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Fools Rush In

The attacks against the innocent in Paris of course spur a deep compassion for those who have suffered and a righteous anger against those who planned this disgusting act of reckless violence.

However, the inevitable call for immediate and violent retribution is giving me some pause. The fact is that with clear hindsight, the response to the attacks of September 11th 2001 was not necessarily the right one, in that the goal of eliminating terrorism was not in fact achieved, indeed the threat of terror has grown, even as the war on terror reaches new heights of violence. It is not that the West should do nothing in response to this outrage, but given the escalation of violence against ISIS is so predictable in the wake of these attacks, we should beware of being manipulated by the ruthless and reckless men behind this Islamic death cult.

More to the point, there may be a yet greater conspiracy. There is a clear connection between the Chechens and the emergence of ISIS, and Chechens hold some of the most senior positions in the organisation. The fact is that Western analysts are still disputing precisely what ISIS is and what the exact nature of the threat is.

That there is a threat is obvious. The barbaric, irrational thuggery unleashed on Iraq and Syria is intolerable to anyone who holds the Western values of rational, sceptical tolerance. This death cult- a bizarre mixture of suicide and murder- offers no room for compromise, the snake must be de-fanged or the poison will challenge every aspect of our open societies.

The military defeat of ISIS, as with the Taliban in Afghanistan, is probably a necessary condition to end the threat, but it is not the only precondition and possibly not even the most important. The challenge is not merely to defeat this particular manifestation of religious bigotry, but to establish a social environment where there is simply no attraction in the nihilism dressed as religious fulfilment that it represents. 

The Islamic world is convulsed with injustice and poverty. Despotic governments disguise their weakness with repression and the convenient scapegoating of their political enemies, whether liberals or religious fascists. For as long as this remains the case the attraction of rebellion, even of the vile barbarism of ISIS, will remain.

Neither will opening Europe's borders to refugees from the Middle East work- and may irrevocably change both European and Arab societies in a way that currently seems outrageous. In any event those who have fled would surely have preferred to stay peacefully in their homes- if they could.

Air strikes- a relatively safe way to inflict damage at a distance- will not, I predict, be sufficient to defeat ISIS. It will require -as in Afghanistan- boots on the ground. However, as we know such operations carry great risks and may not achieve their principal objectives. Neither is a long-term neo-colonialism likely to be too popular either in the West or in the Arab world. Yet realistically it is easy to see how we could be sucked into such a bitter quagmire. It may even be the least worst policy.

So, as the burning calls for revenge and an escalation of the violence echo across the front pages, it seems to me that the leaders of the West must now do a lot more hard thinking as to how to defeat this death cult. The West must establish clear, long term strategic goals and stop the short term reactive think that has characterized the response to the crisis in the Arab and Islamic world so far.

Otherwise the bitter lessons of GW Bush's failed "War on terror" will need to be relearned. 


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