Paris, 13/11/15 – another shorthand date for another brutal atrocity. It only seems like yesterday since the Charlie Hebdo attacks; but this month’s recent urban massacre has raised the ‘game’ to a grim new level. There are French national, European and global implications stemming from this assault on democratic values. It may have been, in the words of many a columnist, the day everything changed. We won’t know for years how much things life been transformed for the worse; all we can hope for is that the threat of ISIL is met with strong and united action from the West.
This has been a seismic shock for the French. Coming so soon after the January assault on the cartoon anarchists who dared to draw, this is a double-tap of revolting effectiveness from the purveyors of medieval horror that are ISIS. There’s only so much a person or a State can take before they go into individual or collective shock; France was propelled into the latter category this month. The home of Liberty has had liberty defiled; the land of Fraternity has seen discord bludgeoned into the body politic and the catch-call of Equality will be increasingly difficult to adhere to as civil liberties are curtailed in the fight against barbarism. This is terrorism at its most raw; ‘shock and awe’ at its most terrifying.
ISIS know what they are doing and are ‘good’ at it in their own sick and twisted way. The know how to recruit, to plan, to execute and to intimidate. They are not a State but a bunch of murderous gangsters. Western responses are particularly difficult to calibrate. This writer holds no radical-chic torch when it comes to pre-emptive military action against ISIL/Daesch. A unified NATO military response, with the possible co-option of Russia, will be the strongest way of hitting ISIS hard. There will be time for reflection on root causes or socio-economic analysis further down the line; at present, France has been attacked and needs to defend not only her people but her values. President Hollande is right to declare a three month state of emergency; the country needs to defend itself and this is only the start of the process. This is not to give a man or an army ‘cart-blanche’ to do whatever they want to do; French Citizens still have the protections many in the World can only dream about. But, tragically, the rules of engagement are different now.
Whither Liberty now? Will the French resort to the tactics of Bush II and alienate much of the goodwill that followed 9/11? The augurs are somewhat better this time round. The democratic Left, of which Hollande is a good example, will be anxious not to repeat the same moral turpitudes and mistakes as happened in the early 2000s. There won’t be any invasion of the ‘wrong’ country for starters; the Iraq War was a disastrous strategic semi-imperial adventure that cost thousands of innocent people their lives. The French know that any response to the January and November attacks needs to be within proportion, fettered by International Law and in concert with a large international contingent. There can be no Parisian ‘Gitmo’ or water-boarding or a concentration of ‘fighting in the shadows’ as opposed to overt action. There will, however, be a huge increase in covert action; state-sponsored assassination, drone activity and espionage that the public will not hear about.
The Hard Left weren’t slow about hoisting the ‘whataboutery’ objections. For ‘Stop the War’ activists, who now have their champion in Jeremy Corbyn, there never seems to be a right time for military intervention; the goalposts for military response legitimacy keep changing. Add in the ‘false flag’ fanatics on the web, and there’s already a ground-swell of opposition that won’t support one shot being fired in anger against ISIL.
The American Republican Right has outdone themselves yet again. Their lack of compassion towards Syrian refugees has been revolting, their need to outflank each other in their racism, disgusting, and the pathetic attempt to negate their responsibilities a real indication of the mess the GOP has gotten itself into. Donald Trump’s rapid descent into fascist rhetoric is a wake-up call to all decent Americans that this man is unfit to hold the Office of local dog catcher, let alone that of Republican Party nominee for President.
Universal values must hold sway. Not the values of the colonizer, the oppressor, the terrorist or the bomber but the values of the Enlightenment. Freedom of the Press, equality of movement and freedom of belief, be that for all religions and none, must triumph over fear and ignorance. That is what ‘we’ are fighting for; that is what the struggle is about. If we lose sight of what we are fighting for then we have lost the better angels of our nature; France can not afford to do this. For those who want to live in a free world, ISIS must be defeated but without becoming the monster we seek to battle.