions that are, in fact, largely non-existent, or suggesting that Israel somehow “deserves” what it gets, while implying that Europe does not.
Let’s get real.
The authors of 9/11 detested who and what America is. They didn’t give a darn what political party was in power, because they attacked the Twin Towers when Clinton was president and again when Bush was in the Oval Office.
The same with Europe. The target is Europe’s value system – its democracy, openness, freedom, and secularism.
And, yes, the same with Israel. The terrorists of Hamas (with which the Palestinian Authority made a pact), Iranian-backed Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, and ISIS don’t want Israel to exist, period. They’re not interested in who’s in power in Jerusalem or how to get to a two-state accord, but rather establishing their rule over the entire land.
How, then, do we ensure that the barbaric tragedy in Paris isn’t quickly forgotten or simply added to a growing list of terrorist outrages?
Essentially, by pursuing two strategies at once – rededicating ourselves to the values the terrorists would destroy, and stiffening our spines and showing the resolve to defeat our adversaries.
They have their world – a world, as we have seen, of suicide bombings, beheadings, intolerance, repression of women, and suffocating religious doctrine.
We have our world – a world that aspires to human rights, equality, freedom of worship, and mutual respect.
Yesterday’s tragic events in Paris should be another urgent wake-up call that, whether we live in France or elsewhere, our world needs, and is worth, defending.